How Hologram Technology Will Soon Replace Video Calling

When Swiss watch chief Christoph Grainger-Herr was unable to fly to a world trade fair in China due to Covid-19 restrictions, he decided to broadcast Star Trek style.

Grainger-Herr, CEO of luxury brand IWC, was scheduled to travel to the Watches and Wonders event in Shanghai in April.

When that became impossible, he instead decided to join the show as a life-size 3D hologram. Appearing in 4K resolution, he was able to speak, see and hear the people physically attending the event.

“We took it from his office in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, to the event in Shanghai,” says David Nussbaum, head of US hologram firm Portl.

“He did his thing, chatted with other executives and even introduced a new watch, all in real time. And then we broadcast it again!”

Since the coronavirus pandemic has halted many global travel since March 2020, it has fueled a growing interest in using holograms (3D light projections of a person) as a more realistic, immersive, and sensory alternative to video. calls.

Los Angeles-based Portl is one of the firms at the forefront of technology, and Nussbaum says “we can’t make our portals fast enough.”

Its portals are eight-foot tall glass-fronted computerized boxes. Inside the booths a life-size hologram of a person appears.

The portals have built-in speakers, so that the ‘voice’ of the hologram can be heard. They also include cameras and microphones so that the user of the hologram can see and hear the people in front of their projection.

Where the person is actually physically standing, and that can be on the other side of the world from the portal machine, you just need a camera, a simple backdrop, and another pair of speakers and microphones.

Portl’s application-controlled software system then connects the person via the Internet to where the portal or portals are located, and you can connect to as many as you like.

“There is almost no latency [lag],” says Nussbaum. “And if it weren’t for the sheet of glass in front of the hologram, you’d think the person was actually [standing] there. In fact, if there’s no light in the glass so you can’t see it reflected, then you do. I think the person is really there. ”

The Portl system is aimed at business customers and is currently also used by other firms such as Netflix and T-Mobile.

The portals start at $ 60,000 (£ 45,000) each, so they are certainly expensive, although the company says they can be rented for considerably less.

“In a few years, this will become a common form of inter-office communication,” adds Mr. Nussbaum.

At Microsoft, their hologram communication technology is based on a headset called the HoloLens 2. At $ 3,500 per unit, they are considerably cheaper than Portl’s system, but 3D holograms are not realistic.