Stony Brook U.’s Reality Deck Is A Dazzling Visual Display

Dec. 4, 2012
Joe Desposito visits the Reality Deck at the CEWIT building at Stony Brook University for a tour and interview with Dr. Arie Kaufman
Last Friday, I got a chance to see the new 1.5 billion pixel Reality Deck at Stony Brook University. Constructed at a cost of $2 million, the Reality Deck is essentially a room with four walls built out of 27” (diagonal) displays—416 in all. Each display sports an ultra-high resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels with a wide viewing angle. The manufacturer is Samsung.

The Reality Deck is housed in a building called the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT). The room measures 33’ by 19’ by 10’. When high resolution images are displayed on the walls, the effect is astounding.

The first image I saw was the 2008 inauguration of President Obama. As you look around the room, the panoramic photo of the event gives you a real feeling of how spectacular an event it really is. There are about a half-million people in the photo. When you’re standing in the middle of the room, it’s much like viewing the Super Bowl or other sporting event from an overhead blimp. But when you move closer to the display, the resolution is so good that you can easily recognize many of the dignitaries in the crowd.

While there, I did a video interview with Project Director, Dr. Arie Kaufman, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Computer Science Department and Chief Scientist of CEWIT (see A Visual Treat Awaits Visitors at Stony Brook University's New Reality Deck). He wants to use the Reality Deck for visual analytics, among other things. Dr. Kaufman said, “This technology will be used for visualizing and analyzing big data, such as advanced medical imaging, protein visualization, nanotechnology, astronomical exploration, micro tomography, architectural design, reconnaissance, satellite imaging, security, defense, detecting suspicious persons in a crowd, news and blog analyses, climate and weather modeling, as well as storm surge mapping to fight flood disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy and global warming.”

I got to see some of this in action. With one image, I was surrounded by the DNA of the e. Coli virus. In another, I watched several visualizations of how different types of storms would affect flood levels on Long Island—where I happen to live. The most disconcerting for me was the effect of rising ocean levels on Long Island. In one scenario, Long Island was almost completely under water. Another very cool view was that of the city of Dubai, U.A.E., which we got to view as if standing on the tallest building in the city (see photo). The view was somewhat familiar to me, since I visited Dubai back in 2008 when Future Horizons held its annual forum there in conjunction with the opening of Silicon Oasis, a technology park in Dubai.

A couple of grad students gave me a tour of the outside of the room and showed how each display fit meticulously into place on the walls with lots of fiber optic cables connecting the displays to a dual cluster of servers (via fiber optic cables) that contain 240 CPU cores and 80 GPUs. The team selected AMD GPUs, since each board was able to drive six monitors.

One of the neat features of the room is a large door that is essentially part of the wall. You don’t even see it when you’re in the room. I didn’t get a chance to hear music or other sounds, but the room has a substantial audio system containing 22 speakers and four subwoofers. The Reality Deck team is still installing infrared cameras all around the room, which will help the system understand where people are located in the room and react accordingly. The images I saw were mostly static images, but Dr. Kaufman said the plans are to incorporate streaming video for real-time observations of high-resolution data. For more about the Reality Deck, point your browser to


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