Visualizing big data on a giant, Barco-powered wall

Founded in 1966, the University of Konstanz in southern Germany is characterized by a unique commitment to innovation, creativity and applied research. That commitment is certainly echoed at the department of Computer and Information Science, where 14 work groups conduct research in the area of Explorative Analysis and Visualization of Large information Spaces.

In May 2005 already, the department installed a huge Barco ‘Powerwall’, featuring eight Barco SIM projectors to help researchers explore and visualize their datasets. With a display area of 5.20 m x 2.15 m, it has been the most advanced and one of the largest projection display systems in Europe for many years. The wall’s size and excellent brightness astounded everyone who used it. Thanks to the investment, countless new perspectives opened up in the area of visual data exploration.

After eight years of extensive use, however, the system could no longer fulfill the researchers’ changing needs. “The Powerwall was used as a meeting-point for many interdisciplinary research projects, both internally and externally, and with industry partners. For a number of these projects, e.g. some of the interdisciplinary projects with the Biology and Linguistics departments, 3D real-time rendering capabilities were needed,” explained Miloš Krstajić, Researcher at the Data Analysis and Visualization Group led by Prof. Daniel A. Keim.

He continues: “Our new software for visual analysis of very large data sets, for example, uses a graphics card processor (GPU) for the computation and rendering of the data. So we needed a visualization solution that would support advanced capabilities such as stereoscopic 3D. It had to be easy to use, configure and manipulate, as many different people use the Powerwall, and we wanted to keep the number of projectors to a minimum. To further reduce TCO, automated color and brightness matching and low set-up and maintenance costs were on our wish list too.” Barco won the EU-wide tender, as it was the only player who could meet all specifications.

Today, the department uses two Barco Galaxy 4K-12 projectors whose output is blended together to create a seamless picture. A high-quality mirror construction helps overcome the limited space at the back of the screen. A new air-conditioning system was installed, while the glass wall from the previous set-up was retained.

Miloš Krstajić and his colleagues: “The 3D capabilities are fantastic, yet there are other benefits besides. The new system is much brighter, providing bright, crisp images, even with daylight or artificial light. It is much easier to use and switching from a desktop or a laptop to the Powerwall is seamless, since the system runs on a single server and not on a cluster. On top of that, maintenance is low and the researchers can enter the Powerwall room and start working immediately.” In other words: the new Powerwall greatly helps turn today’s information overload into an opportunity.