Visit to the UCLA Visualization Portal

I got an email from a friend of mine who’s a movie editor here in L.A., who suggested that we get together and take a trip over to the UCLA Visualization Portal.  The UCLA campus is in Westwood and I’ve passed it a number of times, but I haven’t been out of the car to walk around on the grounds. 

So one balmy day in July (2006) I wandered my way over to the Math Science Building, using a map to make sure I didn’t get lost, and found myself at the Visualization Portal which is shared by various departments on campus.  The Portal is a room using three DLP AV projectors, projecting onto what must be a 20-foot wide cylindrically curved screen I figure has about a 150 degrees arc.  It’s kind of like Cinerama.  Fred Waller designed Cinerama to use three cameras and three projectors for forming a triptych, and this is an electronic version of that process.  Edge blending is used to make the pictures fuse together neatly where they join.  I saw a number of different computer generated images, including images of the city of L.A., and then it was time to see in stereo. 

The selection device they are using is the one that I invented many years ago–CrystalEyes®.  They had the mauve CrystalEyes, and the black CrystalEyes.  I chose the black.  I looked at some interesting images, including some complicated molecules or maybe they were viruses.  It was fun feeling like I was surrounded by atoms.  There are probably a few hundred portals of this kind in the world and they tend to be costly to set up.  In the past, they were even more expensive than they are today.  Once they needed something like a Silicon Graphics Onyx to drive them.  Today you can run them with PCs, or a cluster of PCs. 

The DLP projection engine is ideal for field-sequential stereo and it’s also used for our theatrical system.  It can run fast (change fields fast enough), and in the context of an engineering or scientific visualization setting for reviewing designs and the like, its performance in stereo is impressive.  It’s a deluxe way to see the world without getting your feet muddy or your hands dirty.  It’s better than the prior CRT based projectors because it has zilch cross-talk when combined with CrystalEyes for viewing.   

There’s an irony here, because a decade or so ago there must have been thousands of column inches in the popular press about virtual reality.  And in all of those, what was touted and featured, were people wearing head-mounted displays (HMSs).  At that time there were probably more than 40 models and almost as many companies making HMDs.  There are only a handful of companies left making these wear ‘em on your head electronic stereoscopes and some of which are rather good.  But virtual reality, to most users, involves, I believe, projection and CrystalEyes.  Most of the VR installations of the world–CAVEs, reality centers and portals use one or more projectors with people looking at the images using CrystalEyes. 

Lots of people have cooked up custom applications and have come up with different ways to make stereoscopic images work.  When you’re projecting on a large curved screen, like the one at UCLA, CrystalEyes is a good way to make this work because using the polarized light method for image selection simply doesn’t cut it.  On a deeply curved screen, you get depolarization due to Brewster’s Angle effects so it’s hard to use the polarized light method.

As an aficionado I’ve greatly enjoyed these seeing awe inspiring stereoscopic images in state-of-the-art complex installations some of which have been put together by StereoGraphics partners like FakeSpace or Nissho Electronics.  I saw my first DLP CAVE at Nissho in Tokyo using CrystalEyes eyewear that were fifteen years old — a blending of the old and the new.  As a businessman trying to make a profit, I’ve faced yet another irony, and that is that I created the enabling technology for multi-million dollar installations with a resultant sale for StereoGraphics of only a few thousand dollars.  My enabling technology is a mere computer peripheral.

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