Organized rack for advanced gaming computerVirtual reality environments can yield staggering insights and tremendous efficiencies, but to realize the full potential of the technology and generate maximum value over the long term, VR systems need to be built on the strongest possible foundation of computing power. That graphics muscle enables a wide variety of users to render and manage massive, disparate data sets in ways that unlock understanding. Even more than the display itself, computing power is essential to delivering an experience that’s truly immersive and natural.

If you’re contemplating adding a large-scale VR system into your workflow, it’s important to partner with a technology provider who understands spatial and graphics computing and has the in-house expertise necessary to deliver on the promise of virtual reality.

Every component of a VR system is essential and must be planned to meet your specific needs. The content, your data, has to be useable and compatible with the configuration of VR display best suited to your data. And, of course, the display must be vivid and responsive. But the magic happens somewhere in between, within the video chain and the VR engine – the computer – that translates your data into an engaging and insightful experience.

THE FOUNDATION FOR EFFECTIVE VR SYSTEMS

It all begins with implementation discovery – asking the right questions to:

  • Identify problems that need to be solved: eg. Reducing time to market through virtual design and prototyping or finding new ways to analyze massive 3D datasets/models
  • Understand the anticipated use cases and users: this can include multi-disciplinary teams
  • Discuss potential system enhancements based on initial success and/or future data strategy
  • Consider additional possibilities to further increase the utility of their investment. This might include stakeholder presentations, virtual briefings, and more

“Scalability and flexibility are key to ROI because they expand use cases and utilization,” says Chad Kickbush, general manager of integration at Mechdyne. “You don’t build for the next six months, but for the next three to four years and beyond. That mindset is at the heart of fully realizing the value of your system.”

High-performance multi-application systems benefit from advanced staging at Mechdyne's Tech Center
High-performance multi-application systems benefit from advanced staging at Mechdyne’s Tech Center

The best way to prepare for the future, Kickbush advises, is with a computing system that’s as flexible as it is powerful. It’s crucial to remember that a large-bandwidth 3D signal pushes through cables, switchers, and encoders. Ample computing power is needed to drive 3D signals to ensure that they originate correctly, then pass through the distribution channels and computers without getting degraded. And if you want your data to span multiple displays, reaching multiple collaborative partners, that’s going to entail even more complexity and require additional computing power.

Many organizations seeking to create high performance immersive and VR environments aren’t strangers to virtual reality. Often, they have experience with head mounted VR displays, or they’ve rendered 3D imagery on a single screen. What they tend not to realize, however, is just how great a leap they’re making in the transition to a fully immersive VR environment involving, say, multiple curved screens or screens positioned at multiple angles, like a CAVE. Large immersive displays may require images to be ‘broken apart’ into multiple graphics cards in a computing cluster, then stitched back together through software and other hardware.

“Taking a 3D image to a single display is relatively easy, but if you want to scale it up, curve it and reconfigure it, the challenge is much more complex,” adds Kickbush.

CAVE simulation set up with HMD and controller at FIUWhen a VR system is under-powered, users can quickly become frustrated by the viewing experience. Visible artifacts like eye separation, increased image overlap/ghosting, and image strobing can occur. In some cases, the shortcomings aren’t just annoying, they’re nausea-inducing. As a result, users begin to shun the equipment. Or maybe they’ll use it simply as a large slide sharing display and abandon its 3D capabilities. Whether un-utilized or under-utilized, the system will never have a chance to earn its keep and potentially paradigm-shifting insights will never come to light.

EXAMPLE: POWER AND FLEXIBILITY AT THOMAS JEFFERSON UNIVERSITY

Thomas Jefferson University was determined to realize the full potential of its new Gutman Library Advanced Media Center, a multifunctional immersive and VR environment designed by TJU and Mechdyne to accommodate multiple users handling a wide variety of data. In-depth discovery enabled Mechdyne to map out strategic objectives and a breadth of anticipated use cases for the facility. Next, Mechdyne collaborated with Silverdraft Supercomputing, specifying the computer to ensure sufficient computing power, scalability, and flexibility not just to meet stipulated requirements, but to handle as-yet unidentified use cases.

“Computing is essential to successful immersive and VR environments,” explains Kickbush. The integration must balance graphics and resolution in the core system, plus the peripherals that will be connected and synched together. “Complex VR really is a different beast,” he adds. “The graphics capabilities that might work for an HMD will be inadequate in an environment used for graphics-intensive gaming, virtual production, VR research and the like.” All that and more were part of TJU’s mandate for the Advanced Media Center.

“Silverdraft was the natural partner for us on this project,” says Kickbush. “After all, we weren’t about to create a unique immersive environment that should perform like a race car and put a used, four-cylinder engine in it.”

E-Sports gaming - immersive gaming setup
Adding e-sport capabilities vastly expands the utility and appeal of the system

TJU provided a vivid example of the importance of planning for future use cases and the demands of multiple users mining diverse data. Before the Advanced Media Center was completed, the school discovered that its high-performance computing lab, sporting powerful PCs paired with 8K monitors, had been appropriated by a student group of e-sports enthusiasts for off-hours use. “This came up in the discovery process,” says Mechdyne solutions architect

Gary Quasebarth, “and because we identified the use case at an early stage, we were able to design the Advanced Media Center with computing power ample to accommodate e-sports activity at a negligible extra cost.

Virtual Production - Filming a Western with a large visualization display“Similarly, we were able to build on the broadcast component of e-sports to create virtual production capabilities for the theater and fashion design departments, enabling them to render designs in amazing detail and produce real time events with world-class graphics,” adds Quasebarth. “Incorporating multiple use cases into one system hadn’t been attempted before. It’s testimony to the power of discovery, which if done right can enable new, multi-disciplinary uses at an extremely low cost.”

POWERING FORWARD

Kaust Cornea immersive XR solutionThe measure of a successful VR environment isn’t just the results it immediately generates, or even the ease with which multiple user groups adopt the system. “A really well-designed VR environment will prove its worth over time,” explains Kickbush. Mechdyne, for example, designed an immersive, 100 million pixel, six-sided 3D CAVE, called Cornea, at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in mid-2009, and after 15 years of service the system and its companion integrations continue to enable new insights. “Cornea delivers ROI in 2024 in large part because it was designed with incredible computer power and built to allow for upgrades as time progressed. Forward thinking, in combination with dedicated service and support from the Mechdyne team, enabled KAUST to realize tremendous ongoing value from its investment,” adds Kickbush.”

The lesson for other institutions that want to harness the power of virtual reality to enable insight and understanding? Think holistically, but pay special attention to the core of your system: its computing power. With the right engine and planning, there’s no telling how far your system will take you.

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