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How Virtual Windows Work

Winscape Takes the Virtual Window a Step Further

Winscape started as a home project by Ryan Hoagland. He provides the build information for his project online, as well as software and scenery videos [source: Winscape]. The latest demo version consists of two 46-inch (118.8-centimeter) Panasonic TC-P46G10 plasma monitors and an Apple Macintosh Pro running the custom-coded Winscape software, as well as an Xbox Kinect (model 1414) to track a person's position relative to the screens. With older versions, the user had to wear a clunky infrared (IR) necklace that communicated with a modified Wiimote for tracking, but with the Kinect, the unit works device-free.

This tracking makes all the difference, because with an actual window, the scenery changes as you move about the room. The Winscape software mimics this effect. If you move to the left, you can see more of what's to the right in the view, and if you move up, you can see more of the image below, and so on. The displayed scenery will also adjust accordingly when you move further away from or closer to the virtual windows. The Winscape software uses QuickTime and OpenGL to render the necessary images for the screens. The Kinect can track multiple people, but the view will only change in relation to the person moving closest to the window.

If you already have a display or two, the right Kinect and a Macintosh running Snow Leopard 10.6, Lion 10.7 or Mountain Lion 10.8 OS, you can throw your own system together using the Winscape software and some additional equipment to mount, connect and power everything. The software is free to try, but after 30 days, you will get reminders to buy a license, which is $34.95 as of spring 2014. The current software can support up to six monitors, provided your Mac has two three-output video cards. It even supports 4K-resolution video if your computer can handle it. The site also offers Winscape Marketeer software that allows for features like tracking of random viewers without calibration and timed video overlays, making marketing to passers by viable. The software is Mac-only, and versions for other operating systems don't seem to be in the works.

You can download the Winscape Remote iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad app, which lets you use your mobile device to change scenes, wake the displays up or put them to sleep. You can also control the displays via the OS X software.

Various scenes are available for purchase from Winscape at $19.50 each for 1080p quality, and $60 for the few 4K resolution offerings. They include lots of San Francisco and other California scenes, as well as a few videos shot in Norway, Maui, Canada and Minnesota. You can also make your own if you have a high-resolution camera.

All this equipment can run into the thousands of dollars. As with any virtual window, building it into the wall and adding nice wooden frames will add to the illusion, and that increases the cost and effort still further. But with the inexpensive software, you might be able to experiment with what you already have before you make a heavy monetary commitment.