The Visualist Blog

Technology: The New Frontier – Software Driven Displays

Software Driven Displays

The displays we use as part of our computational environments have evolved along the traditional hardware paths, becoming brighter, somewhat better, quite a bit cheaper. The $300, 21-inch LCD display I am using today is far better than the 9-inch green screen, attached to the Commodore PET that I used to (try) and run a BBS on in 1981. 

That said, it’s surprising to me how relatively slow the evolution of displays has been compared to other aspects of computing.  Display evolution has not reached the same Moore’s Law type trajectory that we have seen in silicon and software.  I would argue that the basic desktop display I am using today is fundamentally the same as the displays I used in the 1990s.   However, that is not the case for computer graphics capability.  For example, there are commodity graphics cards today capable of generating one billion pixels-per-second.

Why the disconnect?  Displays have been constrained by the hardware life-cycle of manufacturing processes, international broadcast standards, and complex electro-optical issues.  This is about to change.  Over the past several years several companies (preceded by some amazing researchers) are beginning to view displays as a software challenge.  This emerging view believes that the only way to accelerate the development of display technology is to view hardware as components (like a processor or your network card) and to focus on developing intelligent software that leverages those components into new and exciting displays.  I call this type of software “Visual Computing Software” and it ranges from the rendering pipeline (stuff seen at SIGGRAPH for example) to the more user-facing software that moves media from the cloud onto any display in your environment. 

The real excitement happens when Visual Computing Software companies team-up with the hardware manufacturers to re-envision displays and fully leverage the availability of intelligent display software.  As an example, Mersive worked with Planar to develop a display that can be driven by a single Eyefinity card to deliver 12 million pixels of resolution on a 12 foot wide display that is less than 18 inches deep. 

Software Driven Displays

By combining their traditional video cube technology (think studios like CNN, command and control centers, digital signage), with Mersive’s software, Planar has been able to rack those cubes together to deliver a single seamless display that’s resolution is six times HD.  The development cycle time was less than 12 months from concept to the official product launch last month.

The Planar Clarity MegaPixel Wall is truly beautiful and I am sure will be a popular display.  What I find most interesting is how software was able to put this display onto the same development path that other parts of computing have enjoyed over the past decade.  I’m proud to be part of this evolution and, like someone at a very large computing company told me recently, “Display Technology is the New Wild West of Computing”.  For companies that understand this, it should be a great ride. 

See you on the frontier!

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