Holovision revisioned

Boy, do I hate being wrong. And I was very wrong about the Holovision — A Life Size Hologram Kickstarter project (don’t bother; page down permanently) I talked about in a previous post. Why was I wrong? Because I gave those people way too much credit. I questioned their claims of life-size holograms, I questioned their PR material (because it helped me address a lingering point), but I didn’t question their most basic claim: 3D. I guess I’m too gullible.

After publishing my previous post, I went and did more background research, because I had lingering doubts about my knowledge of 3D display systems, and was worried I might have been too harsh. After a lot of digging, I found the patent describing the “holovision” invention in detail (thanks, Matt Brennesholtz!). And it turns out the “holovision” does not create three-dimensional images in any meaningful sense of the word. Also, this “holovision” doesn’t have anything to do with the other Holovision design I linked in the other post, which actually could create 3D images. How these people are getting away with naming their stuff exactly the same, only a trademark lawyer would know. Talk about confusing customers.

Here’s what “holovision” really is. An aerial image display uses a clever combination of mirrors and beam splitters (hey, just like a real hologram recorder!) to create a real image (real in the optical sense, as opposed to virtual) of a real 3D object. So if you place a real 3D object (a cube, a chess piece, whatever) at one end of the display, an image of it appears at the other end. And it’s a really neat optical illusion, because the real image is pretty much perfect. It is three-dimensional in the full sense: it can be observed with motion parallax from many points of view, it has depth-of-field, etc. You can call the real image a hologram with full confidence. These things have been sold as toys for decades, and they’re also used for museum displays etc. By the way, you have to watch this video, which is completely hilarious for all the reasons.

The next question is: what kind of real 3D object do you place at the imaging end of such a display if you want to have something dynamic, and ideally computer-generated? Well, if you’re Microsoft, you use some type of volumetric display and call it “Project Vermeer.” But if you already have a volumetric display, why add the extra smoke and mirrors stuff? Simple. You can’t touch a volumetric display. Or you can, but only once. A mirror rotating at 7200rpm will take your fingers clean off if you touch it. But if the volumetric display is placed at the imaging end of an aerial image display, the projection of the volumetric display, which looks exactly as 3D as the real thing, can now be touched without fear; in fact, viewers can put their hands right through it. And then you add a Kinect and you can even interact with it.

So what do the “holovision” people propose to place at the imaging end of their aerial display? Well, an LCD screen, of course. So what will come out the other end? A real, 3D, image of an LCD screen, plus whatever is displayed on the screen. Let that sink in for a moment. An LCD screen is flat, as in two-dimensional. In other words: a “holovision” is a standard 2D display screen, that happens to float in air a few feet or so in front of the big bulky display unit generating it. Why on Earth would anyone want a low-contrast, transparent, low-brightness, somewhat distorted LCD screen that floats in space in front of a bulky display unit instead of a high-contrast, high-resolution, crisp, clear, high-brightness, thin, light, real LCD screen that sits on your desk and costs about half as much? Because it’s a novelty, that’s why. And that’s where the “holovision” people are coming from. They have been peddling their displays as, basically, high-tech coupon printers for retail stores to combat what they refer to as “ad blindness.” Because 2D screens are ubiquitous in advertising now, people started ignoring them, and free-floating “3D” screens, which are exactly the same thing functionality-wise, attract eyeballs. So to ask again, why would you want this in your home? Your regular monitor not catching your attention anymore?

So where does all this talk of “3D” come from? If you look at the patent (please do), there’s “3D” all over it. But if you read between the lines, what they’re referring to throughout is “3D” as in “a projection of a three-dimensional scene onto a two-dimensional display surface.” In other words, when they talk about 3D, they mean 3D in the same sense as a regular photograph is 3D — it shows a view of 3D objects. Nice obfuscation. There’s also talk of depth-of-field, which is a distinguishing feature of real holograms vs other holographic displays. Again, reading between the lines, they’re referring to adding artificial depth-of-field to their images during pre-processing, by blurring background objects. So no, nothing three-dimensional here either.

The bottom line is this. In my previous post, I was very careful not to call the Kickstarter project a scam. No longer. Now that I know exactly what it is they’re peddling, everything else suddenly makes sense. In the company’s videos, when they’re talking about their revolutionary holographic display technology, they always explain it in terms of “x% increase in ad revenue,” “y% increased coupon conversion rate,” “z% increased lingering time,” etc. They never jump on the couch and yell “we’ve got FUCKING HOLOGRAMS!” Now I know why. But then later in one video, they address gaming as a future market, and say that gaming is a natural $10B market for them because gamers already immerse themselves in 3D worlds, and with their holographic bzzzzzt. Sorry, my bullshit detector just exploded while I was typing that. Anyway, I really doubt now that this is unintentional. They’re carefully avoiding to describe what their display actually does. Their patent, which does explain it, is not linked anywhere on the Kickstarter page, or the company page. They’re throwing the word “3D” around while using it in the most remote technical sense possible. Last nail in the coffin: their first stated goal is to build a 6′ life-size display for life-size “holograms,” and then they say their next goal is to miniaturize that display to the size of a toaster, for gaming applications. They’re carefully not pointing out that miniaturizing the display will also miniaturize the maximum size of displayed objects, creating in the reader the clear — and completely counter-factual — association between a toaster-size display and life-size “holograms.”

But in the end I’m just beating a dead horse. The Kickstarter project was (fortunately) not funded, and the backers should be getting their money back. Now, what about the Kickstarter project being taken down by a DMCA complaint? The currently linked complaint is about the project video, which consisted mostly of scenes from TV shows (Star Trek Holodeck, of course) or movies (Iron Man etc.) that have some form of holograms in them (never mind that all the forms of holograms depicted are impossible in reality). Interestingly, Hollywood Pictures Inc., the entity who filed that complaint, apparently doesn’t exist. But it turns out there’s also another patent, granted eight years earlier, describing almost exactly the same display system, which appears to invalidate the “holovision” one by being prior art, and at some point the Kickstarter project seems to have been taken down because of that. Let’s put on our conspiracy theorist tinfoil hats for a moment: is it possible that the second DMCA notice, which is rather superficial and apparently bogus, was filed by the people behind the project themselves to cover up the first one, which is much more substantial? Oh, this is fun! Is any of this true? Who cares! It’s at least as true as life-size free-floating 3D holograms in your living room, that’s what it is!

14 thoughts on “Holovision revisioned

  1. Pingback: The Holovision Kickstarter “scam” | Doc-Ok.org

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  3. Wow, I hope I’ll never do something you dislike 🙂
    It’s a good thing that you pointed all this out: Kickstarter is a great platform, but it doesn’t make all projects on it magically worthy…

    • You’d have to go way beyond “dislike” and into “bamboozling the public” territory to get this kind of treatment from me. But yeah, it ticked me off.

      The disturbing bit is that I found hundreds, if not thousands, of online articles about this thing, and I had to dig real deep to find exactly two that didn’t take the project’s claims at face value, or even just copied the project description or press release verbatim. And even those two didn’t outright say “this is bogus,” they said “hmm, maybe this is not exactly what they say it is, but oh well, it’s cool anyway.” You get the impression that most tech writers or bloggers, deep down, are Star Wars nerds and really wanted their own Princess Leias.

      Kickstarter has done wonders for grass-roots development, but as you say, caveat emptor.

  4. Hi Okreylos,

    For my two cents, I think you have done a very good job digging into this whole issue — both in this post and in the previous ones on your blog. A good bit of detective work.

    I enjoyed your comments on the technology discussed at Holovision.com — which is not the same as the company or technology that launched the Kickstarter project in question. I know because Holovisions LLC is my company and Holovision.com is our website. 🙂 You are right that the technology discussed at Holovision.com is based on a screen, not a mid-air projection. I think our technology can be pretty cool (full motion parallax, etc) but it is not a mid-air projection. No prototyping yet by us.

    In the interest of common courtesy, I will not comment here on the other company or their technology, but I am happy to provide you with the following numbers for the three patents for my company — Holovisions LLC:

    7,978,407 — Holovision™ 3D Imaging with Rotating Light-Emitting Members

    7,957,061 — Device with Array of Tilting Microcolumns to Display Three-Dimensional Images

    7,889,425 — Device with Array of Spinning Microlenses to Display Three-Dimensional Images

    I was not aware of the Kickstarter project until today — busy working on other things.

    Happy Birthday to your blog and all the best! — Bob Connor

    • Hi Bob,

      thank you for contacting me, and thanks for providing your patent numbers. I apologize for dragging your company into this mess, by wrongly associating you with the Kickstarter project. If you want me to add further clarification to the other post, I’d be happy to.

      I want to make it abundantly clear that I have no complaints about your technology, or the way you present it on your web site. The misleading claims I was attacking are not your claims.

      On another note, how many viewing zones do you think your technology can practically support? Do you envision having different view images prepared on a computer and sent as multiple video frames, like current autostereo displays (leading to potential bandwidth problems), or having views generated from 3D data directly on the display? Just curious, no worries if it’s too early to tell.

  5. Hi O,

    No worries and no need for apology. I think you did an excellent job sorting out a confusing situation and figuring out underlying aspects of the respective technologies. [I think I will not comment on their tech or what I have seen of their Kickstarter effort — to be polite and not engage in a fuss online]. I do appreciate your thinking about the pros and cons of my (Holovision.com) technology and don’t mind the link. I think that there are challenges to overcome with our technology (and it remains untested because we have not done prototyping), but it does seem some experts in the field find it interesting and even intriquing. Bandwidth would be one of the challenges, at least with images over the current internet. Another challenge would be display brightness — depending on how many different views and how fast a microlens would be spinning. Another challenge is having a large number of moving lenses in the lens array. How to move them smoothly? Power them? One idea is to have the microlenses be magnetized and to make them spin with an EM field. However, lots of things to sort out before it would ever be a commercial product. A screen with a large number of moving elements could be very challenging (and expensive, at first anyway) to make. On the other hand, look at how far display technology has evolved in the last 10-20 years. Also, interestingly enough, I have since noted that a couple large well-known companies have filed for patents for displays with moving components (not an array of spinning microlenses, but moving components nonetheless), so perhaps this concept be in the right direction after all? Another interesting technology is the research on moving holograms at the University of Arizona. Those researchers might render all of this moot!

    • Consider a gear system between the microlenses. Every other pixel would be spinning in an opposing direction, but that can easily be compensated for. You could have two belts running across the top and bottom if the gears were only connected vertically.

      Alternatively, consider putting the lens array between two panes of glass to contain fluid, pump this fluid from one side to the other, and have each microlens use a little turbine to catch that fluid and spin in place. Air as the fluid would be ideal, but it may not provide enough smooth force if the gaps between the pixels are too small.

      Also consider an oscillatory motion where a piezo element might spin it half a period one way, and then reverse and move it in the other direction. Two piezo elements could perform a tilting action as well…

      Apologies for the late post; I just came across your concept..

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  7. “Boy do I hate being wrong” is how you start your follow up to your first post about Provision’s projection system. Well you should have left it at that rather than continued with your comments. It is clear you have no idea of how their tech works, have never seen their system and have done so little research into their product that you have no real understanding.

    I have over 30 year experience in the 3D market place and have sold over 100 of the Provision system. All my clients have been happy with their product. It projects video and or computer graphic image sequences into free space up to nearly 1m in front of the system (HL40 unit). Yes it is not a real hologram that projects out of the system but as far as joe public is concerned that is what they are looking at.

    Why not contact Provision and ask them for a list of their installs then you can go and see a unit in action and then you can comment. Until then why are you attacking Provision when it is clear you don’t have any real knowledge about the product. Weird

    • It appears to me that you are the one who has no idea how this display works. You keep mentioning “Pepper’s Ghost.” I think that word does not mean what you think it does. In a Pepper’s Ghost illusion, a semi-transparent flat mirror creates a virtual image of a real object floating behind the mirror. Holovision is an aerial projection display, in which a fully-reflective non-planar mirror (or pair of mirrors) creates a real image of a real object, typically floating somewhat in front of the last mirror in the light path. You might want to have a look at Provision’s patent, which I’m linking in this article — which you apparently didn’t read before commenting on it.

      All of those blue words above are clickable links. Use them!

    • Jon, you say you have “over 30 year experience in the 3D market place” but the web site you link to doesn’t even function correctly. I am trying to do my due diligence, but I can’t actually tell what your company does or verify your experience in the industry. Weird.

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