What a (Virtual) View!

Using eight leftover LCDs, Ryan Hoagland designed a window with endless possibilities

Dept.: You Built What?!
Tech: Virtual window
Cost: $425 (PC, video cards and displays were found or donated)
Time: Eight hours
Practical | | | | | Popcorn

What do you see when you look out your window? The side of a neighboring building? The back of the next house over? A street full of identical houses? Ryan Hoagland, who spends his working life testing chip designs in Silicon Valley, took an engineering approach to improving the view from his living room. Using eight surplus LCD screens he found at his office, a leftover PC and some custom cables, he created two virtual windows over his fireplace that can open onto whatever vista he chooses: the Golden Gate Bridge, the Rockies, a sailboat in a calm harbor. The two windows--complete with mullions and sashes separating the "panes"--yield 3,072 by 2,048 pixels of surprisingly realistic static image (that´s almost three times the resolution of most computer monitors).

Hoagland would love to display full-motion pictures, but he´d need to feed the video cards with 1.1 gigabytes of data every second, well beyond the abilities of a standard PC´s internal bus. Even further off is a live cam feed from, say, the Great Wall of China. Not only aren´t there any cameras that can deliver six million pixels at 60 frames a second, but the stream would require about 1,000 simultaneous DSL lines running into the house. At that point, it might just be cheaper to move. Read more about the virtual window at hoagy.org.

Making the Scene

Hoagland meticulously slices up the scene to be displayed using Paintshop Pro and Photoshop Elements, and then loads it onto an old 600MHz Pentium 3 that's hidden in the corner of the room.

The PC houses two powerful nVidia Geforce Quadro video cards, each of which has two connectors in back and a dongle that splits those into two ports, allowing each card to drive four DVI displays, or one window.

To carry the data required for such a high-resolution image, Hoagland built custom 15-foot video cables from Cat 5 Ethernet cords.

An auxiliary 350-watt power supply on top of the PC provides the juice for the screens' backlights.