Description of the Stereoscopic .PNG Image File Format (sTER chunk) Table of ContentsBackPreviousNext

NOTE: To clearly understand the topics covered on this page, you must have a good knowledge of the .PNG file format.  You can find all the information about .PNG file format on the official Website (  Having some knowledge about
how a stereoscopic image works is also a good start.

When present, the sTER chunk indicates that the datastream contains a stereo pair of subimages within a single PNG image.  The data portion of the sTER chunk consists of an unsigned 8 bits integer that contains the storage mode.  The two supported storage modes are CROSS_FUSE_LAYOUT = 0 and DIVERGING_FUSE_LAYOUT = 1.

The sTER chunk with mode==0 or mode==1 indicates that the datastream contains two subimages, encoded within a single PNG image.  They are arranged side-by-side, with one subimage intended for presentation to the right eye and the other subimage intended for presentation to the left eye.

The left edge of the right subimage must be on a column that is evenly divisible by eight, so that if interlacing is employed the two images will have coordinated interlacing.  Padding columns between the two subimages must be introduced by the encoder if necessary.  The sTER chunk imposes no requirements on the contents of the padding pixels.  For compatibility with software not supporting sTER, it does not exempt the padding pixels from existing requirements; for example, in palette images, the padding pixels must be valid palette indices.  The two subimages must have the same dimensions after removal of any padding.

When mode==0, the right-eye image appears at the left and the left-eye image appears at the right, suitable for cross-eyed free viewing.  When mode==1, the left-eye image appears at the left and the right-eye image appears at the right, suitable for divergent (wall-eyed) free viewing.

Decoders that are aware of the sTER chunk may display the two images in any suitable manner, with or without the padding.  Decoders that are not aware of the sTER chunk, and those that recognize the chunk but choose not to treat stereo pairs differently from regular PNG images, will naturally display them side-by-side in a manner suitable for free viewing.

If present, the sTER chunk must appear before the first IDAT chunk.

Given two subimages with width subimage_width, encoders can calculate the inter-subimage padding and total width W using the following pseudocode:

          padding := 7 - ((subimage_width - 1) mod 8)
          W := 2 * subimage_width + padding

Given an image with width W, decoders can calculate the subimage width and inter-subimage padding using the following pseudocode:

          padding := 15 - ((W - 1) mod 16)
          if (padding > 7) then error
          subimage_width := (W - padding) / 2

Decoders can assume that the samples in the left and right subimages are cosited, such that the subimages and their centers are coincident at the projection plane.  Decoders can also assume that the left and right subimages are intended to be presented directly to the right and left eyes of the user/viewer without independent scaling, rotation or displacement.  I.e., the subimages will be presented at the same size in the same relative position and orientation to each eye of the viewer.

Encoders should use the pHYs chunk to indicate the pixel's size ratio when it is not 1:1.

It is recommended that encoders use the cross-fusing layout (mode==0), especially when the image centers are separated by more than 65 millimeters when displayed on a typical monitor.

An example will help understanding the way a stereoscopic image of 77x53 pixels is saved like a normal image of 157x53 pixels.

  - Right and left images are 77x53 pixels.
  - Rectangle (  0,0)->( 76,52) inclusively contains the right image.
  - Rectangle (77,0)->( 79,52) inclusively contains the padding pixels.
  - Rectangle (80,0)->(156,52) inclusively contains the left image.
  - So the total size of the saved .PNG image is 157x53 pixels.

IMPORTANT: Even if the padding pixels are never displayed, their values must always be valid because an application, not supporting the sTER chunk, will display the complete image with the padding pixels.  (The only dangerous case is the color palette case with less entries in the palette than the bit depth can produces.)  In the example above, we are using grayscale padding pixels only to make the padding region more obvious to see.

The reason to put right image at left and left image at right is simply because the Cross-Eyed Display Technique is more flexible than the Parallel-Eyes Display Technique.  The Parallel-Eyes Display Technique limits the distance (so the size of images) between right and left center of images on screen to be less than the distance between your eyes.  By example, the Parallel-Eyes Display Technique used on a Web page can work well on a 17" monitor but not on a 19" monitor (unless you can move your eye globes in opposite direction without been injured!).  The Cross-Eyed Display Technique does not have this limitation and works 100% of the time.

Applications, those do not yet support the sTER chunk, will simply display an image composed of two subimages with sometimes some padding pixels between them.  In such applications, you will still be able to view the stereoscopic image by using the Cross-Eyed Viewing technique if storage mode==0, or using the Parallel-Eyes Viewing technique if storage mode==1.

t.gif (141 bytes) tr.gif (162 bytes)
l.gif (142 bytes)
Set your browser width to at least this far

Cross-Eyed Viewing Instructions :

1- To see the stereoscopic image you have to look at it in a special way. Sit at a relaxed distance from your monitor and focus on the two images.
2- Now slowly go cross-eyed and you will see the two images separate (and most likely blur) and slowly form a third image in the middle of the two pictured images.
3- This image (more than likely very blurry at the moment) is the stereoscopic image you want to focus on.
4- Now, try and relax your vision and focus on the new third image in the middle.
5- After some time and practice you will see the stereoscopic image with all its depth!

Don't be put off if you can't see this image straight away, it can take a little practice. The closer you are to your monitor the HARDER it is to see the stereoscopic image; if you are finding it difficult move away a little bit.

r.gif (145 bytes)
bl.gif (163 bytes) b.gif (145 bytes) br.gif (165 bytes)

We take right and
left images from an ALIEN Video Camera.  The sizes of each mono images are 77x53 pixels.  The height of an ALIEN pixel is around 20% taller than its width so a ratio of 12:10 (HzPix : VtPix) will be used.  We call the png_get_sTER_total_and_padding_width() function to calculate the composed image width.  We merge right and left images into the composed image of 157x53 pixels (157 = 77+3+77; 3 = padding pixels width).  We set the pHYs chunk to {12, 10, 0} (0 because the pixel physical size is unknown in this example).  We save the composed image with the sTER and pHYs chunks.  That's all.

In this example we will read the Stereoscopic PNG file created in the above example.  A typical web browser decoder gets a size of 157x53 pixels from the PNG header.  It finds a sTER chunk so it calls the png_get_sTER_real_and_padding_width() function to calculate the stereo
scopic image width, so a stereoscopic image size of 77x53 pixels is expected.  It finds the pHYs chunk with a ratio of 12:10, so it reserves a rectangle area of 77x64 pixels (64 = 12/10*53) on the displayed webpage to draw the stereoscopic image (assuming screen pixels are square).  The progressive reading is going on (if the stereoscopic image was saved with the Adam7 feature) and at some interval of time, the stereoscopic displaying engine extracts the right and left images from the partially loaded 157x53 pixels composed image, it creates the resulting stereoscopic image by merging the right and left images together using the current browser stereoscopic displaying method, that has been specified by the user preferences, and finally it stretches the resulting stereoscopic image to fill the reserved rectangle area of 77x64 pixels on the webpage.  The final result is a well proportioned stereoscopic image identical to the one taken from the ALIEN Video Camera.  Of course if the HTML code specifies directly the stereoscopic image size, the stereoscopic displaying engine will use that size to reserved the rectangle area on the webpage.  If a size is specified, it is because the HTML author knows what he is doing.

As you can see, adding support to Stereoscopic .PNG Image File Format is a piece of cake if your application already support .PNG Image File Format.

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