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Dome's focus on graphics components benefits firm as monitor market takes off


Dome's focus on graphics components benefits firm as monitor market takes offCompany to add some image capture and archiving software Dome Imaging Systems is a perfect example of how a component provider can thrive in the PACS

Dome's focus on graphics components benefits firm as monitor market takes off

Company to add some image capture and archiving software

Dome Imaging Systems is a perfect example of how a component provider can thrive in the PACS marketplace. One of the first true PACS component developers, Dome has carved out a niche for itself in a market where small companies with staying power are anomalies.

Dome designs and manufactures graphic cards for display monitors in medical imaging environments. It also provides its OEM customers with software toolkits for such applications as image processing, display, access, and distribution. With more than 120 clients in its stable, Dome has forged an enviable market position.

Waltham, MA-based Dome wasn't always a mainstay in the PACS sector. Dome was founded in 1987 by four employees of Number Nine Computer, a graphics board vendor for the PC-based computer-aided design (CAD) marketplace. The four founders, all still executives at Dome, attended the Radiological Society of North America meeting in 1987 and determined that OEM vendors in the fledgling PACS market needed high-quality graphics boards to power their workstations.

The group launched Dome with the intention of providing both hardware and software components to PACS and medical imaging vendors, a mission that remains the same for the firm today. Working out of an office above a restaurant, the company developed its first display board in 1989, which provided 12-bit image display. The company also developed a software toolkit that enabled its customers to write DOS-based software.

From there, Dome developed a board for Macintosh-based workstations and landed its first large OEM customer, Vortech Data, at the 1991 RSNA meeting. Vortech was later acquired by Eastman Kodak in 1993.

Dome followed up its first OEM deal with a partnership with Siemens Medical Systems and Loral. A 4-megapixel display board was developed for the two firms in 1992, which was deployed as part of the military's Medical Diagnostic Imaging Support (MDIS) project. A 1280 x 1024 board for PCs was soon developed, followed by a 1600 x 1200 Macintosh-based card. The company's first 2K x 2.5K board was developed for Kodak in 1993.

The PACS industry in 1994 began a shift away from Macintosh and DOS-based offerings towards workstations powered by Sun Microsystems workstations, which led Dome to develop an Sbus product. Its 4-megapixel Sbus display was followed by 2-megapixel and 5-megapixel versions in 1995. The 5-megapixel display card was the first development with the company's own custom Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC).

The next evolution in Dome's product line included a shift from the company's PC cards for EISA buses into PCI bus models. The company developed a PCI card that could power multiheaded displays in 1996. Dome also began to move its software toolkits from its own hardware-specific and proprietary architecture to a general-purpose architecture. This culminated in the release of its DIMPL software library at the 1996 RSNA meeting.

"DIMPL allowed our customers to write one package of software that worked across a wide range of platforms and resolutions," said Karen Miller, vice president of marketing.

At the 1997 RSNA meeting, Dome introduced its first 8-megapixel display. The firm plans to broaden its range of software toolkits at this year's RSNA meeting, displaying capabilities in image storage and retrieval. This continues the firm's strategy of providing PACS companies with tools to help develop their own PACS applications, said Peter Steven, vice president and chief technology officer.

"We're not going to do a PACS ourselves," Steven said. "But we can provide customers, for example, with a high-speed storage device that happens to speak DICOM using DIMPL as the image processing tool on either side of the server or the viewer. That makes for improved performance."

The company continues to grow from its humble beginnings. After posting $13.2 million in revenue in 1997, it reached that figure after the first nine months of the year. It has been profitable for four years, Miller said.

In addition, Dome has broadened its efforts into the HIS market. Companies such as Spacelabs Medical and Shared Medical Systems are among the OEMs in that sector that employ Dome's hardware and software products.

Today, Dome has eight display boards that support a wide range of resolutions, including the 8-megapixel version. The newest display controller is the Dome Md5/PCX 5-megapixel display (PNN 10/98), a two-headed board that drives two 5-megapixel heads. Dome also offers a luminance calibration system for monitoring and measuring of workstation display consistency.

On the software side, Dome has added DimplX and DimFileX, which offer an Active-X interface to the DIMPL library. Dome also has developed DimplAccess, which provides DICOM support for storing, querying, and sending images, according to the company.

Future prospects

With the exception of a few companies such as Metheus, Dome has the medical imaging board business nearly to itself. A possible long-term threat to the firm is improvements in consumer PC monitor technology, which some PACS users may turn to as a low-cost alternative to dedicated medical imaging technology. Dome, however, believes that its high-resolution cards and its commitment to the medical imaging market will ensure its place. In a way, Dome also benefits from the relatively low volume of board business in the PACS sector. That, as well as the demanding nature of PACS workstation viewing requirements, serves as a strong entry barrier for commodity board manufacturers. As a result, Dome's niche in the market should be secure.

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