photoForget 3-D TV. If you really want to impress your friends, hold out for Smell TV, which could be coming soon to living rooms as set designers continue to press the envelope of sensory stimulation.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, conducted in collaboration with Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Korea, have published a paper they say demonstrates that it is possible to generate odor, at will, in a compact device small enough to fit on the back of your TV with potentially thousands of odors.

The objective would be to match smells with images on the screen, to give the viewer a more complete sensory experience.

“For example, if people are eating pizza, the viewer smells pizza coming from a TV or cell phone,” said Sungho Jin, professor in the departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and NanoEngineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “And if a beautiful lady walks by, they smell perfume. Instantaneously generated fragrances or odors would match the scene shown on a TV or cell phone, and that’s the idea.”

Wake up and smell the coffee

Advertisers could also jump of the bandwagon as well. Think about a commercial for coffee, with an actor inhaling the aroma of a freshly brewed cup. At the same instant, the viewer would also get a whiff of coffee smell.

Whether advertisers – or even viewers – would respond favorably to Smell TV is the subject for another study. Jin and his team say they've only shown that it is technically feasible. The scent comes from an aqueous solution such as ammonia, which forms an odorous gas when heated through a thin metal wire by an electrical current. The solution is kept in a compartment made of non-toxic, non-flammable silicone elastomer. As the heat and odor pressure build, a tiny compressed hole in the elastomer is opened, releasing the odor.

“It is quite doable,” said Jin.

Next steps

Next steps in the research would include developing a prototype and demonstrating that it is reliable enough to release odors on cue and scalable to the size needed for consumer electronics like TVs and cell phones. And there are a few other considerations.

For example, perfume companies could let you sample new scents through TV, but your TV’s odor-generating device would have to carry that particular perfume meaning the device probably needs to be upgradable like software for your home computer. And TV producers will probably want scents that are tailored to match the personalities of their characters.

“That’s a logistics problem,” said Jin. “But in specific applications one can always think of a way.”