Japan plans to make this futuristic television a commercial reality by 2020 as part of a broad national project that will bring together researchers from the government, technology companies and academia.

The targeted "virtual reality" television would allow people to view high-definition images in 3D from any angle, in addition to being able to touch and smell the objects being projected upwards from a screen parallel to the floor.

Touch and smell

"Can you imagine hovering over your TV to watch Japan versus Brazil in the finals of the World Cup as if you are really there?" asked Yoshiaki Takeuchi, director of research and development at Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Top Japanese firms are involved
with the project

While companies, universities and research institutes around the world have made some progress on reproducing 3D images suitable for TV, developing the technologies to create the sensations of touch and smell could prove the most challenging, Takeuchi said in an interview with Reuters.

Researchers are looking into ultrasound, electric stimulation and wind pressure as potential technologies for touch.

Such a TV would have a wide range of potential uses.

It could be used in home-shopping programmes, allowing viewers to "feel" a handbag before placing their order, or in the medical industry, enabling doctors to view or even perform simulated surgery on 3D images of someone's heart.

Universal communication

The future TV is part of a larger national project under which Japan intends to promote "universal communication", a concept whereby information is shared smoothly and intelligently regardless of location or language.

Takeuchi said an open forum covering a broad range of technologies related to universal communication, such as language translation and advanced Web search techniques, could be established by the end of this year.

Researchers from several top firms including Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd and Sony Corp are members of a committee that published an interim report on the project last month.

The ministry plans to request a budget of more than 1 billion yen ($9 million) to help fund the project in the next fiscal year starting in April 2006.