Holograms, live onstage
Once limited to movies, they head into the real world.
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Since it first appeared in 1977, this scene from “Star Wars” has epitomized the idea of holographic teleconferencing.
Thirty years later, such 3-D projections have mostly remained as science fiction.
While they have been used to great effect in movies and TV shows, 3-D holograms have been too costly and too technologically complex for practical use. But that may be changing.
Projection technology has advanced to the point where it is now feasible, although still expensive, to use so-called “stage holograms” for telecommunication.
“The technology for doing this exists,” says Paul Debevec, associate director of Graphics Research at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies in Marina del Rey, Calif. “In the next five to 10 years, I expect some real breakthroughs.”
Several celebrities have already made holographic public appearances, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, former vice president Al Gore, soccer star David Beckham, and Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson.
Beyond the cool factor, these holograms help the environment – a benefit regularly pointed out by those who use them.
Britain’s Prince Charles gave a speech in hologram form at a green energy conference in Abu Dhabi last year. During the prerecorded presentation, the virtual Prince of Wales stressed that, had he flown to the conference in person, he would have emitted around 15 tons of carbon dioxide.
“I am now going to vanish into thin air, leaving not a carbon footprint behind,” said the prince at the end of his speech.
These onstage holographic appearances appear nearly identical to the real thing. The images are to scale. They move naturally. Only the occasional light flicker reminds the audience that they’re watching a projection. It’s far subtler than the sputtering blue and white holograms that pop up in “Star Wars” movies.
Not quite holograms
There is a slight hitch. These high-definition images may seem like holograms, but, technically speaking, they’re not. They’re more like “two-dimensional billboards,” Mr. Debevec says.
Although they appear to be 3-D from the audience’s perspective, the images are actually as flat as a cardboard cutout.