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When is a hologram not a hologram?

When is a hologram not a hologram?

Posted on 1st November 2021

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This blog continues my series looking at some of the more amazing stories about tech that I and my colleagues read on a fairly regular basis to help keep up to speed with what’s going on in the industry.  Last time, I was looking at an intriguing company that is converting old bangers (cars to the uninitiated) by inserting electric engines and batteries that have been recovered from crashed EVs.  Today, we’re at a different level entirely…

The headline above poses the question “When is a hologram not a hologram?” The answer, believe it or not, is “when it is a hologram.”

Confused?  Well, I was when I read about a tech start-up that is creating objects out of light and thin air. 

Apparently, what we think of as holograms are actually visual effects of various sorts, ranging from Pepper’s ghost, which goes back to the early 19th century, to autostereoscopic glasses-free 3D, which you may know better as the tech behind the Nintendo 3DS. Then there are the spinning LED image creators, which are hologram-like but not real holograms.

No, what a real hologram is, or at least should be, is something that appears in space, in the same way that a real object or human does. Silicon Valley company Light Field Lab has now created just such a thing and it’s via a bit of kit called SolidLight.

The physics of how they're aiming to get this to work is actually a rather simple concept, albeit not necessarily something that’s simple to do.  I admit that at this point my eyes glazed over a bit (Higher Physics was not my strong suit), but essentially, to quote from the articles on this, “they cause waves of light to interact at a specific point, and that interaction is visible to your eye. By doing this a lot, they can create the illusion of an entire object ‘made’ of light.” 

How much is “a lot?”  Well, Light Field Lab’s 28-inch diagonal panel has 2.5 billion pixels – slightly more than the 8.2 million that you’ll find on a 4K TV. The company would like to get to the stage where they can create holographic video walls made up of these smaller (2.5 billion pixel) panels, meaning there would be more than 245 billion pixels in the wall. 

Not only that, but these pixels are far more complex than the ones on your phone or TV screen. Apparently (brain clouding over here), “they're able to precisely manipulate the phase of the light waves so the interactions of those waves create the holographic effect. Standard LCD or OLED pixels just need to create red, green, and blue. SolidLight's pixels need to create specific colours in a specific place in front of the display so the image appears to pop out of the screen.”

All of which makes me want to go for a lie down.  However, I do see an upside.  Perhaps, in the future I could get a hologram of myself to sit at my desk and take part in company-wide Teams meetings. The only problem is that some of my colleagues might prefer the hologram to the real thing…

Scott Bentley, Be-IT

Posted in News, Opinion

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