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Obscura Digital makes the Web HUGE

Company projects video and computer displays onto anything, including, one day, your entire living room--walls, ceiling, and all.

Obscura Digital produces interactive video and online installations. I got a tour of the company's studio recently from its CEO, Patrick Connolly.

In addition to the demo of updated multitouch video wall (see video), I sat inside the 30-foot-diameter dome that Obscura can project anything on to. It's been used to sell as yet unbuilt real estate, to wow VIPs during events at Google, and to pitch products for AOL and Pioneer at trade shows. Think of it as a new-tech planetarium, but one that projects primarily marketing imagery.

The company also makes much smaller domes, sized for individuals playing computer games.

Obscura's core technology is its capability to map high-resolution, full-motion video to any surface a projecter can reach, and to manipulate it in real time. If you want to project a cutaway of a car's working innards onto the car itself, call Obscura.

At the moment, Obscura does not make a consumer version of its technology, and there are no public installations of it. But Connolly told me his company is working on a consumer setup.

Marrying existing commercial projection technology with a wide-angle lens and software on a laptop that lets users easily tell the system where walls and ceilings are, it will be able to project any video, computer display, or static scene into any reasonably sized room. The software will keep straight lines straight even when they're projected across crazy angles.

A rack of FireFrame image processing units. Rafe Needleman/CNET Networks

If you have a club or restaurant, though, and want to set up a permanent installation, you'll need to grab some heavy-duty projectors and one or more of the company's FireFrame image processor engines to drive them. Each is good for projecting a 4000x4000 pixel image.

As you can see in the video, the company also has technology to make its installations interactive.

As a business, Obscura has a better model than other interactive marketing and advertising companies like Reactrix.

Obscura builds installations on contract for companies that want to make big impressions. Reactrix, though, buys rights to install its displays in public venues and then sells advertising programs for those locations.

While the financial upside on that billboard model is potentially higher, the risk is also much greater, since Reatrix pays rent on its setups even when it doesn't have income to offset it. Obscura, in contrast, doesn't do anything for free.

No surpirse: I like what Obscura is trying to do. It's taking what we generally think of as boxed-in displays--Web pages, videos--and projecting them into our environments.

While existing Web sites are most certainly not designed to be projected on walls or domes, nor shared by multiple stand-up viewers at the same time, the technology is very promising for the future of interactive media. The more of these displays get out there, the more designers will emerge to create immersive and creative applications that use them.

See also:
Gates demos TouchWall computer
Asus takes user interface to the next level