EON Reality, experts in 3D technology, have announced their move into our One Central Park site. Founders Dan Lejerskar and Mats Johansson made it official at a launch on 4 October, and there wasn’t an explosion in sight.
For about four years now, 3D has been dangled in front of our eyes in a renewed effort to seduce us, with blockbuster movies being the platform to get us acclimatised. Now you literally can’t walk into a computer or electronics store without seeing a 3DTV, because they have been pushed to just inside the doorways, beckoning you to try on the specs and watch some children blowing bubble after bubble, some of which appear to be closer than others; some bubbles are even closer still.
Next came the TV broadcasters. We would be able to see movies and sports in 3D; going to the pub to watch a football match would now require a pair of glasses, and the BBC broadcast some Olympics events on their 3D channel.
The concept of displaying still and moving images in 3D is not exactly new. For sure, the technology of the last decade, particularly digital delivery and the nature of the eyepieces, has improved the clarity of the 3D image. But if we’re honest, none of this has really, truly, caught the public imagination.
Despite a 95 per cent fall in the price of 3DTVs and projection gear over the past four years, most consumers can’t justify the expense for what many see as a fleeting fad. Complaints about the medium have been pretty uniform, too. The on-screen footballers look small, as though you’ve got your chin on a Subbuteo table. This is entirely down to the 3D effect on a small screen. If we’re watching a football match from the stands, the pitch actually appears pretty two-dimensional, so the supposed enhancement of reality actually turns out to be a detraction. Over in cinemaland, certain 3D effects merely increase the perception of depth by creating multiple layers that are themselves rather flat looking. And some movie reviewers (most notably Mark Kermode) have dismissed 3D as bringing nothing to the artistic credibility or storytelling of a film, adding that perfectly good – and more intuitive – depth perception can be achieved with focus.
While none of these complaints is beyond repair, there’s a pretty strong case to say that we live our daily lives in 3D, so attempts to reproduce it on the flat screen need pretty good justification for its use.
And this is why we should be excited about the arrival of EON Reality in Manchester.
The 3D experiences above have been delivered to passive audiences. The true 3D environment, the coming of age of a technology decades in the making, is happening in the interactive realm.
Standing “in” a room, a plane, an aquarium, a solar system, a molecule, a Roman fort, a beating heart, and exploring it by moving your head around it, walking around it and moving closer to parts of it, is enthralling.
Being able to pick virtual things up, move them around, turn them upside down, pull them apart and look inside them, all the time choosing whether to let them obey or mock the laws of physics – well, now we’re getting immersive.
Immersion is a state of mind
A compelling feature of interactive sensory immersion is that it has been shown to hang longer in the memory than its flat and passive counterpart. Imagine teaching a class about the Battle of Hastings by letting them walk around the South of England in 1066 and survey the topography and observe the blunders that changed history. Would they remember more than they would have done via written accounts only? Or take the trainee surgeon practising an operation on a virtual patient, perhaps with the educators simulating potential complications from the control room. Or the estate agent selling an apartment in Shanghai to a client in Shrewsbury by walking him through it virtually. This kind of immersion has far-reaching implications in business, engineering, education, entertainment, hospitality, law enforcement … and, probably, whatever industry you work in.
Anyone who has been following media-based technological advances over the past 25 years will be recognise the kinds of things EON Reality’s solutions can do. There are echoes of those virtual reality headsets (which were probably ahead of their time, and are manifested today as Google’s Project Glass); the digital 3D revolution of the mid-noughties; the means of controlling games consoles popularised by the Wii and Kinect; accelerometer-controlled applications on our phones; and augmented reality, most commonly experienced in the form of a mobile phone display that manipulates or overlays what the live camera is seeing.
What EON Reality has done is taken the best of all these technologies and developed them until they are truly interactive in every possible sense, and they have brought new levels of quality, intuitiveness and clarity to their craft. It is almost as if the human bodies that are controlling the on-screen objects are the virtual elements in the equation; they become conduits, delivering enhanced sensory information to the brain, which in turn tells the limbs and fingers to perform actions that glean exactly the results you would have come to expect by the age of two.
True sensory immersion is achieved when you forget that the world you are occupying is virtual. The worlds and objects that EON Reality create are so extraordinarily everyday that you’ve sunk into them and are ready to start before you even know it. At the announcement at The Sharp Project on 4 October, journalists and other guests got to have a brief try of EON Reality’s Virtual-Holographic Display Tool, and it was stunning to observe how quickly they mastered it. It’s a triumph of design, a tribute to coding and perhaps even something of a reclaiming of the humanity in digital technology.
Manchester as a European hub – an almost intuitive choice
EON Reality’s decision to come to The Sharp Project’s new site at One Central Park is also fantastic news for our city. This is to be the US company’s European headquarters, no less; it will employ around 240 people and will have a symbiotic relationship with The Manchester College it shares the building with, offering training courses and schemes such as the EON Entrepreneur Coding School and no doubt going on to employ many of the college’s inspirational individuals in the future.
Manchester was chosen for a number of reasons, but the fact that it’s the No 2 “creative cluster” in Europe (after London) would have been a huge factor even if it were not for Manchester’s other draws. These include an ever-inventive university, a custom of graft and entrepreneurship, supreme internet connectivity and a massive media infrastructure and culture. The company was also impressed by the whole philosophy of The Sharp Project.
But another reason was cited by Dan Lejerskar that might not have been obvious to Mancunians and our stream of new settlers – we have a loyalty to the city. Once people move to Manchester they are pretty unlikely to up sticks, whereas other cities can feel like rungs on career ladders in the media and digital sectors. It’s an interesting observation that could probably only have been generated from a distance, and would explain rather a lot about the city’s digital success.
With the paperwork signed off by EON Reality and Manchester City Council, the move is now under way; the company is expecting to be opening its doors in January. The benefits to the city are obvious in terms of jobs and attracting more talent from all over the world. But the boost to the local digital and creative sectors will also be noticeable. For the company, the foothold in Europe is going to help them do business with the continent; Manchester was one of many locations they considered.
The world is being introduced to the real meaning of 3D technology. Manchester and The Sharp Project are the perfect hosts for this bold step into a exhilaratingly predictable universe.
More information on EON Reality can be found at their website, http://www.eonreality.com/
The Virtual Holographic Display Tool is impossible to fully appreciate on two-dimensional screens, but once you’ve used it you’ll realise that this page actually shows what it feels like: http://freshome.com/2012/07/18/new-virtual-holographic-display-tool-for-designers-and-architects-zspace-video/