There is a lot of buzz about Amazon’s new 3D smartphone. The best thing is, it is possible to look the screen from any angle and see the amazing 3D effects on this phone. But, at least for now, the 3D effects are limited to UI and some simple games Amazon introduced at its launch. The 3D effects of existing 3D-films cannot be experienced when watched on Amazon Fire. The reason is how 3D is implemented in the Fire phone.

This phone equips four ultra low-powered IR sensors to constantly track the position of eyes and mouth of the user. Then the phone quickly redraws the UI exactly how it would have been seen from the user’s current position. So the phone can reveal hidden content when looked at different angles. Amazon has made a special UI for the Fire phone which takes full advantage of this unique 3D perspective technology.

Fire phone uses normal cell-phone display and the 3D effect is achieved by adjusting images on screen with respect to the position of user’s face. This is very different than how 3DTV and other 3D enabled mobile phones work. The 3D effect of Fire phone will not be even noticeable when the phone and the user do not move.

Traditionally 3D movies were viewed using Anaglyphic 3D glasses (remember red-blue glasses), which was later replaced by polarized glasses and active 3D glasses coupled with modern 3D screens.

For us to really see an object in 3D, we need to see two different sets of images from different angles, one for each eye. This is how we see an object in real world, two images of same stuff viewed from different positions (the eyes). We combine these two images in our brain to generate a stereoscopic vision. Thus we can estimate depth in a 3D world. 3D filming just recreates the same effect artificially. Records two sets of video using two cameras (in place of two eyes).

The two sets of videos are combined by superimposing it on same video. Then we use different type of filter in front of each eye to filter out the image that is meant to be presented for that eye. Usually we wear 3D glasses as filters. In Anaglyphic method when we watch the screen through red filter, only the image meant to be seen by right eyes passes through the filter. When passed through the blue filter, it is a different image. This is an old method of 3D filming and reproduction, and its main disadvantage is all colors of the original video cannot be reproduced.

But, it is impractical to wear 3D glasses to view 3D on a phone at all times. In mobile phones the filter is usually placed just in front of the screen. These are directional filters – one column of the image is directed towards left eye and the next column directed towards the right eye. Odd columns of the screen display the image for left eye and even columns of the screen display image for right eye. The problem here is the viewer should be positioned exactly at the center in front of the screen or it won’t work.

The reason why 3D movies don’t work with Amazon Fire phone is that the same image is served to both eyes. All 3D movies are made in a way different set of images recorded for each eyes to achieve the stereoscopic effect.

Amazon is projecting the phone as a contender of iPhone 6 and Galaxy S5. Amazon already has the brand name, supply channel and growing ecosystem for mobile apps. These factors will surely help the Fire phone to get a respectable market share. But the 3D-perspective UI is not exactly what I would call revolutionary.


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