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A giant 3D screen for simulating houses, cities

Cyberdome. Is that where Mad Max and Frankie Goes to Hollywood used to live? No, the 8.5-meter-high hemisphere-shaped screen is one of the biggest in the world.

One big honking track ball.
Michael Kanellos/CNET Networks

TOKYO--It's as big as 3D gets.

The Cyberdome is an 8.5-meter-high hemisphere-shaped screen for 3D computer images at the National Center, a technological showcase for National (a subsidiary of Matsushita) in the Shiodome area of Tokyo. At that size, it's one of the biggest computer screens in the world, according to National. I wanted to get a picture of it, but it wouldn't fit into the viewfinder of my camera.

It's also got a track ball the size of a crenshaw melon. (see picture). The system is driven by 19 PCs and 18 projectors. (That's the picture of all of the equipment.) The projectors are suspended above the viewing platform. The viewing platform is a couple of meters off the ground so that the viewer's eyes can stare straight at the center of the screen, which is also the apex of the dome.

The projectors of Cyberdome. Michael Kanellos/CNET Networks

The Cyberdome exists as a way to demonstrate National's technological prowess but also as a way to help city planners and architects. The system, which requires that viewers wear glasses, gives you a bigger-than-life 3D simulation. You fly through simulated versions of city plazas or the lobbies of buildings. Designers mix it with their own CAD-CAM designs to try to better understand how people will ultimately interact with their creations.

Everyone in my group, a bunch of high-tech writers from the U.S., thought it was one of the more engaging 3D simulations they had ever seen. Gary Merson of HDGuru gave it a big thumbs up. However, it works best when you can fly through the simulations relatively slowly. You don't feel queasy when it proceeds at a pace similar to walking. We flew through a simulated urban plaza and a couple of rooms in a house. If you played Halo 3 on this thing, your head would explode in twenty seconds.