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!