DSCVR System

Living Environments Laboratory, UW–Madison · May 2012 – August 2013

with Kevin Ponto and Ross Tredinnick

Virtual Reality Hardware Design and Project Planning

A LiDAR scan of a home shown on the DSCVR System, part of the vizHOME Project.

While at the LEL, Assistant Professor Kevin Ponto and I designed and built a room-sized hybrid reality environment (HRE) powered by off-the-shelf hardware.

Named the DSCVR System, this immersive display space lets students and researchers explore immersive design and visualization at scale.

We built the DSCVR System to prove that inexpensive virtual reality environments are a viable alternative to costly commercial systems. Based on our analysis, we have created a system whose performance rivals that of systems that are 20 to 100 times more expensive.

DSCVR is built from consumer-grade 3DTVs, gaming PCs, Kinect for Windows, and a modular aluminum frame. It supports high-resolution imagery, 4K videos, a variety of cluster software, and realtime stereo 3D graphics with head and body tracking.

DSCVR at a Glance

  • The system's 20 thin-bezel 1080p 3DTVs are perfect for finely detailed graphics and high-density data visualization.
  • Users wear light, inexpensive glasses to view images and explore environments in stereo 3D.
  • Kinect for Windows lets users interact with the system without wearing additional equipment.
  • The hardware cluster supports several open-source and free-to-use graphics applications, such as Unity, OGRE 3D, CGLX, VideoBlaster, and more.
  • The final materials cost is just over $40,000. Comparable systems cost $800,000 or more.

Structural Design

The DSCVR System is shaped like a half-cylinder for a reason. This arrangement creates a 4-foot-diameter "sweet spot" for viewers near the center of the system.

Why design the system like this? The combination of vertically mounted displays and a half-cylinder arrangement is what eliminates unsightly "image ghosting", or stereoscopic "crosstalk" artifacts, for viewers of varying statures, standing or sitting.

Any other solution to this problem would have been cost-prohibitive. For example, the state-of-the-art CAVE2™ at UIC relies on custom screens with modified polarizing filters to eliminate off-axis viewing artifacts. Hence, the size and shape of this innovative design are exactly what enables DSCVR to use off-the-shelf 3DTVs.

An overhead view of DSCVR, showing the displays’ estimated viewing ranges and the center "sweet spot". Viewers in the "sweet spot" can see all of DSCVR's screens in 3D without any "image ghosting".

The DSCVR System was a challenging and exciting year-long project done in close collaboration with Professor Kevin Ponto. It involved significant research and development, requiring multiple design revisions, meticulous resource management, and extensive testing.

I was responsible for developing system hardware requirements, creating CAD models, budgeting resources and funds, contacting equipment vendors, validating design prototypes, and preparing software install media.

We experimentally validated our designs, signed off on equipment orders, attended planning meetings, assembled the final structure. We also published a final performance analysis and design review of the system in the Springer Journal of Virtual Reality.

Throughout the project we worked closely with multiple departments at UW–Madison, including finance, IT, architecture, and physical plant, in order to meet electrical, HVAC, safety, and computing requirements.

Ponto, K., Kohlmann, J., & Tredinnick, R. (2014). DSCVR: designing a commodity hybrid virtual reality system. Virtual Reality, 1–14. doi:10.1007/s10055-014-0254-0

The final system is truly a collaborative effort, and it would not have been possible without the time and dedication of numerous coworkers and colleagues who helped us.

We would like to acknowledge the support of the the Living Environments Laboratory, the School of Human Ecology, the UW-Madison Graduate School and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

We would specifically like to thank Vito Freese for his assistance with installation and Patricia Brennan, Kendra Kreutz, Andrew Wagner, John Hilgers and Roberto Rengel for their support and assistance in this project.