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Rounding Out Displays

Computer Interfaces: Wraparound screens close in on 3-D
November 1, 2000

Visitors to domed special-venue movie theaters have experienced the heightened sense of involvement when images are beamed onto the huge concave screens overhead. Now two computer-imaging firms are looking to bring the curved display down to earth-ultimately all the way down to our desktops.

With a price tag of $37,995, the conCAVE from Fakespace Systems of Kitchener, Ontario, is hardly an impulse purchase. But for the high-end presentation market, this immersive 2-D screen offers an alternative to true 3-D displays, which have been limited by the awkwardness of stereoscopic glasses or the expense of surrounding the viewer with screens. The Fakespace display consists of a concave screen with a silo-shaped profile. Meant to be viewed by up to 12 people at once, the screen is nearly 2 meters across and 70 centimeters deep.

Also making its debut is VisionStation, an immersive display developed by Cary, N.C.-based Elumens. Resembling a posh 3.3-meter-diameter TV satellite dish, VisionStation provides a 180-degree view of a scene instead of a typical flat screen’s 60 degrees of coverage. “You really see the difference in a driving simulator, when you stop at an intersection and you can look out your car windows from shoulder to shoulder,” says Ray Idaszak, Elumens’ co-founder and chief technology officer.

Incorporating a 180-degree projection lens and spherical projection software, VisionStation starts at $20,000, still a bit of a reach for architectural and real estate firms that could benefit from virtual walkthroughs for clients of would-be or actual buildings. In time, Idaszak insists, curved screens “will ultimately be the upgrade path from the 2-D monitors on desktops.” For the avid gamer used to adventuring through cavelike spaces, an affordable curved display could prove irresistible. The screens would also finally do justice to the growing number of Web sites playing host to 3-D environments for interactive chat and shopping.

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