24 January 2012
Virtual reality has promised much for decades, particularly within the professional space, but it has yet to deliver to the mainstream. Can InfiniteZ’s zSpace holographic display system change this? Al Dean finds out
We’re all used to the idea of virtual reality (VR), of being able to fully immerse ourselves in a 3D world and interact with lifelike 3D objects.
Unfortunately, for the majority, that idea is confined to the world of movies such as The Matrix, Minority Report, Iron Man and, yes, Lawnmower Man.
Unless you have a big budget and the space to build a powerwall or immersive cave, then you’re pretty much out of luck. While prices have fallen over the last few years, VR still requires serious investment. But what about those looking for smaller scale solutions?
One answer is stereographic glasses or 3D displays. While these are a stop gap and do show data in 3D, they don’t really offer much over a standard monitor. This is where InfiniteZ and its zSpace device is looking to jump into the market.
I first saw zSpace five years ago and infiniteZ has been working on it ever since.
From that early stage prototype, the eventual shipping unit is dramatically different.
The pen acts as an interaction tool, as opposed to a standard 3D mouse. This means that objects can be selected, rotated, inspected, repositioned and disassembled in full 3D
Essentially, the device is a 24” HD LCD panel set inside a pretty slick housing that’s desktop-based, rather than on a vertical mount.
This is then combined with stereographic spectacles and a tracking rig integrated into the housing.
This means that when the model is loaded, users can move their heads and look around the object just as they would in real life.
The combination of the glasses, the high quality display and the form factor of the device provides a very good set-up.
The secret weapon?
What really makes this system different from existing products of a similar nature is the pen, or stylus.
Integrated (hardwired in fact) into the unit is a point device, similar to those found on Wacom’s devices, which is essentially a pen with a couple of buttons.
The pen acts as an interaction tool, as opposed to the standard mouse. This means that objects can be selected, rotated, inspected, repositioned and disassembled in full 3D.
The catch & the conclusion
I had the chance to sit and play with the shipping version of the product at the recent Autodesk University event and it’s damned impressive.
The data is shown in full 3D and does everything it promises and it didn’t give me a screaming headache after three minutes. In short, I love it.
But (and you knew this was coming), what will make or break this device is the application support. At present, within the MCAD space, there’s only support for Autodesk Showcase and Geomagic’s Studio products. That doesn’t represent a wide range of application options.
On the upside, the device is looking to be quite cost effective at $6,000. This may seem a lot for a display solution, but if you’re looking to present design concepts to a client or management, sitting them in front of this would impress the hell out of them. More importantly, it would give anyone greater insight into how a product looks and operates.
Yes, it’s still early days and there’s much to be done on the application support front, but this is exciting and has serious potential.