Siggraph 2007 wrap-up

Glaskowsky covers a final few bits about the conference--big pictures from Microsoft, small displays from Qualcomm, and fast displays from Field Emissions Technologies.

Here are a final few tidbits from my last day at Siggraph:

Microsoft Research gave a great presentation on HD View, a company project based on capturing, assembling, and displaying multi-gigapixel image. These images are stitched together from hundreds of pictures captured through a telephoto lens on a computer-controlled telescope mount. Users can zoom into these images to the limit of the individual pictures.

Siggraph 2007 logo
Photo by ACM Siggraph

The Web site for HD View works only for Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers on Windows, but includes a link to xRez, a similar but independent effort that works well in the Safari browser on Macs.

At one point during the Microsoft presentation, the speaker clicked over into a new image and immediately the screen went blue, showing a typical Windows debugger screen. After some audience applause, the presenter returned to the mouse and zoomed back, showing that the error message was actually a virtual easter egg hidden in the sky in a picture of Seattle. Apparently that image contains several of these secret features hidden among its 3.6 billion (90,080 x 39,616) pixels...

Qualcomm was in the Emerging Technologies showcase (be sure to check out the YouTube summary video) showing the first commercial product based on its IMOD (interferometric modulation) display technology. This technology uses deformable reflective membranes within each pixel to switch the pixel between black and a primary color--red, green or blue.

The membranes hold their position when power is removed, making the IMOD technology suitable for use in low-power devices. The first IMOD product is the UBHS-PH2 from Ubixon, a Bluetooth headset controller gizmo that can show simple information such as SMS messages and song titles from a connected smart phone.

Qualcomm's IMOD technology competes with electrophoretic displays from E Ink and others (which I described in an earlier blog entry here). IMOD offers better color and faster switching, but it isn't as far along in development. I expect we'll be seeing more of it in time.

In that same blog entry, I also mentioned field-emission display (FED) technology, but only in passing. Now I think it deserves a little more attention, because there were some really amazing FED displays from Field Emission Technologies in the Siggraph exhibition area.

FET was showing a 19.2-inch display that can be refreshed at 240Hz, four to six times the typical rates of LCDs. Although the display had only 1,280x720 addressable pixels, fewer than today's LCDs of the same size, it looked much sharper when displaying fast-moving images because of the high frame rate.

In the long run, FEDs can achieve much higher resolution than LCDs. The Siggraph prototype display actually has over 10,000 subpixels underneath each pixel, each consisting of a microscopic electron gun like the one in a cathode-ray tube; all of these subpixels are connected together. A FET representative explained that the large number of subpixels overcomes the inherent variability of the manufacturing process, but I'm sure there are other ways to deal with that issue.

As good as these displays looked at Siggraph, FEDs may be closer to production than I thought. Although the flat-panel display market is already crowded, FEDs might fit in with the gaming market, where high frame rates are especially valuable. We'll see...

I also learned that Siggraph is planning some changes for 2008, notably earlier deadlines for research papers and facilities rearranged along theme lines. Apparently not all the details are settled yet, but if you're interested in attending or participating, you should probably check out the Siggraph 2008 Web site.