If you’re not geeky enough to know names, though, John Carmack is the wizard behind Doom, and some of the biggest innovations in computer graphics technology since the original game’s release. Every year, at the annual QuakeCon convention, Carmack gives a keynote address on all the new tech he’s been tinkering with, the state of the industry, where he’s gone wrong, and where he thinks he’s going right. If you have any interest at all in how computer graphics work, and where things might be ten years from now, these addresses are always fascinating.
This year’s 3.5-hour marathon features almost an entire hour on display and TV technology, and that’s where home theater fans should sit up and take notice. We’re all familiar with display lag on flat panels, and adjusting our audio delays to compensate. As a game designer, Carmack laments that in fast moving games he actually has to delay game input and functions to compensate for that, and how much he loves the virtually zero lag on CRT and DLPs (and how uncommon those are these days). He even goes on to say that he can ping a computer in London faster than he can get a frame of video two feet from your game console to your TV screen.
One of the things he’s been playing with a lot is 3D and head-mounted displays. If you’ve ever wondered about the nitty gritty of how 3D works and the fine balance and engineering that goes into reducing ghosting, then you’ll get a solid 10 minutes about blanking, 120hz, and all the other ups and downs of 3D displays.
Most exciting to me has been the work in bringing another old display gimmick back: VR. The Oculus Rift has made quite the splash on Kickstarter, and has been endorsed by most of the biggest figures in gaming as revolutionary in head tracking. While the test units excel in making a virtual world, though, the display panel isn’t quite up to snuff. A 1280×800 panel is shared between two eyes with side-by-side 3D, resulting in about 480p resolution. Now keep in mind, this thing is still in development, and technology is always advancing. For those of us who lack the throw or the wallspace for our ideal home theater screens, I know I can’t be the only one dreaming of my own virtual IMAX strapped to my head.
According to Carmack, panels that can achieve 1080p per eye are expected to be in testing before the end of the year. Once coupled with some processing to compensate for the distortion of the optics, who knows what might be possible for those stuck in the itty-bitty living space? Taking that to its ultimate extreme, he’s also been working with direct retina painting by lasers, the problems of maintaining focus with a moving eyeball, and how the parts suppliers freaked when they found out what he was trying to do with it.
Like Steve Wozniak before him, John Carmack is an amazing Renaissance tinkerer, who is excited about learning, excited about discovery, and very objective when it comes to himself and his work. The techniques and technologies they helped develop are part of what makes our movies, and the video technology AV enthusiasts enjoy every day. I find this annual brain pick to be amazing every time, and I highly recommend that you check out the whole thing.
The display stuff occupies mostly the second hour of the talk, so skip ahead if you’re not a gamer: