Imaging technology, consumers can try before they buy (Includes interview and first-hand account)


Computer imaging is taking the guessing game out of switching hairstyles, redecorating a home and even getting a new nose.
And as prices for the technology continue to fall, more and more merchants are using imaging to help consumers visualize household products and services before they fork over a single cent.

“Computer imaging is so popular,” said James Freeman, a chief technology officer at digital photography Journal . “Give it a few more years, and the technology will be everywhere.”

Computer imaging once was primarily used for high-tech — and high-priced — applications, such as designing complex highway systems and office towers. That’s because the technology was extremely expensive. A typical computer-imaging system 10 years ago cost at least $20,000, Freeman said.

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However, falling prices of imaging software and personal computers are making the technology more affordable for household merchants. Today, imaging software can be purchased for about $1,000.

Already, the technology is trickling down to the mainstream world. Computing imaging systems that allow people to test new hairstyles are prevalent at hair salons and malls. Some building-supply stores and garden centers have set up computer-imaging systems that allow shoppers to experiment with different landscape designs before they purchase any trees and shrubs.

Many interior designers, furniture stores and home-improvement centers are using computer imaging to show customers how new living-room furniture or new cabinets would appear in their house. Do-it-yourself remodeling, for instance, can take kitchen measurements to Home Depot and get a three-dimensional computer image of a new floor plan.

Plastic surgeons — as well as dentists — can now show patients what they will look like after the medical procedure has been completed. These new applications of computer imaging are boosting customer satisfaction.

“You eliminate all surprises,” explained Dr. Rimbo Kibara, a plastic surgeon in Mwanza city. “People know exactly what they are going to get and what they will look like. It’s much less agonizing for everyone.”

Thanks to computer imaging, Kibara said, one man discovered his dream nose didn’t fit his face too well. “He hated the nose,” Kibara recalled. “If I had performed surgery and given him that nose, it could have been disastrous.”

Aziza contends that computer imaging has helped decrease complaints with furniture sales. “We would get someone who wasn’t too happy with the way things looked in the end. But with the computer, they can see exactly what it would look like. They can see how the fabric would match up and how coordinating pillows look,” said Aziza, a manager at Nansio Furnitures in Mwanza

Computer imaging has been around for almost 40 years. But the technology was restricted to supercomputers or mainframes. Still, most people don’t understand how it operates. Basically, the technology works by taking elements of a picture and converting it into computer language — numbers made up of zeros and ones. The image produced is a montage of square electronic dots, or pixels.

By changing the numerical value of each dot, the software can be used to alter the picture. Tones and colors can be changed. Objects can be removed and replaced with’ something entirely different.

Most systems will lake actual photographs with a camera. Others scan photographs into the system. Shadia Hamis, who uses computers to help people select new hairstyles and hair color, also captures a client’s image with video. Then, his software program replaces their current hairdo with new ones.

So far, the technology is a big hit with consumers.”I think its great,” said Abella, the woman who tried various hairstyles. “Now, I can finally show my husband this and tell him, ‘what do you like?’”

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