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A Passel Of Pixels For Sharper Images

Developments to Watch


TECHNOLOGY FOR COMPUTER displays lags far behind the development of other components. The University of Minnesota's new Laboratory for Computational Science & Engineering aims to fix that, armed with a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

At a supercomputing conference last November, it unveiled an imaging technology featuring 8 million color dots, or pixels. That's double the pixel count in today's best monitors. For this year's meeting, Paul Woodward, the lab's director, hopes to show off a system with 16 million pixels. That would match 35mm film quality, which is what Hollywood needs to simplify the creation of digital effects. The technology can also display multiple slices of a 3-D simulation, so scientists can study what's happening at various depths--for example, in the tornado-like vortices near the surface of the sun.

To produce full-motion images with such sparkling resolution, the Minnesota lab harnesses multiple workstations so each handles a different section of the image. That requires clever programming to keep the machines synchronized because it takes a few milliseconds--an eternity to high-speed processors--for data to zip between computers. Woodward believes it may be possible to keep computers in sync even for the 30 milliseconds that data need to shuffle between machines on opposite coasts.EDITED BY OTIS PORT

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