3D is one of those inventions that keep on coming back. In 1982, TVS, the ITV station then serving Southern England, promised full colour TV in 3-D from a secret new process. TV Times magazine distributed 8 million pairs of 3-D glasses while high street retailers offered another 5 million pairs for sale.

The secret system was based on the age-old anaglyph idea, with coloured fringes added to overlapping left and right eye images. Viewers with the special spectacles, which put a red filter over one eye and blue over the other, got an illusion of depth and a degree of colour. But the millions of other viewers who watched the cowboy feature film Fort Ti, which TVS broadcast at peak hours, saw drunken double images. They jammed the switchboards of both TVS and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (then responsible for commercial broadcasting) with complaints. Since the Fort Ti debacle, the broadcast authorities in the UK have allowed only very short 3-D test transmissions.

In 1988 Aspex claimed to offer the best of all worlds, 3D for people who wear spectacles, and perfectly good, even improved, pictures for those who do not. The Aspex camera put a colour fringe around any object on screen that was moving. When a viewer wore a red filter over one eye and cyan over the other, there was an illusion of depth when the image on screen was mobile. With stationary objects, the 3-D effect disappeared. Viewers without spectacles saw a normal picture when objects on screen were stationary but colour fringing where there was movement.

In mid-1990, two years after the Aspex fringe-on-motion system came and went, the Delta Group in London promised a different approach. Delta said its Deep Vision system “succeeded where the Japanese, Americans and all others have failed”. Deep Vision was “a digital process which especially encodes the image – when the image is viewed through a television, or in a cinema, equipped with a digital decoder, the viewer experiences 3-D…Deep Vision activates the brain’s powers of depth perception”.

The Group’s studio in Covent Garden bulged with impressive video editing equipment. The inventor was on hand to reveal that Delta was in £0.5 million negotiations with “RCA-Columbia and Brent Walker for global marketing”. In a darkened room a domestic TV set, roped off some 25 feet away, screened clips from Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Casablanca and The Empire Strikes Back.

Those who dared to step over the rope saw a flat plate, with vertical prism stripes, hung over the screen. So each eye saw mainly one of two laterally shifted images. But even on the distant screen, the pictures looked blurred and of poor definition. There was a slight sensation of depth, mainly on moving objects, psychologically enhanced by the inventor’s enthusiastic commentary.


“Look how good it is. You can really feel it’s coming towards you”, the demonstrator encouraged, explaining that the screen grid would be soon improved and its effect assisted by electronics.

A couple of months later, Delta gave a similar demonstration at Selfridges store in London. “Don’t look at the quality of the picture, just look at the depth”, shoppers were advised as they watched a domestic TV set from the same decidedly non-domestic viewing distance. Decoders would be on sale by Christmas, Delta promised. But Christmas came and went with no sign of Deep Vision.

Over the years several companies have shown TV sets that claim to give 3D without the need to wear glasses. But they are not there yet.