3M's 84in multitouch display: (several) hands on

10 Jan 2013

3M clearly thinks bigger is better: the centerpiece of its stand at CES 2013 in Las Vegas is a massive 84in, 1080p multitouch display, set up as a table larger than most people eat dinner on.

The new prototype is the biggest in 3M's lineup of projected capacitive technologies -- the same systems used in smartphones -- and the dimensions aren't the only impressive number about the massive multitouch display.

Like its smaller-but-still-rather-huge 42in sibling, it features 60-point multitouch. That means it can interpret 60 fingers' input at once, so many people can work on collaborative projects. Most tablets do well to handle ten, and 3M's giant also features palm recognition, so you won't cause trouble if you rest one hand on the surface while spinning and tapping with the other.

3M only makes the hardware, leaving the software for the buyer to sort out -- its massive displays are already used in retail, museums and restaurants. They can run Windows 7 and 8, Mac OS X or Linux, and most buyers tend to overlay an app for ordering food, marketing products, or in the case of the 84in on show at CES, teaching science at a museum.

The GestureWorks software allowed the many people crowded around the tablet to explore ideas on cards, tapping them to open up more detail, rotating them to get a better view, and sliding them off to the side when finished.

The 46in tablet had a lovely mapping app, which showed New York at different times throughout its history (beautiful and captivating as it was, a map of CES' multiple halls would have been a tad more useful than a city 4,000km away 100 years ago).

The 84in table display made the 46in look insignificant by comparison -- 3M really shouldn't have had left them right next to each other -- but the smaller system's display was much sharper and cleaner. That's because the sensor 3M uses for its 46in and smaller displays can't conduct as far as 84in, meaning the company had to use microwires through the glass to make it work. Those wires are disappointingly visible up close, especially on solid colours, but will allow 3M to make displays up to 110in in size.

While the 84in is set up as a tablet, 3M actually markets them as displays. As they're only a few inches thick, they can be embedded into tables and countertops to be used flat as well -- which is a bit more useful for the 84in, as reaching the top would be problematic for us shorter folks if it was hung at eye level.

The 84in multitouch display is a proof of concept rather than a product. Pricing isn't yet available, although a 3M spokesman suggested anyone with enough money could certainly get their hands on one. The 46in version, a 1080p LED that also features 60-point multitouch, costs about $6,500, while smaller versions designed to be used as desktop displays are available for $1,200.

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