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Peering into the sci-fi future of PC displays

Brad Chacos | April 1, 2013
Moore's law may keep us supplied with octa-core smartphone processors and PCs packed with millions of transistors, but not all areas of technology keep the pedal to the proverbial metal as enthusiastically as the chip technology. Specifically, desktop displays--the portals through which we glimpse the output of those hulking CPUs--are stuck in neutral while the technology in the rest of your PC tears ahead at breakneck speed.

Moore's law may keep us supplied with octa-core smartphone processors and PCs packed with millions of transistors, but not all areas of technology keep the pedal to the proverbial metal as enthusiastically as the chip technology. Specifically, desktop displays--the portals through which we glimpse the output of those hulking CPUs--are stuck in neutral while the technology in the rest of your PC tears ahead at breakneck speed.

Sure, Retina-level displays look mighty fine, but c'mon. This is the 21st century, not 1999. Fortunately, several forward-thinking ventures are ditching traditional PC flat screens in favor of innovative designs that could one day redefine the way we look at our computers. These, folks, are the PC displays of the future--or at least they aim to be.

Oculus Rift

Any discussion about PC displays of the future would be incomplete if it didn't mention virtual reality, and the virtual reality kit that has gained the most notoriety lately is the Kickstarter-backed Oculus Rift. This headset has captured the attention of gaming enthusiasts en masse. Powered by a sensor package that includes a gyrometer, an accelerometer, and a magnetometer, the Oculus Rift uses the data generated by those components to monitor your head movements and translate them into 3D gaming worlds with virtually no latency, giving you a truly immersive VR experience.

It's seriously awesome, and a software development kit is slated to make its way to developers soon. Check out our own Alex Wawro giving the Oculus Rift a whirl in the video above.

Canon Mixed Reality

Similar to the Oculus Rift in that it's a big, black headset that transports you to virtual environs, Canon's recently announced Mixed Reality device targets industrial designers rather than gamers.

The headset connects to a beefy workstation and sports two forward-facing cameras. Working in concert, all this hardware is designed to present an augmented-reality blend of the real and the imaginary. The system can transform simple real-world props into fully fleshed out representations of a designer's creation, as demonstrated in the image below. Once immersed, you can manipulate items in real time in the augmented equivalent of real space, complete with an accurate sense of scale.

Cool, huh? Now for the downside: Canon's Mixed Reality currently costs $125,000 up front and another $25,000 per year in maintenance fees. The $300 Oculus Rift dev kit, on the other hand, is made from off-the-shelf parts. But remember that today's high-priced novelty is tomorrow's consumer-priced commodity.

Autostereoscopic 3D

Beyond straight-up virtual reality, most of the other attempts at pushing displays forward involve creating 3D imagery of some kind--but no one wants to wear those super-dorky glasses that most current-day 3D technology depends on. Enter autostereoscopic technology, a catch-all term for glasses-free 3D.

 

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