In 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Princess Leia appeared hovering over the table as a semitransparent volumetric image projected by a standalone robot R2D2, thus introducing a prevalent yet unrealistic notion of “holograms” and “holo calls” into mass culture. This is an example of how a fictional technology becomes an iconic representation of what future communication looks like.
Despite this, a number of companies are now working on bringing a new dimension into our communications, including holographic video calls. But before we dive into the many marvelous opportunities the future is about to bring, let’s briefly recall what holography is all about (it’s not as close to the Star Wars-style holograms as you might think!).
A hologram (in its primary meaning) is a static photographic recording of a light field, formed by a laser split into two beams. Unlike a flat image or a photograph, you can view a hologram from different angles – by changing its position in your hands or looking at it from different viewpoints if it’s hanging on the wall, for example. Today you can see a lot of 3D images with holographic effects (i.e. on credit cards, postcards, etc).
Two photos of a hologram from different viewpoints
Developed in 1947 by Dennis Gabor, holography (from the Greek word “holos,” meaning “complete”) is a technology enabling 3D capturing and recreating an optical copy of a static object by means of laser interference. So, the moving holograms, like the ones featured in the Star Wars franchise – although inspired by existing technology – are more of a fantastic nature (alas!).
The process of recording a hologram
But what do we have when it comes to real-life solutions in holography?
The Looking Glass Factory project, for instance, has created holographic displays capable of demonstrating stereoscopic images by rendering different views according to a viewer’s position.
An alternative method of “multiplex”, or video holograms, was developed by Lloyd Cross, who created moving 3D images from movie reels. The technology is based on creating an optical illusion by projecting a video image of an animated 3D model onto a semitransparent mirror or a screen set at a certain angle – so the image is actually flat but appears as three-dimensional. To create the 3D effect and 'the depth', the projected video content has a black background, which creates the illusion of three-dimensionality, the parallax effect.
Although AR technologies also deal with 3D models “added” to the real world, such objects are not usually considered proper holograms since viewing them requires additional devices like AR glasses or smartphones which mix the real world and virtual environment data. For example, 8i creates such “holograms” by capturing the client’s movements with a bunch of cameras and rendering a moving 3D model, or an asset, which can then be integrated into various environments.
Clearly, it’s not possible to recreate the Star Wars-like holo calls by means of real-life holography – but still, this is a good example of a fantastic user experience. Imagine calling a friend or a family member and seeing them appear on your table like in the movie – as a semi-transparent image projected by an external light source!
But, however impressive this kind of video call might seem. Over the last 44 years, since they were first demonstrated in Star Wars, they never actually emerged as real-life technology. This is especially upsetting in times of social distancing when everyone is fed up with standard Zoom calls on plain LCD screens.
This problem was even mocked in an episode of the – a popular comedy TV series about technological startups:
Google has been developing a “video-booth” technology that enables the so-called volumetric video calls with external backlighting slightly resembling the Star Wars style. However, it still requires bulky and expensive equipment, a large specialized screen, several cameras for volumetric shooting, sensors, and the booth itself. Besides, the 3D illusion fades away when moving to the side just a few inches.
Holo video calls in the Google secret lab
Recognizable backlighting on the wall panels in Star Wars
Given its price and size, it doesn’t seem a suitable solution for mass distribution of a technology enabling Star Wars-like holo calls with your friends...
In 2018, Voxon Photonics, in cahoots with Verizon, made an experiment which they claim to be the first international truly holographic call. Using the 5G network and the Intel RealSense depth camera, they carried out a real-time video conference where the caller’s volumetric face appeared on a 3D volumetric display. Well, that’s rather impressive, but still, this is definitely not intended for mass use. The screen is too big while the image is too small and is lacking the airy transparency of a Star Wars hologram.
Music shows and DJ sets with laser lighting displays have been immensely popular since they were first introduced by such performers as Pink Floyd and Didier Marouani back in the 1970s. 3D images and visualizations are being projected on a smoked space or, more recently, on a transparent projection screen or a large transparent LCD screen installed between the performer and the audience.
FMBooking in cooperation with Iboga Records has been making hologram shows for electronic dance music fans, adding mesmerizing visual effects to the journey that music provides. The shows feature an abundance of dynamic visual forms, colors, and textures that can be perceived from all viewing angles.
Another example of Holo entertainment technology is life-sized hologram performances developed by Holocryptics. A medium-sized screen with a built-in projector is available for venues or corporate events along with a catalog of pre-recorded video holograms of DJs.
Eric Prydz’s Holo Show has gained enormous popularity, not least because of its impressive visuals. But there are two problems with the show. First, the spectators are so eager to record the ‘hovering’ Star Wars-like music visualizations on the transparent screen that they stick to their smartphones and end up viewing the whole performance through its tiny screen. Second, usually the tickets are out in 10 minutes!
Would you like to have your personal Holo Show (i.e. the real-time art visualization of music rendered from any source on a transparent screen) – like Eric Prydz’s – but right in your home or backyard, where you are always in the front row, can watch shows at any time, and play any of your favorite music.
The emergence of mass-market holo screens can reveal fascinating opportunities for music and art fans around the world. The spectacular holo shows in your own house or in the backyard, modern audio-visual installations, special TV shows as well as live performances being broadcast to home devices will now become available for everyone in each corner of the Earth — with compact holo screens and multimedia projectors. This sounds especially promising in the age of social distancing.
Before television emerged, people could watch movies, cartoons, documentaries or newscasts only in the cinema. When TVs were first introduced on the mass market, they had tiny screens – and yet, they were seen as a kind of miracle by families and friends and so they would gather together for a new thrilling experience.
Today, we’re at the edge of a new era in home entertainment – with the emergence of portative holo screens tailored for holographic content.
If the idea of personal holo entertainment seems too fantastic to you, here’s the good news — an affordable holo experience, including Star Wars-like holo calls, holo shows synced to your favorite music and innovative way to enjoy live streams, will soon be available with the launch of a brand-new projection display by Hollider (Hologram + Collider). The project is running a campaign on KickStarter right now.
This transparent, frameless and “hovering” holo screen challenges gravity thanks to its impressive console design. At the same time, it exactly nails the need for the widely affordable means of making sci-fi-style video calls.
You’ll only need a simple pico or mini multimedia projector widely available on the market and the Hollider screen for an utterly fascinating user experience. The adjustable construction of the transparent rear projection screen is designed to facilitate and simplify the assembling and operating of the holographic screen for a user.
Some may argue that “this screen is too simple.” But, microchips were simple, too, and so was the pasteurization process – however, they both changed the world. The point here is a new vision and initiative rather than technical sophistication.
The future is coming!