The company has its roots in academia when in 2003, Dr. Laurent Sarry (a professor at the University of Auvergne) and IUT du Puy-en-Velay demonstrated the feasibility of undistorted projection across non-planar surfaces, through the use of computational anamorphosis and a specially designed projector.
More research was carried out under the CATOPSYS (CATadiOptric Projection SYStems for virtual and mixed reality) collaborative project, which yielded a first patent for a panoramic projection device (published in 2009).
From then on, several prototypes were developed under this project, one with a 180° screen and direct projection, the other with a dome and 360° projection (from two video projectors).
From first proof of concept in academia to Catopsys officially becoming a company in 2013, it took over eight years of research and development to fine tune the software building blocks necessary for realtime computational anamorphosis applied to panoramic 3D projection.
In effect, the anamorphic projection process consists in taking any panoramic content (from video games, 3D applications or any other panoramic photo formats such as Google’s Photosphere format) and distort its perspective based on the projector’s position and the actual 3D mapping (at pixel-level) of the room in which the projection is to be viewed.
Most other 3D immersive solutions available today rely on one projector for each side of a dedicated room (typically an immersive display such as a dome or a cubic room which all add up to the costs).
This is why room-level 3D immersion is mostly used for industrial applications and sometimes for entertainment. Cheaper consumer alternatives include regular projectors fitted with a fisheye lens for panoramic projection, but inevitably, the resulting image is distorted.
“This 3D-based anamorphosis is nothing trivial”, told us Daniel Duhautbout, President and Co-Founder of the company. “To my knowledge, apart from fisheyes-fitted projectors which give a poor rendering, there isn’t on the market any equivalent solution to what we are offering with Immersis”.
“The major differentiation is in our software, since we take a 3D model of the room as the basis to deform the image and map it to the shape of the room, based on the projector’s position”, Duhautbout added, “and we hold the patents for that”.
Mapping the room before anamorphosis is performed at pixel-level. Source Catopsys.
“The nearest approaches you could think of, are Microsoft’s research projects RoomAlive and IllumiRoom, but so far, these are conceptual projects only. Then, you could consider Oculus Rift as our nearest competitor in the low-cost 3D immersion arena. But wearing these virtual reality goggles provides a very different experience, after 20mn, you get motion sickness.”
“With Catopsys’ solution, you can share the 3D immersion with others, it is a more natural feeling”.
Before the launch of the Immersis Kickstarter campaign mostly aimed at gamers, Catopsys was increasing its business by developing fully immersive stereovision solutions for entertainment companies or for industrial CAD environments (including user tracking goggles to constantly update the projection’s distortions based on the viewer’s position. But the solution required a lengthy calibration and positioning process, done by dedicated field engineers.
So what made Catopsys go after the consumer market now?
“It is a combination of factors”, admits Duhautbout, “lately we’ve seen more and more panoramic formats appear, Google certainly initiated the trend with Street Views, then the Photosphere.
But it is really the acquisition of Oculus Rift by Facebook beginning of 2014 that sent a clear message. The market understood that virtual reality is panoramic, not a flat perspective”. “From there, we have seen more and more panoramic cameras on the market, such as Giroptic’s 360Cam, so we are betting on consumers to develop more panoramic content, and they will want an adequate projector to view this content”.
Initially, Immersis will still require the user to perform some calibration, by providing a 3D model of the projection space. Although this can be done through Immersis’ configuration tool by describing the dimensions of the room or by importing a 3D model (.obj, .fbx, collada or other standard formats created by software like Maya, 3DS Max, Blender or Sketchup), this explains why the projector is mostly addressed at the rather geeky gamers’ community accustomed to tweak their hardware and software to optimise their gaming experience.
Through a dedicated driver, Immersis also relies on the gamers’ powerful GPUs to perform the anamorphosis computations.
But on the company’s roadmap is automated 3D acquisition of the projection space (through structured lighting or other 3D scanning techniques), and automated calibration.
To make the projector more self-reliant, and because the anamorphosises are very compute-intensive, it would make sense to have a dedicated ASIC. This would also be one way to expand the company’s business beyond its own proprietary projector solutions.
“We are open to any cooperation with suitable industrial partners for the manufacture of realtime anamorphosis chips” admitted Duhautbout, mentioning NVidia as a serious contender.
Another way to serve a larger market may be through licensing the anamorphosis software to video projector makers, since the hardware at this stage is not the most difficult part.
As for today’s USD2500 price tag, Duhautbout finds it attractive compared to today’s alternatives which would require a dome or a dedicated projection room setup by professionals. He also justifies the premium by the fact that the projector hardware is not only highly integrated, but offers a realistic 3D immersion that no other video projector on the market would offer.
Check out Catopsys’ Immersis at www.kickstarter.com/projects/catopsys/immersis