Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

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Read Me a Story…November 2003

"It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly,…" So begins the ultimate – but yet to be completed – mystery story as authored by Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy in the well-know Peanuts cartoon series. Of course, this is meant to be a spoof on how the "perfect" mystery story should begin. Nevertheless, these few simple words – hardly more than one short sentence – evoke images of Halloween-like haunted houses, shutters banging in the wind, lights flickering and then going out, and an event that is about to happen that fills us with curiosity, anticipation, and a tinge of fear. "Suddenly what? Don’t you dare stop in the middle of this sentence!" How can so few simple words evoke such powerful images? Indeed, we seem to be able to create mind pictures with the tiniest hint of stimulation. For example, somewhere I read that smells can be powerful memory stimulants. I believe it. The smell of certain foods, burning candles, mothballs, moldy basements, new mown grass, all can bring back memories embedded many years ago. We humans (since I don’t know about Snoopy the dog) seem to have the wonderful ability to create images and fill in details where none is provided.

Haystack Rock

I started thinking about all this at the conclusion of a movie on a recent cross- country flight. Typically, it takes a lot of persuading to get me into a movie theater or even to watch something on TV. But on this flight, I was sufficiently tired that the movie being shown began to catch my attention. The screen in this "theater" was one of the many small, overhead LCDs with maybe about six levels of gray scale and somewhat recognizable colors – I’m only exaggerating a tiny bit. Yet for all the defects, accompanied by comparably poor-quality audio from the complimentary headset, I found myself immersed in the story and responding emotionally just about as I would in a movie theater with a large screen and full surround sound. While I can’t claim that I have done a scientific analysis to quantify the relationship, it does seem that we can reasonably conclude that our emotional responses are not directly proportional to the quality or quantity of the information input. If one short phrase, or a sound, or one whiff of a New York subway can get our emotions and memory banks churning, how much more will we be able to do with realistic 3D images and perfectly designed surround sound? Could there be such an effect as too much reality?
Live theater and television have survived – and thrived – in spite of movie theaters that provide more "reality" through bigger screens and better quality sound. Frankly, I often prefer going to a play rather than to a movie. I don’t always like all the extra reality that a movie introduces, especially if it involves graphic violence. I like the theater because it gives me more of a choice on how much "reality" I inject into the situation being presented to me.
As display engineers, we always assume that any and every improvement that we make in image quality will be welcomed in the marketplace. But is that really true? I have now heard and read numerous complaints from television personalities that HDTV shows too much detail – too many blemishes and too many imperfections are presented to the viewers. I recently read a news story that people were making jokes about a well-known actress because they could now see some minor imperfections in her facial features. For some people this may be just what they want, but for others it may be the destruction of an idealized image that they would have preferred to keep. For the actress, it is unlikely that this was they kind of publicity she was seeking.
Imagine that it is about 50 years from now and we have finally achieved the ability to create high-resolution 3D images that require no special viewing aids such as polarizing glasses. Have we achieved the Holy Grail of displays? Perhaps for games and certain emerging applications we have. But what about movies, sports events, and the evening news – by now being read by computer generated personae.
Can there be such an effect as too much reality? Because all electronically generated images have some predetermined viewing area – maybe not in 50 years but at least for the more immediate future – there will be a border that defines the outer boundaries of the image. Therefore, our perfect 3D display will have a frame around it. This will have the effect of looking into or out of a window. Is this something that we will learn to accept and appreciate? Or will we feel like voyeurs intruding into someone else’s world? All the attempts to date in creating moving 3D images have been commercially unsuccessful. There is, of course, always the novelty effect but for serious viewing we don’t seem to like this presentation format.
When I was about ten years old, I had a "Viewmaster" 3D picture viewer. I can still remember collecting the round disks that had the pairs of images on them for producing a dozen or so stereo views of various popular vacation spots. But when I grew up, I didn’t buy a camera that took stereo photos, although they were available and heavily promoted. It just didn’t seem to add enough value. And it required a special viewer or projector each time I wanted to see my pictures.
With all these past failures, one would think that by now there would be some human factor’s studies on what works and what doesn’t. Do any of you know whether anything like that exists? In the meantime, are we display engineers searching for a Holy Grail that we assume exists, but in reality may not? Maybe "leaving something to the imagination" is where most viewers are most comfortable. Maybe if realistic 3D images are at first only accepted for games and engineering simulation then this will lead to other interesting applications that today we cannot envision. Maybe once we have the 3D display to work with, our imaginations will leap even further ahead to find new ways to use and appreciate them.
In the meantime, if you would like to explore this additional dimension by sending me your thoughts, you may reach me via this web site, or directly by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, by phone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727.