Soon, Couch Potatoes Could Feast Their Eyes On 3 D

Three-dimensional television--without the corny red and green glasses--is getting closer. Parviz Soltan, a scientist at the Naval Command, Control & Ocean Surveillance Center in Point Loma, Calif., can project 3-D images inside a plastic sphere about 18 inches in diameter. He's testing a prototype system by tracking aircraft in the San Diego area with the same radar data used by air-traffic controllers.

To produce the image, laser light passes through a series of vibrating crystals that splinter it into 40,000 points of light. They fall onto a helix-shaped surface inside the sphere that is spinning too fast for the eye to see. A computer directs the crystals to send each point of light to a precise location on the helix, thus creating the 3-D image. NEOS Technologies in Melbourne, Fla., has licensed the technology from the Navy to build 3-D displays that will probably cost about $250,000. The first commercial buyers are likely to be design engineers, says NEOS Vice-President Robert V. Belfatto.