|A virtual water tank called "Sakana-hakkei" (scenes with swimming fish)
is a combination of thin water tanks displayed in front of an HDTV monitor.
It is a simple optical illusion, but it attracts passersby to stop and
look at the "Sakana-hakkei" water tank. The BizTech News Department
looks at who brought this virtual water tank into the real world and
BizTech asked Shinji Kataoka (right), sales promotion
manager of NEC's Imageum Business Promotion Division, and Hiroko Namiki
(left), assistant manager of Imageum Business Promotion Division, about
the development process of "Sakana-hakkei" and user profiles of the
product. Both Kataoka and Namiki are members of the team that developed
"Sakana-hakkei" has reportedly been sold not only for business users,
but also for individuals. NEC has sold 5,000 units in total since it
was put on sale in August 1995.
NEC, confident about a successful outcome, launched sales of "Sakana-hakkei Junior" in July 1998, mainly
targeting small-size stores and individual users. It is reported to
have achieved favorable sales of the "Junior" version, which has a smaller
water tank and a lower price. Shipments reached approximately 2,000
units three months after its introduction.
BizTech: How did you get the idea to develop "Sakana-hakkei?"
Kataoka: I got an idea during an experiment using broadband ISDN
in cooperation with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. We came up
with a test broadcast of large-volume, high-definition images. For content,
we thought fish would be appropriate for the home, and we could make
the most of B-ISDN capabilities.
We thought it was a good idea to create a virtual aquarium that doesn't
require securing a massive volume of sea water or fresh water. It also
is hard to find a location for a real aquarium. That's why we focused
I also figured that if a virtual aquarium could be created, it would
be appreciated by not only Japanese people, but also people in other
parts of the world.
In the first place, an electronic aquarium was established in the Keihanna
academic district in the Kansai region (near Osaka) in May 1995. When
we set up a huge screen for HDTV video and broadcast with the images
of live-size whale sharks videotaped in the Bay of Ise continuously,
local residents were quite pleased. It had a strong impact on them,
giving them a feel of actually being in the water that no home television
Having been encouraged by such favorable results, the "Sakana-hakkei"
was developed for displaying smaller fish and living creatures in a
device similar to a water tank in an attempt to bring a huge water tank
BizTech: Although an effort was made
to display images in a more familiar way, it may be expensive to purchase
a "Sakana-hakkei" tank for a mere hobby, don't you think? (*see
the following details)
Namiki: The set can be widely used as a visual interior because
of market demand not only for business purposes but also for individual
Many individuals are fond of tropical fish. But unlike actual feeding
of fishes, they do not need to feed them at all, even when they are
away from home for long holidays. For them, stuff like adjusting temperatures,
etc. that would keep them on their toes is not necessary. The tank doesn't
smell and needs no cleaning. What's the best thing about it, though,
is that the fish do not die.
For business use, water tanks are placed, for example, in a hotel lobby,
waiting rooms of companies and hospitals, railway stations and airports.
In particular, it may be a merit to replace a real tank with "Sakana-hakkei"
because of hygienic problems at medical care institutions. In fact,
more supermarkets and restaurants are now using the "Sakana-hakkei"
tank instead of real fish.
BizTech: What kinds of fish are popular?
Namiki: Goldfish and river fish and jellyfish that went on sale
recently are gaining great popularity. Viewers appear to have been comforted
with the bright body color and swinging motion they show. Many inquiries
are being made by tropical fish lovers about Arowana and Discus. Arowana
fish are difficult to find and Discus are hard to feed. The latter are
known as the king of tropical fish.
Thus, we choose rare kinds of fish on purpose for the contents. Fish
lovers welcome them because they feel obtaining or feeding those kinds
of fish is very difficult. We made repeated trips to aquariums to study
such kinds of fish. With this business, all of us are now very good
at fish names.
BizTech: Do you edit video contents, maybe choosing some fancy
movements of the fish?
Kataoka: No editing is made to the video itself. However, it is
really endless hard work to shoot a long time and have excellent, continuous
video of up to 30 minutes recorded on a laser disc.
For example, since river fish have their own living territories, we built
a temporary studio along the river bank to have a video session to shoot
the way they live in the most natural way.
The crew had to wait before instantaneous movements of creatures could
be captured. It was necessary for them to adjust the water temperature
or replace water plants, or sometimes they had to make a trick, so that
the fish would start swimming vividly or show some attractive movements.
BizTech: Do you have any tentative plan to prepare software to
show reptiles, which are becoming popular as pets, or possibly some
other small creatures?
Kataoka: Yes, we have a plan for that, but images may be limited
to those of animals whose movements are fun to watch. However, the "Sakana-hakkei"
may not be for animals that people are tempted to pick up and hold in
their hands. So fireflies rather than reptiles may be interesting.
Our company will certainly wish to grow from the water tank business
in the future, but larger-sized products will be available when plasma
display panels are used. Small-sized devices using thin-film transistor
liquid-crystal displays may also be developed.
Instead of merely feeding virtual pets, people will possibly be able
to have pseudo-experiences, like basking in the woods, when the system
is larger. Or we can use smaller-sized systems as moving ornaments in
the form of hanging pictures or photo stands.
Specifications of Sakana-hakkei
External dimensions: 809mm wide x 668mm deep x 793mm high
Weight: Approximately 130kg
Price: Market price (Sakana-hakkei system with image software, specifically
designed shelf: approximately 2 million yen (US$16,600); 3 years' lease
available for approximately 60,000 yen (US$500)/month)
Software price: 80,000 yen each (laser disc; US$665)
Sakana-hakkei Junior specifications
External dimensions: 580mm wide x 468mm deep x 405mm high
Weight: approximately 35kg
Price: 488,000 yen (US$4,060)
Software price: 38,800 yen each (smart card; US$320)
(return to news)
Related story: NEC Markets Low-Priced Version of Virtual Fish Bowl
(BizTech News Dept.)
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