Wednesday, January 12, 2005


A link from plastic on next generation television technology got me thinking. The nanotube aspect is cool and they've done some work on it here at UNC - essentially the ends of the tubes are very sharp, and thus when a voltage is applied there is a very strong electric field at the tip so they eject electrons easily.

In particular, the idea of these enormous televisions with possibly very high resolutions got me thinking of a really cool (and very expensive) art project you could do. Imagine a flat circular television some 10 feet in diameter with a per-square-centimeter resolution like a computer monitor, so that the whole thing would need some 100 million pixels or so. You'd have to have a mini-supercomputer just to process the data. And the image would be coming in from some big cluster of video cameras somewhere else in the world - let's say for the first one a skyscraper in Tokyo looking out over the city - which would be seemlessly spliced together for the super-high res. TV. And that would be it - it would broadcast that view 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the webcam to end all webcams. You'd have the TV set in a thin seemless metal disk, perhaps on a pedestal set 3 feet off the ground, otherwise completely freestanding out in some public space, and it would be just like a wormhole portal to another place like you read in science fiction. The key would be the huge resolution - it wouldn't be like staring at a computer image on a screen, it would be like you were really there yourself - you could watch the clouds slowly morph and the shadows creep as the sun moved through the sky, and all the people and cars moving on the streets below. You could have another image on the opposite side of the disk, maybe a live feed looking up into the Himalayan mountains, and there could be other disks in the public space, looking out on the beaches of Hawaii, the city of Cairo with the pyramids in the background, the Canadian rockies while it's snowing, maybe one in Athens with the sun setting. Also, if you could get a live continuous feed of a low earth orbit satellite looking down on the earth that would be awesome - in fact, since this would take a while to be realized, maybe the opposite side of that disk could be a continuous feed of whatever galaxy or quasar the James Webb space telescope was currently observing.

I think this would be even better if it was two way. Rather than a distant, elevated view, why not have a view that comes from the same elevation in a completely different part of the world. Imagine nodding/waving hello as you walk by in near real time to someone in Tokyo, or London, or where ever. That way it would really be more like a portal.

You could extend the illusion by having the back of the portal face in the direction of the other side, and having lots of them, some distant, some close. Walk up to one portal and you might see somebody 50-100 feet down the street, or on the other side of a city park. Other portals, however, would point to other cities around the world, again with correct orientation. Being able to see the other side of some of them could help establish the sense of a real connection.

The problem with the two way portal becomes capturing the video from the same spot as the image is displayed. If you put the camera on top, then you end up with the web cam effect, that is, to each side it looks like the other side is looking down. One could simply leave a hole in the middle and have a camera right there, but that would kind of destroy the aesthetic of the whole thing. What would be really cool is if a whole lot of fiber optic fibers could poke out through the screen throughout, and then the corresponding video feed could be made from this input.

Of course, because this is ultimately 2D, in either case much of the effect would probably lost as you moved to the side, but it might be more jarring for the 2-way, street level version. A 3D looking hole in the middle of the street would be the ultimate evolution of such a project.

-Ben G.
Hi Ben!

Even better yet: 10 to 15 years later when such technology becomes cheap and ubiquitous. You could, say, cover all the walls, and ceiling and floor, of a room with the flat screens, and have a cloud room, as if you were floating around 3,000 meters up. The graphics cards could render this in real time at this point too - so perhaps a tiny hidden camera could track your eyes and general position and render things with the proper perspective (they would still need to be far away objects so the binocular vision wouldn't be an issue). You can find some good bargains with this site. Just search for camera and try it. The site allows you to search eBay using misspelled words and you can find great deals because you dont have as many bidders bidding against.
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