Monday, September 8, 2008

The 3D Cellphone

Big computer companies like IBM and HP are developing software that allows you do view highly detailed 3D worlds on modest client machines (see DCV and RGS links below). This is accomplished by doing the rendering on the server side and sending the screen to a number of smaller clients.

Companies like Vollee and OTOY are doing something similar, but targeted at the cellphone. Imagine that you are running a 3D world like Second Life on your cellphone. But, since your phone does not have the compute or storage resources to really do this, all of the rendering is being done on a server and the results streamed to your phone in the form of a digital movie (MP3, Flash video, etc.). Your inputs on the phone are commands to move through the virtual world and interact with the objects there. These commands are carried to a server where the simulation and graphic rendering are done and the finished video frames are streamed back to your phone for you to see. Clearly there will be some video lag between the command and the visual results as the key entries travel to the server, are simulated and rendered, and the results travel back to your phone. if you are old enough you will remember that this is how text entry and order execution worked with the old terminal windows back when "the Internet" meant textual applications on a command line and there was no such thing as "the Web". You may also have seen the gradual evolution of that primitive interface into rudimentary graphic menues as clever people showed that the text could acrually drive a menu system rather than just showing up on a command line.

High-def rendering on all devices will become a reality. A few years ago we thought it would happen through the miniaturization of the GPU so that all phones had an Nvidia or ATI chip in them. But faster networks are making this possible while the GPU remains on the server machine. The connection between the client and server is fast enough that the two seem to share the visualization capability. There may be several technical hurdles to work through, but the community have solved bigger problems than those to get where we are now. Keep looking for great things on small devices.


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