When three million pixels aren't enough

August 13, 2001

The race is on to develop the highest resolution computer monitor. First, Toshiba marketed a computer screen containing about three million pixels. IBM topped that with their Roentgen monitor, a 16.3-inch display with a resolution of 2560 by 2048

The race is on to develop the highest resolution computer monitor.

First, Toshiba marketed a computer screen containing about three million pixels.

IBM topped that with their Roentgen monitor, a 16.3-inch display with a resolution of 2560 by 2048 pixels (more than five million total) - 6.7 times as many pixels as an XGA display (1024 by 768 pixels) and four times as many as a Super XGA (1280 by 1024 pixels).

Then, earlier this year, IBM announced what it called the world's highest resolution computer screen, a high-definition flat panel that crams 9.2 million pixels in an 18.8 x 11.8-inch viewing area, enabling ultrahigh-quality imaging for vision-critical applications like medicine, science, and engineering.

Now, government researchers have raised the bar even higher - and moved viewing completely off the desk - by unveiling a 10-foot-high, 13-foot-wide screen that makes high-definition television look as grainy as a garage sale TV.

The screen, developed at Sandia National Laboratories, creates digitized images composed of 20 million pixels, approaching the visual acuity of the human eye itself. With this device, the eyeball is the limiting factor, not the screen.

"From 10 feet away, the image is as good as your eyes are able to see," said program manager Philip Heermann.

Heermann thinks the new screen is not only the clearest but also the fastest in the world in rendering complex scientific data sets.

Whether such a device might eventually prove useful to radiologists in special research, teaching, or diagnostic circumstances is difficult to say at this point, although Sandia expects it to have application in helping make sense of any large data sets.

The usefulness of the device depends upon the degree of interrogation that the medical tool possesses, according to a Sandia spokesperson. In most instances, if the researcher knows what normal results are, the large screen with its exceptional resolution clearly shows the tiniest abnormalities. Such detailed information would be of great interest in diagnostic medicine, as it is in nuclear physics.

Initially, the images rendered at Sandia are expected to allow scientists a better view of complex systems, improving understanding of crashes and fires, although the facility is also available to researchers in microsystems, nanotechnology, and biology.

The Sandia images are created through a computer configuration called massively parallel imaging, the kid brother of massively parallel computing - a method of orchestrating the individual outputs of a collection of desktop computers that together produce an output faster than any single supercomputer.

In this case, images are created through the combined efforts of 64 computers splitting data into 16 screens arranged as a four by four set.

The designers aren't finished raising the stakes. By January, Heermann expects his team to reach the project's second phase goal of 64 million pixels.