Thinking Tech

Surround vision coming to a TV near you

Surround vision coming to a TV near you

Posting in Technology

Surround vision does what it suggests - surrounds you with video in an "augmented reality." For what it does, the technology is fairly simple and uses a cell phone you may already be carrying.

First there was Surround Sound. Now there's surround vision.

MIT Media Lab Research Assistant Santiago Alfaro as part of his thesis project calls it "TV outside the Box." It's one more step in the radical transformation of TV and video, which is presently in the 3D Age.

Alfaro explains at his MIT web page:

"If you're watching TV and you hear a helicopter in your surround sound," Alfaro says, "wouldn't it be cool to just turn around and be able to see that helicopter as it goes into the screen?"

Images don't simply fly off off the TV into midair as the surround vision moniker and his quote above might suggest. Rather, they split off onto handheld devices as the user pans around the room, making the shared experience of watching a single TV screen an individual one.

credit: MIT

Another term for it is "augmented reality."

Sound like another far out there technology we'll never see in our lifetime? Not really, according to Alfaro and his partner in the project, Media Lab scientist Michael Bove. The handheld component requires a magnetometer (what us non-MITers call a compass) and software written by Alfaro.

Guess what? The latest version of iPhone has a magnetometer.

User studies will ensue this spring and summer with unnamed broadcasting partners although nearby public television station WGBH nearby is a likely candidate. The pair claims the technology runs the gamut of TV broadcasting: sports, criminal-forensic shows, cartoons, children's shows and live broadcasting.

"This could be in your home next year if a network decided to do it," Bove says at the MIT web page describing the technology.

Alfaros' application is unique, but he's not the first to coin the "surround vision" label. German engineers have used to describe projecting images on curved surfaces (second video below), claiming the sensation is just like the video version of Surround Sound.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure