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SIGGRAPH 2007 Emerging Technologies: Next-Gen Displays

J. Paul Peszko speaks with John Sibert, SIGGRAPH 2007 co-chair of Emerging Technologies, about this year's focus on display technology.

The Interactive 360-Degree Light Field Display is being developed by the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. All images courtesy of ACM SIGGRAPH 2007. 

As you will no doubt witness if you attend SIGGRAPH 2007 at the San Diego Convention Center, the horizon for Emerging Technologies is far-reaching and quite expansive. It covers a time frame anywhere from a year to 10 years down the line. The exhibition presents creative, innovative technologies and applications in displays, robotics, input devices, interaction techniques, computer vision, sensors, audio, speech, biometrics, wearable computing, information, data and scientific visualization, biotechnology, graphics, collaborative environments, design and more. The areas of application include but are not limited to medicine, music, entertainment, education, home, business, aerospace, communication, transportation, security, military and technologies for the aging and/or disabled.

I spoke with the co-chair of Emerging Technologies, John Sibert, professor of computer sciences at The George Washington University, about those particular technologies and applications that are related to theaters and home theater. "One of our focuses this year is on display technology because there's a lot happening right now," Sibert asserts, "and the next generation of displays for PCs and television sets are going to be truly amazing."

One category of displays centers on digital projection. "DLP-3D TV is new technology that T. I. (Texas Instruments) has developed that will enable you to do on a home television HD display 3-D stereo that you would normally see at a place like Disney or possibly in theaters," explains Sibert.

The DLP chip contains a rectangular array of up to two million hinge-mounted microscopic mirrors. Each of these micro-mirrors measures less than one-fifth the width of a human hair. The bit-streamed image code entering the semiconductor directs each mirror to switch on and off up to several thousand times per second. This fast switching rate enables a 120Hz frame rate, which allows display of 3-D stereographic images at 60Hz per eye without flicker. However, 3-D viewing glasses will be required.

"Apparently the chip is capable of being mass-produced relatively inexpensively, so it'll be something TV manufactures will be able to include within their sets without greatly increasing the cost," says Sibert. More than 1,000,000 3-D-ready DLP televisions are expected to be in consumers' homes by mid-2008.

Another interesting display technology is the Interactive 360-Degree Light Field Display being developed by the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. "The thing about 3-D displays is that they don't show very well on a web page," states Sibert. "The cool thing about this display is that you don't have to wear glasses, and it's based on kind of an old idea of a rotating mirror that reflects the image, which appears to be three-dimensional. Usually 3-D images are hard to move around or change the shape of in realtime. This one works fast enough that it can actually do that. Also, people can stand around it in a group and see the full 3-D."

The concept behind this technology is to render and project the correct geometric light field of an object at 5,000 frames-per-second onto a spinning anisotropic reflector. Motion-tracked vertical parallax is then employed to allow for unrestricted 3-D movement with correct geometric cues.

Holographic and Action Capture Techniques by Holograpfika intends to show a working example of a system with realtime-captured data of human actors complete with the geometry, texturing and dynamics of the body.

As one might expect, there is a holographic display as well. This one is being developed by a European company, Holografika. "The holographic displays work on completely different principals, and they've been around for a while, and they're getting better and better all the time," says Sibert. "The limitations in holographic displays have been in terms of dynamics in moving the images and also in terms of resolution. Holographic displays have tended to be very low-resolution displays, but they have been getting better all the time. This one (Holograpfika's Holographic and Action Capture Techniques) is doing interaction with a holographic display in realtime, and the exciting thing about it is the level of interaction in realtime."

At SIGGRAPH 2007, Holograpfika intends to show a working example of a system with real-time captured data of human actors complete with the geometry, texturing and dynamics of the body, insert the acquired 3-D data stream into a high-quality 3-D scenario, and present the resulting scene to the naked eye in true 3-D or on a large-scale holographic display.

"One of the problems with the digital projection of video as opposed to film (analog) projection is that the (digital) projector might have very high resolution and very good movement and you don't notice any shadows or anything like that, yet the dynamic range in terms of color and intensity of the image is reduced as compared to a film projector," explains Sibert. "That's one reason why most theatres still use film projectors even in cases where the films were originally made in digital (video). Of course with today's technology, many films start out in digital and are then transferred (to analog film) so they can be shown in film projectors." But now along comes Dolby Laboratories with a new technology called HDR (High Dynamic Range) projection systems. "This is an approach to digital projectors that produces a much broader dynamic range of the color and intensity of anything represented on the screen. So, it gives you a lot better digital projection at home and in theaters."

The HDR projection systems operate by placing two image modulators in series to optically multiply two images. The dynamic range of the final image is therefore approximately the product of the contrast of the two modulators. This novel digital system is capable of displaying images with sufficient dynamic range to rival analog film. Sibert expects this technology to be in theatres in the near future because the quality is approaching that of analog film. "Pretty soon you won't be able to tell the difference projected side by side. In fact, I think that's what (Dolby) is going to be demonstrating."

Aside from theatrical display technologies, there will be some interesting display gadgetry, including Gravity Grabber: Wearable Haptic Display to Present Virtual Mass Sensation developed at the University of Tokyo.

Aside from theatrical display technologies, there will be some interesting display gadgetry of other sorts on hand. And this first one is literally "on hand." Its technical name is Gravity Grabber: Wearable Haptic Display to Present Virtual Mass Sensation. "This is something that you wear on your hand," Sibert explains, "and it gives you the illusion that you're holding something in your hand, the illusion of weight. So that, if you're interacting with a three-dimensional virtual display and (in a way that) you're holding the object in your hand, it gives weight to the object."

So, what possible uses can this device have? Developed at the University of Tokyo, the Gravity Grabber could be downsized and unwired, as motors and batteries evolve, for use as a grasping controller in entertainment systems or as a force-feedback device for operating a virtual reality environment. Because it is small enough to be worn on a finger, it can be used in combination with conventional mouse-based interfaces. And it provides ubiquitous teleoperation, since the wearable and wireless device can be used to manipulate a robot from any location.

Also from the University of Tokyo is another device akin to the Gravity Grabber called Haptic Telexistence. This display has some rather unique possibilities. With conventional systems, we can only perceive the stiffness of an object. But with Haptic Telexistence, we can also perceive the exact shape of an object, so that more natural and dexterous object manipulations become possible. This simplifies complex tasks such as telesurgery and 3D modeling.

Because this system can present properties such as texture and temperature, it could support dramatic improvements in human relations. Imagine on a video conference call being able to shake hands with persons at remote locations and feel the warmth of their hands as well. And what about online shopping? Imagine being able to feel the texture of an article before purchasing it.

University of Tokyo also developed Haptic Telexistence, which allows the wearer to perceive the exact shape of an object, so that more natural and dexterous object manipulations become possible.

Sibert also mentioned several low-energy displays for use with hand-held devices under low light conditions. E Ink Electrophoretic Displays can actually be considered an ecological as well as a technological innovation. This is a new generation of revolutionary reflective displays with ultra-low power consumption, a thin flexible form and daylight readability. It gives the viewer the experience of reading from paper, yet the device can still update the information. The technology is now being incorporated into many applications, including electronic readers, cell phones, signage and memory devices. As far as ecology goes, electronic paper will allow us to read up-to-date information with a paper-like experience without the negative environmental impact of cutting down forests and disposing of thousands of tons of paper every day or the high-energy wastage of conventional electronic displays.

The next one Sibert mentioned was Optical Sensors Embedded Within AMLCD Panels: Design and Applications. This is a new technology being developed by Planar Systems for enhancing active-matrix liquid crystal display panels. By integrating an array of thin-film transistor (TFT) optical sensors into the a-Si backplane of the AMLCD, this technology allows flexible touch capability with multiple fingers and it also detects gestures that you make in front of the screen. In addition to the TFT circuit design, which was the first of its kind, the system supports the use of a light pen and a laser pointer, and it includes full imaging capability as well as hard-copy capture.

Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories has developed Prakash: Lighting-Aware Motion Capture for Dynamic Virtual Sets, which is a very small motion capture system comprised of a single device and camera that can be embedded in clothing.

Sibert perhaps saved the best for last, which is the Prakash: Lighting-Aware Motion Capture for Dynamic Virtual Sets developed by Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories. "This is a very nice motion capture system," Sibert affirms. "It's very small and can be embedded in clothing and things like that. It's a motion capture that you can do with a single device and a camera. The single tracking device is relatively unaffected by ambient lighting. So, you can do it in bright daylight, which is a hard thing to do. You can do it in really dark situations. So, if you were going to do live-action motion capture with a character, you could have the character in the studio in front of a greenscreen, and you can do the motion capture on the actual set. And it can be an outdoor set. It can be a location. Then you would have the motion capture in the environment in which you are going to animate your subject into. So, you would no longer need to do (the motion capture) in a studio where you have mocked up the kind of environment you might have. For example, if you were doing it on a hillside or the edge of a cliff, you could actually capture the motion on site."

The system uses tracking tags that are imperceptible under attire, and inserted computer graphics elements can match the lighting on the presenter, making the technique ideal for realtime broadcast. Current motion capture technology requires hours of data post-processing, high-speed cameras or special lighting and work areas dedicated to esoteric systems. This system, on the other hand, foregoes these expensive parts, so it is much less expensive. Motion capture no longer requires specially designated spaces, special lighting and huge investments.

Aside from entertainment, other areas that would benefit from accessible motion-capture include rehabilitation clinics and independent biomedical researchers in fields, such as physics, anthropology and sociology. Veterinary clinics could use accessible motion-tracking systems to examine animal gaits and behaviors for diagnosis.

So, there you have it -- a preview of Emerging Technologies at SIGGRAPH, 2007. And there's a lot more than space permits me to mention here. So, come see for yourself. The Emerging Technologies will be on display from Aug. 5-9, Ballroom 20 A-D at the San Diego Convention Center.

J. Paul Peszko is a freelance writer and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He writes various features and reviews as well as short fiction. He has a feature comedy in development and has just completed his second novel. When he isn't writing, he teaches communications courses.