As global competition intensifies, manufacturers of automobiles, airplanes, ships, and heavy equipment are spreading their engineering teams around the world to maximize productivity and minimize design costs. But the remote location of team members has become an endless source of technical challenges. To make matters worse, the size of data sets used in designing these products is increasing rapidly and requires ever greater computation and visualization performance. Fortunately, new immersive visualization systems, such as Hewlett-Packard's Visualize Center and Visualize Workgroup, are helping automotive, aerospace, and heavy machinery companies to keep up with the times. HP Visualize Center and HP Visualize Workgroup are the latest in a family of products designed to facilitate collaborative and concurrent virtual design by a dispersed engineering team. For the past three years, various manufacturers -- most notably General Motors Corp. -- have experimented with developing in-house systems for connecting remote designers. In addition, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) has created an immersive application called the CAVE; and both Silicon Graphics Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. sell high-end visualization systems. HP, however, has been making a concerted effort to court the graphics community away from its rivals. And this year HP came to market with the first high-performance visualization system priced at a level affordable enough for enterprise-wide deployment. "Only recently has the computing infrastructure matured to support virtual prototypes, so the natural extension for us was to allow teams of engineers to develop a prototype concurrently," says Vern Rheid, visualization product manager for HP. Clearly, several tangible results could come from HP's technology. Customers will find design flaws earlier in the production-development cycle when they are less costly to fix. In turn, the number of physical prototypes needed will decrease, and ultimately users will realize faster time-to-market cycles while still improving overall production quality. Rheid suggests HP's new systems are ideally suited for a range of graphics applications including large-scale virtual prototyping, manufacturing simulations, and complex visual-analysis applications. The system design allows up to 64 workstations to work in parallel on one single image. While Visualize Center combines the power of three workstations to create an immersive environment that is less expensive than single-purpose custom devices, Visualize Workgroup is just one workstation, intended for images that do not require life-size scale. Between the two versions, HP Visualize will scale from a single engineer's desktop to a collaborative workspace or auditorium-sized review center. Moreover, HP insists the technology will be relatively easy to upgrade, in order to protect its customers' Visualize investments. The real sell with this technology, however, is price performance. For roughly one-half the cost, HP's customers will get the same or better performance as the competitive Silicon Graphics Infinite Reality system. HP's new products drew a crowd at the 1998 AutoFact show, held in Detroit in September, where the company debuted its system to a private audience and then provided an ongoing demo on the floor. Interested engineers envisioned themselves walking into a complex virtual model of an airplane or a car transmission to determine in real-time whether the components align properly -- all this before a physical prototype is ever built. Peter Foulkes, a principal analyst at Dataquest, says HP's new systems may not be revolutionary and they don't offer quite the functionality of the higher-end SGI system. But, he adds, "You've got the computing power and the graphics power, so [they are] certainly capable of delivering the goods. And they're using more cost-effective modular components to get the price down, and that's attractive." HP has spent the better part of a year trying to convince customers it can handle advanced graphics work as well as or better than its main rival, SGI. Now, it's making good on its promise to give more engineers, industrial designers, and scientists access to some of the fastest desktop visualization tools available on the market today.