Holographic Video Device Could Bring Star Wars Tech to Your Living Room

By Jennifer Welsh | November 3, 2010 5:33 pm

Is 3D technology the next big wave in video? Or should we skip right ahead to holography? New research is developing ways to stream almost-live video to holographic display, providing a three-dimensional, realistic image without the need for those dorky plastic 3D glasses. And before you ask–yes, this does bring us one step closer to living in a Star Wars world, where holographic princesses deliver desperate pleas for help.

This is the first time researchers [have demonstrated] an optical material that can display “holographic video,” as oppose to static holograms found in credit cards and product packages. The prototype looks like a chunk of acrylic, but it’s actually an exotic material, called a photorefractive polymer, with remarkable holographic properties. [IEEE Spectrum]

The prototype, produced by Nasser Peyghambarian and colleagues at the University of Arizona and Nitto Denko Technical Corporation, displays a holographic image that can be updated every two seconds. This is much better than the four minutes between updates seen in the team’s last prototype, and it gives the audience an almost-real-time representation of what’s happening on the other end of the communication (be it in the other room or across the country). The team expects to continue improving their technology, enabling larger pictures and shorter refresh times.

Hit the break for more details and an additional video…

We don’t have a 360-degree view yet. To get the three-dimensional image to create the hologram, the team uses 16 cameras to capture a 45-degree arc of the object or person to be transmitted. The 16 pictures are sent to the laser recording system, which imprints the view into the special polymer at a four-inch-squared size (made up of 120 3d pixels, called hogels). Each hogel looks different from different angles. The next image is taken and used to refresh the display two seconds later.

The researchers, who published their work in Nature, think the technology could find applications in entertainment, medicine, and more.

Peyghambarian figures that with more development — and more cameras — his team can produce a true 3-D video screen that might reach living rooms in perhaps a decade…. Apart from the possibilities for entertainment, it might allow doctors in multiple places around the world to collaborate on live surgery, he said. If the screen were placed flat on a table, they could get a 360-degree view by walking around, just as if the patient were lying there. [AP]

The 3D imaging systems we’ve seen in movies like Avatar use special effects, moving equipment, and optical tricks to create a 3D image that isn’t technically a hologram. Paul Debevec, a computer scientist who works on holograms, says that Peyghambarian’s technology is impressive, but may be unnecessarily complex.

But [Debevec] adds that the prototype is still small and “two orders of magnitude slower than useful video rates.” Other 3D technologies, much simpler and cheaper, could work as telepresence systems, he says. His group developed one such system based on a spinning mirror that was capable of showing a full-size human face, with the image updated at 30 frames per second. “With respect to 3D telepresence,” Debevec says, “what they claim to have taken a step towards appears to be something our 3D teleconferencing system demonstrated two years ago.” [IEEE Spectrum]

We’ll see what technology wins out. Until then, we’ll just gawk at that creepy/cool video of the holographic red man.

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Cosmic Variance: Will the Internet Replace Universities?

Videos: University of Arizona

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology, Top Posts
  • bigjohn756

    WOW! What a completely unimpressive video demonstration! Just shows what a long way there is to go.

  • MT-LA

    bigjohn: compare the GameBoy to the iPhone. Long way – yes. Long time – maybe not :)

    (although I do agree. That video is impressively unimpressive)

  • Chris

    Is it just me or is that first video a little creepy?

  • Malcolm Ritter

    Please note that the text you attribute to NPR actually comes from an Associated Press story on the NPR site.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Thanks for the catch, Malcolm — I’ve changed the attribution. And thanks for all your excellent science coverage with AP.

    — Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor

  • Chris in LA

    50Hz? Why is the UofA working in PAL?

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