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The Statesman


University home to giant Reality Deck

A $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation funds the Reality Deck. (FRANK POSILLICO/ THE STATESMAN)
A $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation funds the Reality Deck. (FRANK POSILLICO/ THE STATESMAN)

Stony Brook is home to a new reality: the Reality Deck, a relatively small room whose walls are plastered with 416 Samsung LCD monitors. When they’re all turned on and showing one image, the monitors surround the viewer in a near realistic experience.

Charilaos Papadopoulos is a Ph.D. candidate who works with the Reality Deck and was one of the few who helped build it. Papadopoulos, along with Kal Petkov, is one of only two graduate students who work with Arie Kaufman, the head of the project and chair of the computer science department.

“The fact that this is an immersive display is something that doesn’t exist in the word at this resolution,” Papadopoulos said.

This reality deck is the only one of its kind—at least for the next few years.

The room, which measures 33-by-19-by-10 feet, holds a 1.5 billion-pixel display that matches the resolution of the human eye. The 416 screens each measure 27 inches with a resolution of 2560 by 1440, a resolution better than that of a home theater display.

Each screen is customized and connected to the computer in the back room. The 24 displays—more than other facilities of the same purpose have—are connected to a single computer.

There was no system to get as many pixels of resolution that the one at Stony Brook.

Most of these have been long walls, so the idea here was to make it immersive.

The project has been funded by a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation and matching funds from the university.

“We developed a number of applications for this; the idea is that this is a visualization facility. We look at applications for scientific purposes.”

For an idea of the scale of the Reality Deck, imagine the Glimpse Map Scale Survey, a 180-foot long picture taken of the inner Milky Way Galaxy—something Papadopoulos said would be near impossible for a scientist to study on a single screen. In the Reality Deck, however, the image can be shown in its full scale around the room.

“The really great thing about this facility is you have a really wide field of view,” Papadopoulos said. “You could be sitting back, you can look at the overall context of things and then you can walk up to an individual display and see the very small and minute details.”

Instead of having to pan an image vertically on a smaller screen, the Reality Deck’s display allows a viewer to simply turn around to view an image.

“We’ve never had a way to analyze and display tremendous amounts of data at one time before,” Kaufman said in a statement. “This is revolutionary for visual analytics, which is the most powerful and critically important analyses.”

But for the average person who doesn’t have tremendous data sets to dissect, the Reality Deck can and will still be something commonplace in the future.

As the technology gets cheaper and when the bevels between the screens disappear to make the room a fully seamless experience, a Reality Deck could be something more commonplace—something along the line of the movie theater of the future.

But for now, videos do not work as well on the display. Take the highest quality video from a movie and it will still not scale properly on the Reality Deck.

“Right now the industry is going towards 4k, but it is still not good enough for a display of this size.” Papadopoulos said. “We need to get video that can be mapped to a full cylinder and at full scale.”

The applications for the technology are endless: from a home theater for the common man with a million dollars, to a study and analysis tool for scientists to look at massive amounts of data at the same time.

In the Reality Deck, Papadopoulos brought up gigapixel images of Dubai that were so clear one could walk straight up to the image and read the signs on the highway. A picture of Obama’s inauguration where each face in the crowd could be seen, there was even a picture of a Stony Brook lacrosse game and the 2010 Commencement.

When video is more viable, this technology can even be used as surveillance. Imagine standing in the middle of a crisis like the Boston bombings and following the suspects through the streets. It may be scary to some, but the Reality Deck housed in the CEWIT building at Stony Brook is only the beginning of the future.

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