For the first time, a team of researchers at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), have designed a 9-panel, 3-D visualization display from HDTV LCD flat-screens developed by JVC.

The technology, dubbed "NexCAVE," was inspired by Calit2’s StarCAVE virtual reality environment. The StarCAVE’s pentagon shape and 360-degree views make it possible for groups of scientists to venture into worlds as small as nanoparticles and as big as the cosmos.

"It’s always been our dream to make a projector-free LCD flat panel CAVE," says Tom DeFanti, Calit2 Research Scientist. "The trick was to get the form of the huge StarCAVE into the space of a living room. We took a speculative leap by overlapping 9 panels, and it turned out better than we thought."

When paired with polarized stereoscopic glasses, the NexCAVE’s modular, micropolarized panels and related software will make it possible for a broad range of scientists — from geologists and oceanographers to archaeologists and astronomers — to visualize massive datasets in three dimensions, at unprecedented speeds and at a level of detail impossible to obtain on a myopic desktop display.

The NexCAVE’s data resolution is close to human visual acuity (or 20/20 vision). The 9-panel, 3-column prototype that the team developed for Calit2’s VirtuLab has a 6000×1500 pixel resolution, while the 21-panel, 7-column version boasts 15,000×1500-pixel resolution.

"The NexCAVE’s technology delivers a faithful, deep 3-D experience with great color saturation, contrast and really good stereo separation," explains DeFanti. "The JVC panels’ xpol technology circularly polarizes successive lines of the screen clockwise and anticlockwise and the glasses you wear make you see, in each eye, either the clockwise or anticlockwise images. This way, the data appears in three dimensions. Since these HDTVs are very bright, 3-D data in motion can be viewed in a very bright environment, even with the lights in the room on”.

The NexCAVE’s LCD screens are scalloped "like turtle shells," which allows the screens’ bezels (frames) to be minimized by half because the screens are tucked behind one another.

DeFanti and his colleagues developed the NexCAVE technology at the behest of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which established a special partnership with UC San Diego last year to collaborate on visualization and virtual-reality research.

The KAUST campus includes a Geometric Modeling and Scientific Visualization Research Center featuring a 21-panel NexCAVE and several other new visualization displays developed at Calit2.

According to DeFanti the team’s next goal is to make a screens that won’t require the use of special glasses. "And someday we hope to have organic LED screens with no bezels,” he concludes.

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