University of California's Calit2 Develops Immersive 3D Visualization System Using JVC Monitors

JVC USA's JVC Professional Products division says that the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (note: generally known as Calit2, the institute is jointly run by the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Berkeley) is using JVC GD-463D10U 46-inch 3D HD LCD monitors as part of its new immersive visualization system. NexCAVE, as the system is called (the name is short for "new micropolarized panel-based cave automatic virtual environment"), was prototyped in June at UC San Diego, and the first full-scale version was recently installed at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.

Calit2 research scientist, Tom DeFanti, and his partner, Dan Sandin, began designing visualization systems over 35 years ago when they co-founded the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago. According to DeFanti, back in 1991 the pair conceived of the original CAVE system using projectors to reconstruct a 3D surround environment. According to JVC, early projector-based virtual reality (VR) systems were generally limited by two major problems: resolution was "fair at best," due to limitations in computer processing power and projector technology; and the systems required a very large dedicated space--since users could block images projected by front projectors, rear projectors, which required sufficient throw distance, were necessary.

StarCAVE, a five-wall-plus-floor VR room that supports 3D imagery, was constructed by the UC San Diego division of Calit2 last year. According to DeFanti, while this third-generation system, which employs 34 JVC DLA-HD2KU projectors, offers improved resolution and a 360-degree immersive environment, it still requires a "major architectural space commitment" and is not portable. In contrast, JVC says, the new NexCAVE design uses JVC 3D monitors that are less than two inches deep. According to the company, the design's basic set-up includes 10 panels--a 3x3 matrix in a semi-circle ring. The entire top row is tilted down slightly, the company says, and the bottom row tilted up slightly; and an additional monitor below the center column is angled up and positioned at about knee height.

NexCAVE was designed and developed by DeFanti; VR design engineer, Greg Dawe; project scientist, Juergen Schulze; and visualization specialist, Andrew Prudhomme. In August, UC San Diego installed a 21-panel, 3x7 NexCAVE at KAUST. The system was developed through a special four-year partnership between UC San Diego and the Saudi institution to collaborate on visualization research. Thanks to its modular design, JVC says, the system can be dismantled and packed for easy transport between venues, and can also be designed in various configurations. The company claims that the LCD panel-based system is a fraction of the cost to construct when compared to projector-based systems, and that the fact that it does not use projectors virtually eliminates time-consuming color balance and alignment adjustments that are required in older systems each time a projector lamp needs to be replaced. In addition, JVC says, the GD-463D10U provides flicker-free 3D HD images using an integrated Xpol polarizing filter; this, the company explains, allows inexpensive polarized (passive) glasses to be used for viewing 3D images rather than more expensive shutter-based 3D systems.

NexCAVE is powered by COVISE software which was developed at the University of Stuttgart and adapted by UC San Diego. According to JVC, the software synchronizes and controls the source material and GD-463D10U displays, which do not require special hardware to play 3D images (almost any source that can send an HDMI signal can be used, the company says). According to DeFanti, the KAUST NexCAVE also features a 5.1 surround sound system with custom software designed by Calit2's Sonic Arts team at UC San Diego, and it incorporates a 10Gbps Internet connect, allowing researchers to collaborate with colleagues worldwide.

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