The Holovision Kickstarter “scam”

Update: Please tear your eyes away from the blue lady and also read this follow-up post. It turns out things are worse than I thought. Now back to your regularly scheduled entertainment.

I somehow missed this when it was hot a few weeks or so ago, but I just found out about an interesting Kickstarter project: HOLOVISION — A Life Size Hologram. Don’t bother clicking the link, the project page has been taken down following a DMCA complaint and might not ever be up again.

Why do I think it’s worth talking about? Because, while there is an actual design for something called Holovision, and that design is theoretically feasible, and possibly even practical, the public’s impression of the product advertised on Kickstarter is decidedly not. The concept imagery associated with the Kickstarter project presents this feasible technology in a way that (intentionally?) taps into people’s misconceptions about holograms (and I’m talking about the “real” kind of holograms, those involving lasers and mirrors and beam splitters). In other words, it might not be a scam per se, and it might even be unintentional, but it is definitely creating a false impression that might lead to very disappointed backers.

Figure 1: This image is a blatant lie.

Have a look at exhibits A and B (Figures 1 and 2), taken from various sites reporting about this project, and, I assume, PR material released by the people behind the project. They are blatant lies. The technology described on the Holovision web site can definitely not produce what’s shown in these concept images (because that would be impossible). Look at the actual description of the Holovision technology. What’s the first thing they write about, and what’s in the first figure? A screen. A very clever screen, at that: each pixel is not a simple light emitter, but an active element that can emit different amount of light in different directions, somewhat like a lighthouse or the kind of laser used in a laser light show. Having a screen of such active pixels can indeed create what the Holovision site claims: glasses- and head-tracking-free, multi-viewer, holographic 3D. It’s very difficult to make look good in practice, but it’s feasible.

Figure 2: This image, too, is a blatant lie.

Think of a lenticular autostereoscopic 3D display, as you can buy it today. It uses lenses glued to the display to send the light from alternating pixel columns towards the left or the right, respectively. If you take a properly generated stereoscopic image and interleave it so that the left/right views map to the left/right pixels, respectively, and if the viewer’s head happens to be positioned so that her left eye is in the left projection zone, and her right eye in the right, then she will indeed perceive three-dimensional virtual objects. Holovision takes this idea to the max by creating not just two, but many (hundreds, maybe) of such viewing zones. So no matter where the viewer is, her eyes are always going to get the view that they should be getting, leading to apparently solid, touchable 3D objects, i.e., holograms. So far, so good.

Figure 3: This image is not a blatant lie, but it is science fiction, with an emphasis on “fiction.” Real holograms don’t work that way.

Given that, why do I think the Kickstarter project misleads people, intentionally or not? Primarily because of Figures 2 and 3. Seeing those, and reading “life-size, free-floating holograms,” what would you expect to get? Probably a small projector, like the one shown in Figure 2, that can create apparently solid objects anywhere inside the surrounding environment, like a small car on your hand. Sorry, you can’t have that. Not yours. Let me quote a random article (from Übergizmo, emphasis mine:)

HoloVision could pave the way to such a future, where this Kickstarter project claims to deliver a free-floating, life-sized image that will hover eight feet from its projector, clearly making good ol’ R2-D2 obsolete with his rendition of Princess Leia.

That’s exactly the kind of misconception I’m talking about. Note that the Kickstarter project description doesn’t seem to actually make the bolded claim — it doesn’t have to. Creating a concept image like Figure 1 and tapping into the myth do the job just fine.

Here’s the reality of it: in order to see a hologram, be it a Holovision one, or one on an autostereoscopic display, or a head-tracked 3D TV or whatever, there needs to be a screen behind it. Yes, even “real” holograms need screens (or rather holographic plates) behind them (but usually in front of them). Holographic projectors do not exist, and cannot exist. They are a common misconception propped up (lame pun intended) by their ubiquity in science fiction movies, Star Wars: A New Hope being the prime (and maybe ur?) example (see Figure 3).

This means the Kickstarter’s appeal of life-size free-floating holograms without screens is an internal contradiction. In order to have a life-size hologram, you need to have a life-size screen behind it. Why? Because light travels in straight lines (more or less, at least). What I mean to say is that this is not just “ambitious,” or “far thinking,” or “technically hard;” this is impossible, at least until we invent a completely new set of natural laws. See Figure 4 for a simple diagram.

Figure 4: Diagram showing how a holographic projector is supposed to, but doesn’t, work. Unless we find a way to make photons turn in mid flight in thin air, seeing a life-size hologram from a non-life-size projector is theoretically impossible.

In order for the viewer to perceive the head of the virtual person in Figure 4, some photons must enter the viewer’s eyes coming from the direction of the head, along the red line. But where do those photons come from? If they come from the “holographic projector” at the right, then they must have changed direction in mid-flight somehow. Photons don’t do that unless they bounce off something solid, and thin air won’t qualify (and a fog-screen display is decidedly not what the Kickstarter project promises). The only possible source for photons entering the viewer’s eyes from the required direction is a light source behind (or in front of) the virtual person, anywhere along the red line. Like, for example, a big fat life-size screen behind the object. In other words, a CAVE. Or two small screens right in front of the viewer’s eyes. In other words, an Oculus Rift. With the setup in Figure 4, the only part of the virtual person the viewer will actually see (indicated by solid color) is its intersection with the pyramid formed by the screen rectangle and the pupil. The rest simply won’t be there. If that part is all you want to see anyway, fair enough, but that’s just you.

In all fairness, there is a way to do what I just said can’t be done: you can zap air molecules with a strong focused laser, leading to plasma excitation that essentially turns a tiny sphere of air into a light source. But that’s not what this Kickstarter project is about, and it can’t create opaque objects. Here’s what backers will really get from the Kickstarter project:

Note how the virtual object on the tiny screen doesn’t look all that 3D, because the camera doesn’t move (to create the illusion of three-dimensionality in a 2D video, you need motion parallax like in this video). Note that, if viewed with the naked eye, the object would appear somewhat 3D. That much is true. But why is the camera not moving? Because as soon as it moves enough so that the virtual object is not located between the screen and the camera any longer, the object will disappear — just like a “real” hologram would. For more money, the Kickstarter project promises a 17″ version of the same thing, which could create, guess what, free-standing objects up to about a foot in size. Which, don’t get me wrong, would be really cool to have — but is it what you thought you paid for?

Multi-viewer glasses-free holographic displays have obvious benefits. They also have drawbacks — look at the rather poor image quality that’s achievable right now, and there’s the problem of how many viewing zones can be maintained, especially with real-time dynamic content. It’s bound to get better, but it’s something to consider. If you don’t mind glasses, or rarely have multiple people looking at your screen, the lower fidelity, poorer 3D, and higher cost might not be worth it.

Finally, why does this bother me enough to write 1516 words on it? Because as someone who builds holographic displays, I’m encountering and fighting this misconception all the time, and I wish it would finally go away. Yes, “real” holograms have benefits over the displays with which I’m working — no glasses, multiple viewers, proper accommodation, no lag — but for practical applications those are far outweighed, at least for me, by low resolution, low color fidelity, and extremely high computational cost to make them dynamic. And even if those problems were solved, you’d still need big screens. And please stop sending me business proposals relying on or building holographic projectors like R2-D2’s, at least until you describe in detail how you will make photons change course mid-flight.

41 thoughts on “The Holovision Kickstarter “scam”

  1. I can’t find it right now, but a while back i saw a project that seemed to be able to create a full sized pseudo-holodeck (no tractor beams, no smell-o-vision, no full opacity, low contrast etc), that involved an array of standard projectors covering the walls and fog, plus some image processing that was described as the inverse of what is used to obtain volumetric data from tomograph scans and taking advantage of the same effect that is believed to have produced the UFO on the real life Battle of Los Angeles (when a bunch of search lights converged into a point in the foggy sky) to physically reconstruct the volumetric data. Back then when i saw it they didn’t had the funding to afford a large number of pico-projectors and were just using something like 6 regular sized projectors providing just 6 true points of view and just horizontal parallax; buy the video showed it already worked surprisingly well for projecting spheres, and about as good as you would expect for more complex shapes (though already demonstrating it needed much less than huge arrays of tiny lightfield pixels to produce convincing life-sized seamless volumes quite close to the original data).

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  5. To be quite honest with you, I need money to protect this simple effective Idea. if your willing to gamble on a few hundred dollars so i can at-lease get a provisional patent. I will open up to you personally and offer you a stake in this idea. . But that’s the word is good on my end…i would love to get this started and present a working prototype..I don’t have a job , but i have the time, just need the money…we talking potential millions here…here is a hint of how the idea went from a visual Fx plugin to a real-world hologram idea…now i am back doing the plugin to raise some money…but its all real and legit…

  6. You can indeed create a free floating hologram without a screen, but it requires ionizing lasers, plasma, a whole lotta science, and danger. lots and lots of danger.

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  8. Finally, a person who understands what the hell he’s talking about! Holographic projectors are indeed impossible since projections are always flat, plasma emissions are not a projection, they are like tiny electrical fireworks. Plus, you need oxygen to get that to work which is cheating. If you need air, why not just use a fog display? If you were gonna cheat, why not just keep it simple? It really doesn’t make sense. If your projector needs oxygen to function it would be dependent on it’s environment. What if you need it in a vacuum? It needs to project anywhere at any time, otherwise it’s just a waste of time and not a REAL holographic projector.

    I’m working on a projector on my own which can also project 3 dimensional images, the only obstacle left is the projection itself. Namely the fact that projections are 2 dimensional. I haven’t found any way to defy the laws of physics without the use of multiple screens, but one thing’s for sure, I have little competition.

  9. A while back I saw a video of some folks that were working on a holodeck that was based on inverse tomography.

    The idea was to fill the room with fog/mist and cover the walls with regular projectors, each one would be projecting a different point of view and the combination of all of the projections overlapping on the fog would form 3d shapes. Basically the effect theorized to have been behind the UFO in the real world Battle of Los Angeles, when several searchlights converged to a spot in the foggy sky.

    Back when I saw it, they only had a few projectors and not enough processing power, but they already had a proof of concept that projected a sphere in mid air.

  10. (Hm, doesn’t look like I replied to the comment I was trying to reply to, perhaps I filled the wrong text box? Trying again; I’m sorry for repeating myself.)

    A while back I saw a video of some folks that were working on a holodeck that was based on inverse tomography.

    The idea was to fill the room with fog/mist and cover the walls with regular projectors, each one would be projecting a different point of view and the combination of all of the projections overlapping on the fog would form 3d shapes. Basically the effect theorized to have been behind the UFO in the real world Battle of Los Angeles, when several searchlights converged to a spot in the foggy sky.

    Back when I saw it, they only had a few projectors and not enough processing power, but they already had a proof of concept that projected a sphere in mid air.

    • Thank you! Your linked article is a perfect example of misleading the audience via the precise misconception about holograms that I’m discussing here. Read carefully how the researchers’ quotes imply that they’re talking about free-standing “projected” holograms without ever actually talking about them, or explaining how they could possibly work, of course.

      (They are talking about real holograms, though, with the inherent constraints I’m discussing here, i.e., the need for big screens full of nano-antennas.)

  11. Actually you are quite wrong about the Holovision system. For the record it is not a scam.

    I have known the company behind Holovision (Provsion) for many years. What they were proposing with their Kickstarter project was quite feasible and with funding they could do what they proposed. The only reason it got pulled from Kickstarter was because they use some copyright material in their promotional video. That was a bit stupid.

    The Holovision system is a mix of Pepper’s ghost and special optics which project the 3D type effect. It is nothing to do with real holograms but the system does produce a “holographic” type effect. The 3D effect works well and everybody I have ever shown the system to have really liked it. Especially as you can reach out and try and touch the “holographic” type effect

    The optics in the system focuses LCD based video content into space. The content actually floats out in free space in front of the actual system. CGI and or video content can be projected.

    The content must have black all around it to help produce the 3D hologram type effect. The content ideally needs to rotate as this helps the brain perceive the 3D effect.

    However, it should be noted that the projected image is not actually 3D as it comes originally from a 2D monitor (screen). However, CGI effects are called 3D computer graphics so even though the content is only 2D it does when produced properly, look 3D.

    The original 2D content is reflected via a Pepper’s ghost mirror onto a concave mirror which is set at the back of the system. The concave mirror focuses the image at a fix point in front of the system. The concave mirror generates a convincing 3D holographic type effect.

    I have sold over 100 Holovision systems. The largest one they currently supply will project an image up to 90cm in front of the system. The effect is not a hologram but as it looks very 3D and floats in space in front of the system, it is not wrong to call it a “holographic” type 3D projection, especially given that the public calls anything 3D a hologram now!

    For a life sized version of the Holovision system, I would estimate that the image could be projected over 1.5m to 2m into free space in front of the system. You would need a very large concave mirror, but the principle of projecting an image into space has been proven with their smaller units so there is no reason to believe a larger version would not work.

    The only problem with the Holovision system is that it has a limited angle of view. The viewer has to be pretty much directly in front of the system to experience the projection. The angle of view is approx. 50 degrees.

    If you are in front of the system, you can reach out and try and touch the 3D effect so it seems very real and is a convincing Holographic type 3D effect.

    So to sum up, Holovision is not a scam but as it is hard to show a 3D type effect on a 2D screen, they have to simulate the 3D effect in photos. The photo simulations make the system look a bit fake which you have pointed out in you analysis of their photos but as you obviously know nothing about the Holovision system, you have written a lot of nonsense about their tech. Hopefully the above helps you understand their tech a little better. Maybe you should go and see one of their systems then you will see that it is a real system.

    For some videos of the Holovision system in action (I call it VisPod) plz go to my website at and look at the VisPod section.

    For the record, I have be doing 3D for over 30 years so I know a little bit about the subject. I also know a lot about the Holovision system and have been to their factory in California. You can get my email address from my website if you want to contact me.

    • Yes, Holovision’s technology actually exists, and the technology I’m discussing in the beginning is something else that also happens to go by the name “Holovision,” oddly enough, see my follow-up post.

      But that’s irrelevant. The technology they actually have, and the technology they were trying to sell via their kickstarter, have not much in common. If there were a kickstarter to sell Hoverboards (as in Back to the Future, Part II), and then it turns out the actual things have little wheels underneath that allow them to roll on flat surfaces, then it doesn’t matter that skateboards really exist — it’s still a scam.

      • So basically you can’t be bothered to read my comments properly and you can’t be bothered do your research properly I.e. Go see their product live so you can then talk about it with a least a little understanding of what it is and what it can do. I hope they set their lawyers on you as you are making very damaging comments about their company. I hope they call me as a witness when they sue you. I am sending them your web link now

  12. Who wrote this piece of blog nonsense? They need to go back to school. They clearly are not a Mechanical, Electrical, or Optical Engineer. HoloVision technology has been around since 2001. The design for a life size Holo product is just an extension of the products Provision has been selling for years. To say their life size design is a scam is slander and probably based on some weird animosity or a deliberate lack of knowledge.

    Just for the record, Provision’s product is not an actual hologram generator – duh, it’s an aerial imager. You can’t run full color movies on a hologram machine. Anyone that claims any serious knowledge of the 3D world would know that. Hologram is used all over the industry to describe products that project images; people can understand that terminology.

    Provision will create a life size product at some time in the near future, watch for it.

    • Personally, I would be really pissed if I paid for something that claimed to be a hologram projector but turned to be just a fancy 2d screen…

      • Exactly. And it’s not even a fancy 2D screen, as it’s bound to be rather fuzzy and low-contrast. That’s my main beef — I’m not saying that the technology doesn’t exist, I’m opining that it sucks. It has no use case besides catching eyeballs as an advertisement display due to novelty.

        • As you obviously have never seen the system live, why do you comment about something you have no knowledge about? The resolution is fine, the image projects nearly 1m into free space and is over 35 cm high on their HL40. So what is your problem?

          • The image is two-dimensional. If I want to look at a two-dimensional image, I use a flat-panel monitor, which will be cheaper, have higher contrast, and, because there are no intermediate optics, will be crisper.

            To achieve a 35 cm high image, I only need a 35cm high monitor. To achieve a 35cm high image floating 1m in front of a Holovision display, how big does that display have to be so that I can see the entire 35cm image all at once? Assume that the viewer is about 60cm away from where the image appears, as would be the case with a real 35cm monitor. Simple geometric optics tells me that at least one part of the Holovision display’s optical path, i.e., the last mirror, would have to be at least 93.3cm tall.

            Again, how does a Holovision compete with a regular flat-panel monitor?

  13. So called 3D computer graphics can look really 3D on a computer screen or TV, cinema screen etc, so a 3D CGI sequence on the Provision system that is really floating in space does actually look incredibly 3D even though technically it is not 3D

    You have to stand at least 1.2m away from the front of the system as if you stand too close then you are inside the floating image. The system is quite large for the size of 3D image, but not so big as to made it an unworkable device for commercial use.

    It is 36″ x 31″ x 23″ width height depth. It works well but is rather heavy due to the concave glass optic, pepper’s ghost glass mirror, various filters and a metal housing.

    • It is 36″ x 31″ x 23″ width height depth.

      … (or 91.4cm x 78.7 cm x 58.42 cm). That’s clearly something I want own, to look at 35cm tall 2D images. Sold!

      But snark aside, even at these dimensions, it can’t really be said that the Holovision produces a 35cm tall image, because for that the optical aperture itself, let alone the entire device, needs to be bigger than what you quote. Since you misunderstood my attempt at explanation above (image one meter from device, viewer 60cm from image), here’s a handy-dandy diagram:

      Holovision Size Estimation

  14. As you have never seen the system live why do you slag it off? If you had of seen it for yourself then you would be in a position to offer constructive criticism.

    You keep on about it being 2D but 3D CGI looks pretty good to me on a 2D screen so just try and imagine what that looks like floating nearly 1m in space in front of a Provision system. To add to the 3D effect, the content is isolated against black and rotates. The rotation adds to the 3D effect due to the properties of temporal (motion) parallax.

    Please try not to show your ignorance too much about something you so obviously do not understand. Best you stop commenting as it is becoming a bit embarrassing!

    • …offer constructive criticism

      Here is some constructive criticism: if your display shows less-than-life-size, not free-standing, not-holographic (in any sense that is not marketing BS) images, don’t start a kickstarter project promising life-size, free-standing, holograms. You’re welcome.

      3D CGI looks pretty good to me on a 2D screen

      You know what else looks pretty good on a 2D medium? Good old photographs. Are photographs three-dimensional? According to your logic they are, but I tend to disagree with that. Have you by any chance ever been tested for stereo blindness? That could explain why you don’t seem to be able to distinguish 2D projections of 3D objects from (real or virtual) 3D objects. I can do that.

      just try and imagine what that looks like floating nearly 1m in space in front of a Provision system

      I don’t need to imagine that, because I know exactly what that looks like. Print a CG image or real photograph onto an overhead projector transparency and hang it from a clothesline. There you go.

      try not to show your ignorance too much about something you so obviously do not understand

      You really are precious. Since this many comments in you haven’t yet pointed out any actual mistakes I made, I can see that this conversation can serve no further purpose.

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  17. Regarding figure 4:

    “Unless we find a way to make photons turn in mid flight in thin air”

    If it were somehow possible to generate gravitational waves in an extremely controlled manner to affect relativistic lensing on the photons being projected, would this approach be feasible?

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