By John McHale
XENIA, Ohio—Engineers at Barco-Xenia (formerly Barco Electronic Image Systems) in Xenia, Ohio, say liquid crystal on silicon or LCoS—a commercial projection technology—will provide the next generation of military simulation displays with real-world resolution.
LCoS “has the capacity to match image generator output, giving aircrews incredibly realistic visual images, whether that is terrain, sky images, or ground and airborne targets,” says Jay Luis, director of marketing communications for Barco. “In general, LCoS projection technology is a good bet to have a huge impact in the simulation industry.”
It gives defense simulation customers more accurate flight training, Luis continues. “They are looking for visual systems that provide greater detail for target imagery—both air and ground,” he explains. “Increased image fidelity yields enhanced aircrew visual acuity. Now the challenge becomes how to capitalize on that capability—how to keep up with the multimillion pixel output of today’s image generators and to project images that look just as real as possible... with minimal latency or artifacts.”
Not so long ago CRT projectors were the state of the art in display systems, but they were surpassed by rear-projection projectors such as LCoS solutions nearly a decade past, says Paul Lyon, international product manager for display systems at Barco.
There are two types of rear-projection technology—Digital Light Processing (DLP) and LCoS, Lyon says. “DLP uses millions of little mirrors” that form a pixel in the image. It was developed by Texas Instruments, Lyon adds. Their maximum number of pixels is about 2 million. They are typically used in cinema or home theater applications through rear-projection TVs, Lyon says.
LCoS projectors do it a little differently, Lyon says. They use liquid crystals instead of the mirrors. “The concept has been around since 1980s early ’90s,” he adds. The crystals are applied to the chip’s surface and coated with layers that are very reflective, Lyon explains.
In F-16 jet fighter simulations pilots need a more realistic point of view, Lyon says. The F-16 display is a wrap-around that shows the real world through each of the cockpit windows, therefore the greater the resolution, the better the pilot will be able to train, he says.
To obtain that type of resolution, the simulations projectors will need millions and millions of more pixels—something that technology such as DLP cannot provide, Lyon explains.
Barco’s new SIM 7 projection system’s LCoS technology provides 3 million pixels, one million more than best DLP device, Lyon says. Barco also has solutions where 9 projectors are used, providing about 27 million pixels, he adds.
“It’s perfect for fast jet applications” with its smear reduction capability that enables the SIM-7 to maintain the sharpness of fast-moving images, Luis notes.
One of those is optical and electronic edge blending, which eliminates the overlap zones, which occur in images when projections converge, Lyon says. The blending helps create a seamless image. Barco also has something called “linked constant light output,” which guarantees a constant level of brightness for the whole image, he continues. Barco’s warping technique provides a projection that not distorted, eliminates frame delay and pixel loss on a spherical or curved screen.
Lyon notes that with LCoS technology the pixel lines are not easy to see, but if you stand close to a DLP image “you can see the actual pixel lines.”
SIM 7 also takes part in “Barco’s new CD series cross-cockpit collimated display solution,” Luis says. The CD series offers improved display performance over the traditional cross-cockpit systems, he explains. It “consists of an advanced collimating mirror design, a projector platform, a back-projection screen, and a light-tight enclosure.”
Barco also has a system—the LX-5 which offers a 10-million pixel resolution, Lyon says. However, it is targeted more at the automotive and oil and gas industry.
LCoS is such a “big advantage in terms of cost per pixel,” Lyon says. It is “trending downward in price more than any other display technology,” he continues.
“Today’s visual display systems used for military simulation and training are more compact, produce higher quality images, are easier to operate and maintain, are easily scaled, and are more cost-effective than the technologies of only a few years ago,” Luis says.
The challenge now lies in how to optimize systems that will utilize 100 million pixels or more, Lyon says. For example, he says, a solution that uses 20 of Barco’s LX-5 ten million-pixel projector, would have 200 million pixels to deal with, he notes.
The industry has yet to figure out a way to drive all those pixels, but once that technique is developed the dream of the user community to recreate the real world in simulation will be reality, Lyon says.