Prototype Army projector offers a really, really big show

An Army research center has cobbled together what it calls the world's highest-resolution, large-screen projector.

Commanders hope to eventually use it to view large maps with detail down to street names.

'The display would let the commander view a tremendous amount of map coverage,' said Raymond Schulze, battle command interface branch chief for the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

The 40-inch, 9-megapixel prototype has a resolution of 3,840 by 2,400 pixels, considerably higher than commercially available projectors.

'When you look at a 1,024-by-768 display, you see about a million pixels,' Schulze said. 'If your display had 9 million pixels, you would be able to view a lot more information.'

The Army center developed the prototype to help commanders make fast battlefield decisions. Today's tactical operations centers use projectors to display maps, but they are limited in the level of detail that can be clearly shown. The resolution needs to be high enough to show very large images with tiny details, Schulze said.

The center hired MCNC Inc., a nonprofit R&D institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to design the prototype. The Army Research Lab in Adelphi, Md., assisted.

To keep costs down, the team used existing products to build the projector. The prototype cost about $90,000. According to MCNC, a commercial projector with comparable resolution would run about $200,000.

Projectors use magnifying lenses and high-intensity bulbs to enlarge images on LCDs.

In this case, the LCD is a 9-megapixel, 22-inch, flat-panel T221 from IBM Corp., which the vendor touts as the highest-resolution monitor on the market.

'Our goal was to put the IBM panel into a projection format, thereby increasing the size of the projected image,' Schulze said.

The projector had one additional specialized component: a dual-port video card from Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd. of Dorval, Quebec, with both ports connected to the IBM display.

In initial tests, the images were not bright enough. The center plans to replace the 10,000-lumen bulb with a 100,000-lumen bulb.

The next step is to test the projector in the field and in work environments such as support facilities. If the projector passes these tests, Schulze said, General Dynamics Corp. could make the projector commercially available through its Army Common Hardware/Software III contract.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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