The Office of "Real Soon Now"

What is it?

In my office I do not have any CRT (cathode ray tube) display terminals, i.e. no normal computer monitors. Instead I have three Hitachi CP-SX 5600 projectors that are mounted on a truss systems near the ceiling (see below), and are aimed to project on to some designated display surfaces on two planar white surfaces. In my current setup, the projectors were paid for from our new NSF Research Infrastructure grant "Tera-Pixels: Using High-Resolution Pervasive Displays to Transform Collaboration and Teaching" (Award Number 0303590).

Click the above images to the corresponding QuickTime VR panoramas.

Is this described in print somewhere?

We are fortunate to have had two articles selcted for publication in the July/August 2000 issue of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications: “Working in the Office of 'Real Soon Now',” (Gary Bishop and Greg Welch), and “Projected Imagery In Your Office in the Future,” (Greg Welch, Henry Fuchs, Ramesh Raskar, Michael Brown, and Herman Towles). See my publications page and our Office of the Future home page for more information.

Who thought of this?

The original idea and name came from Gary Bishop. He has a web page on his office also. Gary's original idea came about in response to our work on a project that we call the Office of the Future. One premise of the Office of the Future project is that some day people will have projected imagery throughout their office, and that this will be part of making the office a better working environment. Gary decided that he did not want to wait for the future. He wanted to see if having large projector-based displays really was better, and assuming it was, he wanted to enjoy the benefits now.

Soon after Gary implemented his Office of Real Soon Now, I implemented mine. It was so great that soon thereafter Henry Fuchs and Dinesh Manocha followed.

On a related note, check out Cardelli and Beckman's ClearDesk, circa 1990-1997.

Why would someone do this?

The quality of the displayed imagery is really very nice, in some ways better than that of the best LCD monitors. It is bright and crisp. The sheer size and resolution of the display system is liberating. I can have open multiple applications simultaneously, and can easily glance back and forth between them. This beats cycling through any window manager that I know of. In addition I can spread large images, for example scientific plots and graphs, across the wide projector wall, and see much more information. I can see both fine detail and the "big picture" simultaneously.

For working with other people too it is really nice. When we have a student or colleague in our respective offices, we can put up documents or imagery and walk around, pointing and discussing. This is far better than trying to crowd around a relatively small CRT (monitor).

Finally there are great ergonomic benefits. Because I can move around quite a bit in the office, as opposed to needing to remain fixed in a position close to a monitor, I find that I have body aches less frequently. We attribute this to the fact that one can continually vary body posture, thus exercise different muscles. Finally, as observed by Gary Bishop, focusing on imagery that is a meter or more away from you is much easier on your eyes. Rather than continually converging on something 18 inches from you, your eyes are more relaxed, almost parallel. No longer do I feel the need to periodically remind myself to focus on something far away to exercise my eyes.

Tell me more about the setup!

I have three Hitachi CP-SX 5600 projectors in total. Two of the projectors are aimed toward a single surface along one wall of my office, and are adjusted mechanically so that their projected images abut eachother horizontally. On that wall I have mounted a piece of rigid foam board (GatorFoam) that is approximately 8 feet wide and 4 feet tall. It is tilted approximately 15 degrees from the wall. The tilt is required to make the screen parallel to the LCD screen inside the projectors to eliminate keystone distortion. This surface is visible in the middle and right of the upper image above. The third projector is aimed a little sideways toward a separate piece of GatorFoam. This provides a more private display area for me, where I can place email windows (for example) that I might not want visible to people casually walking by my office or stepping in my door. This surface is visible on the left of the upper image above.

The projectors are resting on and hanging from a custom heavy-duty truss system near the ceiling of my office. The two main projectors are aligned well enough that you can easily read text across the boundary. The color matching across the boundary (between projectors) is pretty good because the projectors are the same brand, they are driven digitally (DVI), and the bulbs are the same age. The private (left-most) projector alignment is not critical because it does not directly abut the others.

Each projector has 1280x1024 image pixels, therefore my main (wide) display area is a relatively seamless 2560x1024 pixels, and the private area is 1280x1024. In total this mean there are 3840x1024 pixels on my dislpay surfaces. My computing platform is an Apple dual 1.4 GHz Power Mac G4 running Mac OS X. I use the stock AGP-based Radeon 9700 Pro (Mac Edition) to drive the two main projectors as follows. I use the card's DVI port to drive one projector, and the ADC port with a Dr. Bott DVI Extractor II ADC-DVI converter to drive the other. I then use a PCI-based ATI Radeon 7000 Mac Edition to drive the private (left-most) projector. I use Gefen copper DVI cables to connect all three projectors.

My keyboard is supported by small rolling wooden table that I purchased from, of all places, an airline magazine called SkyMall. The table allows adjustment of keyboard height and tilt. It has an attached small flat (horizontal) area that serves well to hold my mouse and my coffee. My main input devices are a Logitech Cordless Keyboard and a Logitech three-button Cordless MouseMan Optical.

Return to Greg Welch's home page.

Modified Tue, Oct 7, 2003