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Immersive Media on a Budget

ACE-Lab
Nicholas Jushchyshyn, program director of VR and immersive media at Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, demonstrates Scalable’s projection technology at the ACE-Lab. (Image credit: Scalable Display Technologies)

Immersive media enables people to interact with virtual content on a realistic level. Rather than just viewing a static video, it creates an environment that allows people to step into the video and interact with the content. Immersive media eliminates traditional greenscreens and creates an environment that can be interactive, almost as if it’s a physical environment. Over the last year, immersive technology has gained popularity in entertainment and broadcast production through mixed reality. 

Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts and Design launched one of the first accredited virtual reality and immersive media programs. In 2018, Drexel University’s Animation, Capture and Effects Lab, known as the ACE-Lab (opens in new tab), introduced immersive media, including augmented reality (opens in new tab) (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other interactive experiences. Today, Drexel’s virtual reality and immersive media programs continue to lead, teaching and engaging students with the latest processes and technologies. 

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In early 2021, Drexel University introduced new immersive media technology that provides students with in-depth and hands-on learning experiences. Drexel University collaborated with Scalable Display Technologies to create a cost-effective, realistic solution for the traditional LED displays utilized in immersive environments. 

“The typical immersive media environment is incredibly expensive,” said Nicholas Jushchyshyn, program director of VR and immersive media at Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. “It requires multiple high-quality displays and it can be challenging for an academic institution, small organization, or independent producer to justify the investment. We wanted to utilize projection, rather than LED walls, to create a cost-effective solution."

The ACE-Lab is using an existing screen that is 10 feet wide and 12 feet high for the background. "The talent has traditional studio lights on them, but they’re not overexposed and the projection background can be pure white." Jushchyshyn added. "This is the result of two laser projectors that are synchronized, calibrated, warped, and overlapped. It creates the same intensity from a traditional LED video wall, but it’s from two projectors. Scalable enabled us to take two laser projectors and stack the projections with a perfect overlay.”

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The ACE-Lab is not only utilized for immersive media programs but also by many other graduate and undergraduate degree programs, including animation, visual effects, and digital design. Drexel University needed to implement a system that would accommodate the other programs utilizing the space. 

“For us, there were many advantages to utilizing projection instead of LED displays,” noted Jushchyshyn. “Not only is it far less expensive, but it’s incredibly flexible if we want to utilize it in a different location. The space we’re using for production is a multipurpose space. We have designed the entire system on a mobile cart. We can retain the versatility of the room by being able to relocate the projectors. 

“A secondary advantage of this particular approach is the future-proof design. We are currently utilizing a 12-foot wall, but we can add another wall in the future and create a full projection surface across a larger space. Utilizing Scalable’s software, we can project side-by-side and have an overlap blend between the images.”

Scalable’s software automatically warps and blends multiple projectors into one seamless display. It allows Drexel University to streamline recalibration if the system has been relocated. 

“Scalable’s one-touch calibration is incredibly intuitive,” said Jushchyshyn. “Their automatic calibration outputs text-based files with the calibration result. Once the calibration is completed, it’s effectively saved onto the GPU. It’s fully transparent to any software that’s running on the operating systems. By allowing the data to be saved internally to the GPU, it eliminates nearly all latency and any complexity on higher levels of software.”

The result was successful at all levels. The immersive media system provided Drexel University with a high-quality, cost-effective solution. “We can recreate the traditional immersive media experience at nearly a tenth of the cost of a traditional solution,” said Jushchyshyn. “We also have the added benefit of being able to readily move so we can maintain the flexibility of the space. Scalable provides opportunities, in particular for schools and independent productions, to work with immersive media technology. They can incorporate the software implications and toolsets identical to feature film-grade LED walls, motion capture and camera tracking. It’s the same technology as a large production but at a more accessible price point.”

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