Dome Imaging surfs PACS wave with image display technology

November 8, 1995

DIMPL to offer platform-independent toolkitPACS observers looking for a barometer to judge the industry'shealth would do well to examine the fortunes of Dome Imaging Systems.This graphics display board developer took a chance when it wasformed

DIMPL to offer platform-independent toolkit

PACS observers looking for a barometer to judge the industry'shealth would do well to examine the fortunes of Dome Imaging Systems.This graphics display board developer took a chance when it wasformed in 1989 by tying itself to the medical imaging market,but it has seen the gamble pay off with sharply rising revenuesthat parallel the growth of digital imaging.

Dome, of Waltham, MA, was formed in 1989 by four executives fromNumber Nine Computer, a developer of computer graphics boards,which are electronic devices that take analog signals and convertthem to digital for display on high-resolution computer monitors.The four decided to leave Number Nine and form their own start-upafter attending a meeting of the Radiological Society of NorthAmerica and learning that OEMs were not pleased with the imagedisplay boards they were using at the time, according to KarenMiller, vice president of sales and marketing. Part of the problemwas that the boards were not specifically tailored to medicalimaging applications.

"We went to our first RSNA and we talked to the four differentOEMs with computers," Miller said.

"All four of those companies were using different graphicsboards than the others, and all were equally dissatisfied withwhat they had."

Dome built its first graphics display boards to provide the featuresthat OEMs said they wanted. The firm's first product was a boardfor the ISA computer bus, a standard bus used on PCs. Boards forother computer platforms have followed, with Dome targeting thedevelopment of boards with higher resolutions and quicker datatransfer rates. As a result of their technology, many PACS softwaredevelopers have been able to employ PCs for applications thatonce required the use of more powerful workstations, accordingto Miller.

A key emphasis of Dome's has been on pushing the envelope ofdisplay resolution and processing performance. At the time Domewas formed, 1k x 1k was considered high resolution, Miller said.Dome now markets 5-megapixel display boards that handle over 8bits of gray scale at a resolution of 2k x 2.5k.

The firm decided early on to stick to the medical imaging market,a decision that could have backfired were it not for the dramaticrise of digital imaging. As a result, Dome has seen revenues risesharply, from $2 million in sales in 1992 to $3.5 million in 1993,$5.7 million last year and an estimated $8.5 million this year.

"A lot of people watch Dome because they see us as the pulseof the market," Miller said. "

Our growth rate has been set by this market. Being that all wedo is medical, it's probably a good judge of how the (PACS) industryis faring right now, which is very well."

Another sign of Dome's success is the increasing number of vendorswho use its technology. Dome products will be used in the boothsof 70 to 75 vendors at the RSNA meeting this year, up from 60last year, Miller said.

Platform-independent toolkit. Dome is hoping to cement its positionin display technology with the introduction of a new softwaretoolkit at this month's RSNA meeting. The firm's Dome Image ProcessingLibrary (DIMPL) software is part of an ongoing effort to buildsoftware around its board technology, according to Peter Steven,vice president and chief technology officer.

DIMPL is designed to make it easier for PACS firms to developimage display applications that can run on any computer platform,from PCs to Sun workstations. It represents the next step in thedevelopment of Dome's toolkit software, which initially helpedPACS developers write software code around Dome display boards.

Whereas Dome's toolkit could only be used with Dome display boards,DIMPL will allow software developers to build fast, low-cost displaycontrollers regardless of the hardware their programs are runningon, according to Steven.

"What has happened in the past is that to get high-performancedisplays in medical imaging, it was required that you code veryclosely to the hardware, that you know exactly how the hardwareworks and write specifically to the features of the hardware,"Steven said. "

What we've done in DIMPL is make it easy for applications developersto write to a general-purpose imaging standard that then willoptimize itself on the fly for whatever hardware it finds in themachine."

DIMPL is an object-oriented programming environment that allowsdevelopers to code in C or C++. Dome will begin shipping DIMPLthis month and hopes that the software will become an industrystandard.

In addition to DIMPL, Dome is continuing its investment on thehardware side of image display technology. At the RSNA meeting,Dome will debut Md4/PCI, a board for the PCI bus used in IntelPCs. The bus is a 4-megapixel display that supports resolutionsup to 1728 x 2304 pixels and is well suited for applications suchas computed radiography, according to Steven. Dome will also unveila 5-megapixel display board for the S bus, which is used in Sunworkstations.

In the future, Dome plans to emphasize sales outside the U.S.,and it opened a Paris office last year to spearhead that effort.The company will also push both software and hardware development,with the goal of reducing the cost of PACS workstations to spurdemand.

"If we can pull the price of a viewing workstation from$80,000 down to $20,000, that will have the most significant impacton the growth of the market," Steven said.