High-resolution (0.3-1 m) digital-elevation data is widely available from commercial sources. Whereas the production of two-dimensional (2D) mapping products from such data is standard practice, the visualization of such three-dimensional (3D) data has been problematic. The basis for this problem is the same as that for the large-model problem in computer graphics-- large amounts of geometry are difficult for current rendering algorithms and hardware. This paper describes a cost-effective solution to this problem that has two parts. First is the employment of the latest in cost-effective 3D chips and video boards that have recently emerged. The second part is the employment of quad-tree data structures for efficient data storage and retrieval during rendering. The result is the capability for real-time display of large (over tens of millions of samples) digital elevation models on modest PC-based systems. This paper shows several demonstrations of this approach using airborne lidar data. The implication of this work is a paradigm shift for geo-spatial information systems--3D data can now be as easy to use as 2D data.