Toshiba has come one step closer to creating three-dimensional images with a new technology that will allow 3-D images to be viewed on a flatbed display without the need to wear special glasses.

The new technology, which Toshiba expect to be commercial available within two years, will allow users to view the display from any angle to experience 3-D images that stand out several centimetres from the surface.

Toshiba are quick to point out that the options for this are endless including arcade games, e-learning, simulations of buildings and landscapes, and even 3-D menus in restaurants.

Toshiba has so far applied the new technology to 24 and 15.4 inch displays with 480 x 300 pixels which it is planning on showing in Japan at the end of the week.

3-D displays that do not require aids such as glasses work by projecting slightly different images to each eye, a form of visual stereo. The displays consist of micro-lenses that control the direction of light emission and supporting software that creates images. However, mainstream 3-D technology is limited in terms of the viewing angle at which it can display 3-D images, and the images are also tiring to view.

Toshiba's new displays employ an integral imaging system that reproduces light beams similar to those produced by a real object, not its visual representation. This overcomes the main problem with a flatbed display: distance. The difference in the distance from the eye to the centre of a display and from the eye to the display's edges and corners is greater for a flatbed display than for a standard upright display.

In seeking reproduction of natural 3-D images on the flatbed display, Toshiba developed proprietary software that utilizes 10 or more views of an object (the current prototype takes 12 or 16), either live-action images or CG images, and which processes and reproduces the images in 3-D, with a wide viewing angle. Toshiba also developed middleware and dedicated circuitry that supports fast playback of the images with only a graphics card.