In Disney’s 1963 classic The Sword in the Stone, there’s a scene where the wizard Merlin has to pack for a trip, but instead of packing light as a normal person might do, he flicks his wand, sings a silly incantation, and shrinks down everything in his house — books, dishes, and even furniture — so that it fits into a small handbag.
Here in the real world, that obviously isn’t possible. You can’t just shrink large objects and make them fit into smaller spaces. But despite these seemingly inalienable limitations on the physical world, that’s exactly what MIT spinoff Brelyon has done with display technology.
The company’s Ultra Reality screen (which I got a chance to check out ahead of its debut at CES 2022 this week) essentially shrinks down a 122-inch 3D display into a 32-inch monitor and uses some really clever visual tricks to make it appear as though you’re looking at an enormous screen from approximately 5 feet away.
“Combining the latest technical advances in novel physics and computational optics with the company’s patented superconic light-field expansion technologies, Ultra Reality offers a massive 120-inch plus curved display that provides panoramic, cinema-scale virtual images with meters of true optical depth that pans across both eyes, all in a small desktop footprint,” explains Brelyon founder and CEO Barmak Heshmat.
It’s impressive to behold, and honestly a bit difficult to describe. The best comparison I can muster is that it feels like sitting in front of a huge VR headset designed for a giant, but rather than wearing it, you’re peering into the display from a short distance away. The concave screen fills your field of vision much like a large, curved gaming monitor might, but doesn’t block out the outside world entirely as most VR headsets do. It’s tempting to call it a hybrid of a monitor and a wearable VR device, though it’s really less of a mixture of those two things and more so a strange new category that lies indistinctly somewhere between them.
The most impressive part of the Ultra Reality display, though, is its dazzlingly realistic depth effects, which are made possible by some super-advanced image composition techniques that Heshmat recently explained in a Ted Talk. “Most current 3D displays simulate depth using bulky stereoscopic headsets or glasses that trick your eyes into believing they see a 3D image,” he says. “Brelyon has invented a new kind of optical technology for Ultra Reality that solves the problem of monocular depth, ushering in a new era of holodeck-like immersive 2D and 3D displays that are set to replace the traditional desktop monitor.”
Don’t get too excited though. While Brelyon’s technology is undeniably impressive and does have the potential to be disruptive, it’s also a long way from completely replacing existing desktop monitors. First and foremost, the current incarnation is admittedly a bit on the bulky side — especially compared to the modern, wafer-thin monitors we have today. Second of all, it’s also prohibitively expensive. Exact pricing information isn’t available quite yet, but Heshmat suggests Brelyon’s display tech currently costs around $5,000 per monitor.
“That makes it more proper for either really high-end users or enterprise applications,” he admits, “but as we go further into production and start producing this in larger volumes, of course, we’ll be able to reduce the price.”
So while this dazzling new display will likely remain out of reach for the average consumer for the time being, there’s a chance it could trickle down to us in the not-so-distant future.
Keep an eye on this one!