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Virtual Reality on a Vast and Vivid Scale

Photonics Spectra
May 2007
Talk about video games.

The Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University in Ames has created what it claims is the highest resolution and most realistic virtual reality room — known as the C6 — in the world.

Users are enveloped by the six-sided room, where they are bombarded by stereographic images and 100 megapixels of vivid color. In one application, a user can fly a combat aircraft high above a rugged mountain chain. Speed, altitude and direction are all precisely monitored. A target is marked on the horizon.

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A user tests his skills in an aerial combat simulation at the recently expanded Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University. Courtesy of the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University.

The C6, which opened in 2000, recently was upgraded with $5 million in new equipment. The expansion increases its pixel count by 16 times and provides a pixel density of ∼34 pixels per inch compared with 8.5 before. The new equipment includes a Hewlett-Packard computer cluster that features 96 graphics processing units, 24 of the latest Sony digital projectors (four per wall, each with a resolution of 4096 × 2160 pixels), an eight-channel audio system and ultrasonic motion tracking technology. The system allows users to experience visual acuity to ∼20/25.

When the C6 opened seven years ago, it was considered cutting edge, but within a few years it already was becoming outdated. A decision was made in 2005 to overhaul the system with the latest ultrahigh-resolution equipment.

The updated system has met with some challenges. To overcome tearing in several areas of the display, the PC cluster had to have all the video channels’ refresh rates synchronized.

Beyond the obvious application of training the next generation of soldiers and pilots for combat, a number of other uses are planned for the revamped system.

Researchers will use the device to demonstrate how data from as many as 22,000 genes can be visualized. Students will see how photosynthesis works, and engineers will use it to visualize new products.

A demonstration of the C6’s abilities takes viewers on a virtual hovercraft trip to a tropical island, followed by a scuba diving excursion on a shipwreck.

And they never even have to leave Iowa.


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