Is there anyone out there who would not love to be able to bring the awesome experience of climbing into one of the multi-million dollar 3D multi-axis full motion simulators used by airlines and air forces across the globe into their own home? Heck, anyone who has ever experienced the benefits of having even two monitors know how much more exciting a larger field of view can be. All one has to do is look at the dozens and dozens of simmers who have already put up a minimum of $240 an hour to give the full motion simulators at the UAL Training Center in Denver a try this fall at the annual AVSIM 2004 Conference & Exhibition. We were approaching 200 booked simulator hours last time I checked and that is a bit dated. But it shows how far flight simmers are willing to go to reach greater and greater levels of realism. To travel across the country, and in many cases across the globe, just for the chance to spend an hour in a B-777 full-motion simulator at 2 AM in the morning is pretty compelling.
Well what if you could bring a bit of that experience
into your own home and have it there each and every time you decide to sit
down and fire up your favorite aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator or any
of the other major sims? And do it for a price below $4,000. Now I know what
you are saying _ $4,000 is a lot of money. But when you consider that the
price can be as low as about two-thirds of that and compare it to what people
are ready to pay for just a single hour of time in
So what are we talking about here? It is the new video
display system from Bugeye Technologies of
“The Bugeye Technologies, Inc. Virtual Image Monitor is all new technology,” according to a Bugeye release. “It uses optics to produce a virtual image out of the flat image that would normally be displayed on the front glass of an old monitor. The Virtual Image Monitor is used like a window is used; you look through it to experience the 3D images on the other side. While it is large, it uses less desk space than three standard computer monitors. The system uses optics to produce a continuous virtual image out of flat images that would normally be displayed on the front glass of an old monitor. The optics remove the borders between monitors. The Three Window Display, is used like a window is used; you look through it to experience 3D images on the other side.”
Installation and Setup
So you have taken the plunge and decided that the Bugeye Three Window Display (TWD) is just what you need to fill that open corner of the computer room. First of all, make sure that you have cleared enough space. If you have enough room to situate three 19” CRT’s, then you should have no problem with the Bugeye TWD. But forget the brown truck, your Bugeye TWD shipment, and I use that word purposefully, will come via a regulation freight carrier.
When the van pulled into the driveway here, they unloaded three boxes. The two smaller boxes (24X18X8 inches) contain the pivoting base for the unit, which allows you to tilt the display up and down for the best viewing angle, and the computer to drive the entire operation. That is if you choose the option with the computer and high-end Matrox video card. The third box (58X29X16 inches) contains the display itself nestled in a very well packed cocoon.
Assembly and setup is a no-brainer. Connect the two video cables coming off the three monitors to the dual outlets on the Matrox card, plug in the power source for each of the three LCD screens which make up the heart of the display, and connect the rest of the normal computer peripherals. From start to finish here, the entire process took maybe an hour. And that included the 20 minutes needed to entice a couple nice neighbors with a cold beverage or two to do the lifting for me. The display is not that heavy according to those who helped out here, but is not for those with wire holding their backs together as I am these days. It is an easy two person task. Just make sure you have enough space set aside when you go to put it in place. The display itself requires a space at least 55 inches wide, 24 inches deep and 18 inches of vertical clearance.
Once you have it set in place, it is just a matter of loading and configuring your simulator. This does not involve any major configuration needs or great computer knowledge. The display is selected just like any other monitor, albeit a monitor unlike anything you have seen before. From crate to takeoff should not run more than two hours and probably can be done in less than half that time. Then the fun begins.
The Technical Side of Things
While you might think this is a highly complex piece of technological equipment, you would really be off base. While it is not something you are going to think up in your living room _ well unless you are a group of three former Boeing Engineers _ neither is it a reinvention of the wheel. Rather it is a simple approach to a complex problem: How do you create a virtual 3D Immersive environment without spending millions or even tens of thousands of dollars? While I could do a decent job of explaining it, I will bow to the experts at Bugeye.
“Bugeye Technologies Inc. has developed its products using virtual imagery based on a relatively simple technology of enhancing a displayed image with special lens technology. The complex aspect of this technology is creating effective continuous virtual imagery from multiple displayed images,” according to the Bugeye engineering team.
“The basic components in Bugeye’s product are shown above and include a flat panel display (FPD), typically an LCD that you might use with your desktop computer, a Fresnel lens, and software to generate an image. The lens is positioned to create the desired effect. The software is typically run on a personal computer and might be a video game, computer-aided design (CAD) drawing or any other type of graphical content.
“The lens must be a suitable distance away from the eye to allow freedom of movement, but closer to the FPD than its focal length. These distances are designed to create a virtual image at, or near, infinity, thus magnifying the real image. The observed area on the FPD is typically less than the total area of the desired virtual image. The additional visual area on the FPD allows for overlapping of adjacent images to create a seamless and coherent image. An overlapped image allows greater body, head and eye movement, but there is a trade-off between resolution and allowable movement. The overlapping may be achieved making hardware adjustments to the pixels in each display panel, or making software adjustments to the fields of view in each display panel.
“The figure below shows how this border problem is solved. The eye’s cone of vision through each lens is confined to see only the display part of the FPD so the borders are effectively hidden.
“In order to build larger and larger virtual images, computer images are generated in each display panel, rotated and sized to the appropriate display panel, and overlapped to make continuous imagery from an arrangement of independently generated images.”
Okay, that gives you the
general idea. There is much more available on the Bugeye website, if you wish
to go any deeper.
What is it Like to Use this Puppy?
Okay, thanks for the lesson in optical physics but what is it like to use this piece of hardware and is it worth the price tag? Those are the questions on each of your minds and rightly so. Well I now have 30+ flight hours over about two weeks in the Bugeye Three Window Display and it is unlike anything I have every seen before. I have never had the opportunity to use one of the million dollar full-motion simulators, but if the visual immersion is anything like what I have experienced with the Bugeye, it has got to be an awesome experience.
It is very difficult to explain just how immersive an environment. It is truly something that has to be experienced. About the best way I can think to describe it is to compare it to seeing an IMAX presentation. While the resolution and overall experience does not match that of an IMAX film, it is as close to that as I think you can achieve without costs of six digits or more. It actually takes a bit getting used to the total immersion the Bugeye TWD offers. You will get that queasy feeling in your stomach when you first start using it because you are drawn into the simulation to that high a degree.
And finally the always needed discussion of framerates. Using the computer sent to me with the display, I had framerates from 70+ at altitude down to 18-20 in some of the high density scenery add-ons available today. Even at the low end, there was no noticeable stutter with the graphics cranked up though maybe the slightest hint of sluggishness. By popping a spare 256 MB stick of RAM into an open slot of the demo computer, the bottom numbers came up about 15 fps with flawless operation. As a final test, I swapped out my GeForce4 Ti 4600 with the Matrox card giving me the 1.5 GB of RAM on my main machine and was able to fly full graphics with absolutely no concern about framerates. And that is with only an AMD Athlon 2200+ CPU. I never saw framerates below 35 even in the densest scenery, with lots of AI aircraft. Basically, you can expect to see the same framerates you get out of your current system if you were to throw the Matrox board in there and hook up the Bugeye TWD. There is no noticeable impact on frame rates I could find.
To bring us full circle, while the Bugeye Three Window Display is not by any stretch the equivalent of a million dollar full-motion simulator, it is by far the most realistic and immersive home display available today. As part of this review, I made a concerted effort to find what else might be out there similar to the Bugeye. I came up short at every turn. You go from normal multi-monitor displays, easily running a couple thousand dollars when all is said and done for multiple individual views, to the six- and seven-figure professional environments used for university studies, full-motion simulators and such. The only thing in between is the Bugeye system, which offers a true taste of those million dollar immersive environments at a cost which is not much more than those multi-monitor systems.
To earn a Five-Star rating for a product here at AVSIM Online, a developer must put forth a product that makes a quantum leap forward in technology. That is not a mere hurdle but a mountain for a developer to overcome. When you consider that a Three-Star rating means a developer has matched the BEST currently available example of a given genre, making such a product among the best out there, it takes a truly overwhelming experience for a reviewer and the subsequent editor to even consider the ultimate Five-Star rating. Of all the products I have had the joy of reviewing or editing here at AVSIM Online, I can think of only one or two that even come close to matching the leap in technology seen in the Bugeye Three Window Display. And they make a six-window version that I cannot even imagine what it must be like.
This is not a cheap piece of hardware and is likely outside the price range of many simmers. But it is worth every penny if you can afford it and for those of you like your humble reviewer who cannot make this a reality right now, do not lose hope. The Bugeye team is committed to bringing this technology to the largest possible market. They are limited by the cost of components at the moment, but by going with a simple design, they will be able to quickly pass on the reduction in costs as the current state-of-the-art components become more commonplace and come down in cost themselves. I have seen the future of immersive displays and it is awesome. And best of all, the team at Bugeye is not looking to sit on its laurels, but want to keep pushing the envelope. I cannot imagine what that might be, but sure can’t wait to see it!
What I Like About the Bugeye Three Window Display ..
What I Don't Like About the Bugeye Three Window Display ..
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