May 30, 2013

Building the 1.5 gigapixel 360 degree Reality Deck

Stony Brook University constructed a gigapixel resolution display that offers a full 360 ◦ horizontal field-of-view. This system, called the Reality Deck, is the world’s most expansive large-format display and it is the largest resolution display ever built. It utilizes 416 LCD panels at 2560 × 1440 resolution each, for a combined resolution of more than 1.5 gigapixels. In this paper, we present some of the design decisions and engineering challenges behind the creation of this large-scale visualization facility.

The first lesson would be the effectiveness of commercial hardware, customized with some fabrication and elbow grease. Our monitor design, based on a consumer product, was significantly cheaper than solutions by digital signage / monitor vendors that offer display design andmanufacturing services. Frankly, had we opted to use an outside vendor for the construction of custom monitors, the Reality Deck would not have achieved its current scale.

Secondly, builders should not assume that commercial, off the shelf, hardware always works as intended, particularly when pushed to the limit. We mentioned earlier the issues we encountered with passive DisplayPort extender cables. By assuming that these products ”just worked” with our cluster/monitor configuration, we encountered an unpleasant surprise relatively late in our construction process and had to reevaluate our design. On a similar note, consistency in performance is not a necessary condition for mass-produced hardware. Out of the approximately 440 monitors we ordered from our vendor, roughly 100 had to be exchanged due to brightness inconsistencies and other issues.

we would strongly urge future builders of large-format displays to prototype as much and as accurately as possible. The basic building block of such a system is a single node of the rendering cluster, along all connected displays. We suggest that prototyping be carried out using the exact PC, display and connectivity configuration that would be used in the final system. Quite frequently, this process can be carried out for free (if we ignore labor costs), as vendors are usually happy to provide evaluation units for their hardware, especially if they are trying to secure a large purchase. Through this approach, builders can eliminate most hardware related issues that may otherwise come up later.

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