The Visualist Blog

Notes from Mersive’s R&D Underground

It’s been a while since my last post, but for good reason – I’ve been deep underground (well mostly in an above-ground office, pubs, and our R&D lab) working with the Mersive team on some exciting new technologies. You may have heard me talk about how the era of the video cable is coming to an end, and that video streaming over standard networks will soon be the way we access display infrastructure. After all that’s been the point of years of our research and ultimately, the Solstice product. But before I show you a cool video demo from the lab, I want to explain the display connection problem and why it’s so important to get it right.

Whenever  technologies undergo phase transitions like this – transforming the way we have done things for decades with new techniques (think payphone->cellphone and bank tellers->PayPal) – we have to be careful that we don’t create new problems for the end–user. In the case of  wireless media streaming from any device to any display, we have to rethink how to discover and connect to displays.  In the past, I knew which display I wanted to connect my laptop to because I’d rummage around in the pile of cables on the conference room table until I found the one that was attached to the screen I wanted to use. This accomplishes security (I need to be physically present to connect to the display), and discovery (I can discover what displays are available for connection by following the video cable to its end and see if it is open). Of course, this model is completely restrictive and doesn’t support collaboration, quick meetings, or mobile device connections – but it worked. Other wireless streaming approaches only let you connect to one preconfigured display (e.g. DirectTV) – but that’s like a video cable that is always connected to one device – while other products make you type an entire IP address every time you connect (and that just sucks).

This is why we’ve been developing alternative methods for display discovery and connection control so you can connect any device to any display on demand. Whether its an important meeting or a quick conversation in a lobby, displays should be available for media sharing to support how we communicate. We’ve already looked at this problem and spent a lot of time developing a TCP/IP based display discovery protocol that doesn’t suffer the usual problems of broadcast mechanisms on the network (ask anyone who manages a large educational or corporate network what they think of Apple’s Bonjour for example).  That protocol ships with every Solstice display and is how our enterprise customers connect to displays throughout their network.

But we’re never done. Over the past several weeks, we’ve developed a proof-of-concept Solstice add-on that uses near field communication (NFC) to establish a connection between a mobile device and a display. Imagine placing dozens of low-cost NFC tags on student tables in a classroom. When the students sit down and place their tablets on the table, they automatically connect to the screen in the room wirelessly. Any student, then, can push results of yesterdays homework, images from their fieldwork, etc. to the display to share and collaborate. The approach is secure, low-cost, and very simple for users. You could place the display tag anywhere, on a door jam of a student collaboration room, or directly on the display in an airport lounge. When users want to connect and share to the display, they simply tap it.

Here is a video of a Solstice device connecting to a Solstice display by a single tap of a 20-cent NFC tag.

Solstice NFC Demo from Mersive on Vimeo.

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