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Virtual reality Powerwall versus conventional microscope for viewing pathology slides: an experimental comparison


Dr D Treanor, Pathology and Tumour Biology, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK. e-mail:


Aims:  Virtual slides could replace the conventional microscope. However, it can take 60% longer to make a diagnosis with a virtual slide, due to the small display size and inadequate user interface of current systems. The aim was to create and test a virtual reality (VR) microscope using a Powerwall (a high-resolution array of 28 computer screens) for viewing virtual slides more efficiently.

Methods and results:  A controlled user experiment was performed to compare the Powerwall with the microscope for four types of task: (i) a simple diagnosis, (ii) a decision about a lymph node, (iii) finding small objects, (iv) scoring a tissue microarray. User behaviour was recorded by video and questionnaire. Time taken to perform all four tasks and diagnostic confidence were similar using the Powerwall and conventional microscope.

Conclusions:  After just a few minutes’ familiarization, a VR Powerwall allowed tasks to be performed as quickly and confidently as a microscope. Behavioural data indicated how histopathologists should be trained to make the best use of the large display provided by the VR microscope. Together with the potential for further improvements in the design of the VR microscope, future virtual slide systems could out-perform conventional microscopes in histopathological diagnosis.