The first 3D immersive environments, consisting of rudimentary software, projection, and display technologies, appeared two or more decades ago, but the past five years have seen a dramatic increase in the power and versatility of these projection and display environments.

Whether it is the oil and gas, automotive design, scientific research, life sciences, aerospace, or medical imaging industries, each presents its own challenges. Depending on what one wants to achieve, many different display tools can create “immersiveness.”

Immersive Displays for Individual Users and Groups

Figure 1. Marathon Oil’s Visionarium allows up to 50 participants to view data on a 27 x 8' curved screen.

Some displays should be designed around a single user, with the person completely immersed in a virtual world. Other types are more group-oriented, designed to enable collaboration for more than one person in the virtual space. The displays differ in how users interact with them. Therefore, the environments have many shapes and can take many forms.

For an individual, the technology must provide an experience rendered for a particular viewpoint, whether it is “head-tracked” (the most common rendering for a viewpoint) or “fixed-eye” point. An individual immersive display has the user donning “tracked” glasses, so content generated by the application software always looks natural when projected.

Think of a 3D engine model projected onto an immersive display system. The mechanic-trainee wearing tracked glasses learns how to work with and repair machinery when engrossed in the virtual environment wherever he or she stands or moves. Another example of personalized or individual experiences is that of a flight-simulator dome, which is also from a single viewpoint but typically without head tracking. The pilot in a training cockpit sees an accurate view of his flight world from the pilot chair. Both examples — one a stereoscopic 3D environment and the other a monoscopic 3D environment — are immersive.

There are other occasions, however, when many people collaborate on a multi-faceted process or problem. The oil and gas industry is a good example, where a system, typically with a wrap-around curved screen or large, rear-projection flat screen, encompasses all the components of a true 3D immersive environment. Many users — geologists, geophysicists, rig workers — actually place themselves in the data at once (see Figure 1), looking at common geophysical data not rendered from a viewpoint specific to any single group of users.

To begin solving specific problems, however, one needs projectors that deliver bright, high-resolution images. This is a critical consideration when imaging seismic data, for example, which is often a view 20,000 feet under the ground. A user needs to pick out a specific horizon or “event” – a place where the oil or gas might be trapped.

Figure 2. The Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), Wuhan, China, consists of eight blended projectors and a 240-degree, ceiling-to-floor, curved visual display.

Another example of a sector where a 3D immersive environment for multiple users is preferable is in urban planning. In one deployment in Wuhan, China, at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), a 240-degree ceiling-to-floor curved advanced visualization experience contains eight projectors (see Figure 2). Groups of up to 40 people can be surrounded by a 3D stereoscopic environment where they cooperate in designing a city’s urban structure, or visualize development projects for accurate decision-making related to urban planning, public safety, construction, and natural disaster prevention. Using the same hardware but segregated into multiple display segments, sub-groups are given assignments. Users can interact with different pieces of content, on different sections of the screen, just as one would do in Microsoft® Windows® on a desktop.

Developments in 3D Immersive Environments

Figure 3. Using a four-surface, Christie CAVE™ environment, Weill Cornell achieves 3D images for scientific research, including molecular mod- eling, MRI and confocal reconstructions, and gene network modeling.

Various CAVE™ (Computer-Assisted Virtual Environment) 3D environments, some with as many as six sides, deliver an immersive experience. Rear projection lights each wall, floor, and ceiling.

The David A. Cofrin Center for Biomedical Information at the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Institute for Computational Biomedicine of the Weill Cornell Medical College, located in New York City, features this type of 3D stereoscopic technology (see Figure 3). The Institute's researchers have leveraged the technology to display insights into the mechanisms behind short-term memory, determine how cocaine and dopamine bind at the neurotransmitter site in the transporter molecule, and collect valuable longitudinal data on the structural development of the brains of children whose mothers abused drugs.

The facility’s CAVE is powered by eight HD3 digital projectors that hold native 1920 × 1080 HD resolution, three-chip DLP® projectors with active stereo capability. The projectors deliver 3D images for molecular modeling and other data-rich areas of biomedical research.

Each blended wall of the CAVE is 1920 × 1920 pixels, and the whole CAVE resolves to 14.74 megapixels, or 3.28 megapixels per wall. The overall footprint, including access allowance, is 25 × 20 × 11.5'. The two projectors per wall utilize a dedicated, purpose-built hardware and software setup that enables image warping and edge-blending through the control of a graphical user interface. It manages complex arrayed projectors, which in turn allows users to expertly create seamless images on flat, curved, or cylindrical surfaces.

The Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE), a 3D immersive visualization and high-performance computing resource center, hosts clients in industry, government, and university sectors. LITE's facility features a set of visualization venues including a Total Immersion Space (TIS) or CAVE. The TIS, a 10 × 10 × 10' room with screens on its ceiling, floor, and four walls, uses multiple projectors in a motion-tracking environment. The TIS allows users to walk in and experience a computer-generated virtual world (see Figure 4).

A 70,000-square-foot facility, LITE has three other visualization venues. A 175-seat theater, equipped with HD, 3D projection, and THX surround sound, is designed “classroom-style” to facilitate group decision-making sessions, training exercises, and other hands-on large group activities. A collaboration room with a two-projector curved screen, motion tracking, and surround sound, can also help small working groups needing an interactive 3D space for activities like design reviews, proof-of-concept screenings, and team training. Finally, an executive conference room features a videoconferencing system, a 120-degree split screen, and similar THX sound capabilities.

3D Display:The Bottom Line

Figure 4. The Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) allows several users to be immersed in a virtual environment.

The more accurately and faster a customer’s problem can be solved in the virtual world by using a 3D immersive environment, the higher the quality, value, and reliability of the ultimate solution that is then introduced to the real world. If a user can model output in the virtual world to accurately reflect what the real world presents, the business or government entity will better satisfy its customers and users. Three-dimensional display technologies can generate a step change in the sheer number of designs and variety of details in designs that can be achieved, which is an extremely beneficial advancement.

This article was written by Zoran Veselic, VP, Visual Environments & Simulation, and Larry Paul, Senior Director, Technology & VIS Solutions, at Christie (Cypress, CA). For more information, Click Here .