Researchers at the University of Arizona say they are a step closer to 3D real-time images. Their latest holographic prototype, featuring lasers beaming information onto a 10-inch photorefractive polymer screen (17-inch versions are also being tested), can project a near 360-degree image that updates every two seconds. In 2008, the same group demonstrated a black and white 3-D image that could be updated every four minutes, meaning today's system is more than 100 times faster. That's still a long ways away from 30FPS, which is the minimum refresh rate for our eyes not to notice individual frames in a video, but the progress is certainly heartening.

To create the hologram, cameras take color images at multiple angles and send them over an Ethernet cable. The images are then projected onto a transparent plastic panel and refreshed every couple of seconds. Unlike 3D technology, no special glasses are needed for holograms and the number of perspectives is only limited by the number of cameras used. For 3D, one perspective is projected to one eye and another perspective is projected to the other. Future displays will lie flat and the system will be able create the illusion that the image is floating above the screen.

  The technology could one day be used in teleconferencing (viewers sitting on one side see the front of a person while those behind them see their back), complex medical operations requiring multiple surgeons from around the world, and for education purposes (imagine getting a lecture from the expert in a given field and feel like you are in the lab with them). That day won't come soon, however, as there still many issues to work out, including improving the screen and reducing the system's power demands. The researchers estimate the technology won't arrive in our homes till at least seven to 10 years from now.