Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Future of home theatre is the Access Grid?

wall screens
Before you rip out some walls to install a home theatre, perhaps you should have a look at the Access Grid first.

The home entertainment industry sees the future as a huge, wide, high definition screen in everyone's home, preferably is a dedicated room which looks like a cinema with a projection system. Those without the space have to make do with a plasma screen.

But before you spend $50,000 or more on such a system, is it really the future? Springing up on university campuses and IT research organizations are access grid nodes. These are video conference rooms designed for high quality virtual meetings.

ceiling mounted projectors
Apart from video conference cameras, microphones and speakers, the rooms have multiple video screens. This is done to save the cost of buying a very large, high resolution wide screen. Instead you can get more for your money by buying three lower resolution, standard ration (3:4) screens and putting them next to each other. For a large room a row of three ceiling mounted projectors are used, with wall screens or simply a wall painted white (the photos show the setup of one of the rooms on the ANU campus). Such a room can accommodate several dozen to several hundred people. A smaller room for a dozen people can have three plasma screens and a very small system for a couple of people can have three cheap LCD panels on a desk.

Much of the time these rooms are not used for video conferences, but for ordinary slide show presentations and watching video. This room design might spill over to the domestic environment and become the normal video entertainment arrangement of the future.

This is not what TV and movie companies are planning for home entertainment. They want very high resolution wide screen displays, because that is what they have already invested in for content production and it is a way to force the consumer to buy new ever more expensive equipment. Three lower cost screens will not work as well with this content, but be better for Internet and web style multi-viewpoint material, such as Vogs. The TV company will let you see sports from different viewpoints, but only allow you to choose one viewpoint at a time. Three screens allows you to have three viewpoints at once.

The Access Grid was invented by scientists for scientific research purposes and can easily dismissed by the entertainment industry as too complex for the consumer. But the Web was also invented by scientists for research purposes and it became popular for home entertainment.


Anonymous said...

How would you syncronize the same content spread over various screens so that it composed one segmented scene?

Tom Worthington said...

Someone asked "How would you syncronize the same content spread over various screens so that it composed one segmented scene?"

There are a couple of ways to make sure three (or more) screens show synchronized video. This is easy to do because with an access grid (and similar systems) all the screens are controlled by one computer. The three screens form one large virtual desktop.

The lazy way is to stretch one video window out so it fills all three screens. To the viewer it looks like there are three synchronized videos playing, but it is just one. Obviously the content has to be designed so it fits on the screens. This can be done with the Quicktime player, for example, or even Flash.

The less simple way is to use something like SMIL. This has provision for synchronizing video streams. You can drag and stretch each video window until it fits on one of the screens.