Looking Glass Factory, a company that designs personal holographic displays, just launched a Kickstarter for its new Looking Glass Portrait, a smaller, more affordable take on its previous light field display. The new Looking Glass can operate as a standalone device, and in a clever move, supports portrait mode photos from smartphones like the iPhone for creating simple holograms.
A note on crowdfunding:
Crowdfunding is a chaotic field by nature: companies looking for funding tend to make big promises. According to a study run by Kickstarter in 2015, roughly 1 in 10 “successful” products that reach their funding goals fail to actually deliver rewards. Of the ones that do deliver, delays, missed deadlines, or overpromised ideas mean that there’s often disappointment in store for those products that do get done.
The best defense is to use your best judgment. Ask yourself: does the product look legitimate? Is the company making outlandish claims? Is there a working prototype? Does the company mention existing plans to manufacture and ship finished products? Has it completed a Kickstarter before? And remember: you’re not necessarily buying a product when you back it on a crowdfunding site.
The Looking Glass Portrait displays holographic photos, videos and 3D models in a 58 degree viewing cone, which basically amounts to the experience of a 3D video or hologram, but viewable by multiple people without the need for special glasses. Holographic light field tech isn’t new, particularly in smaller sizes like a cellphone screen. Where Looking Glass Portrait differs from other displays, like Sony’s $3,000 Spatial Reality Display, is with a much lower price point of $349 (without promotional Kickstarter pricing).
Looking Glass Factory says its specific display uses a proprietary combination of light field and volumetric display technologies, meaning the display is both refracting light through glass and projecting it to multiple parts of the screen simultaneously to trick your brain into seeing a 3D image. The Looking Glass Portrait projects 45 to 100 different “views” of 3D scenes to create its holograms, which is great for more detailed captures from light field photography, but for less detailed methods like an iPhone portrait, the results aren’t as impressive.
The Looking Glass Portrait has a 7.9 inch display at an undisclosed resolution, with HDMI, USB-C, and 3.5 stereo audio jack ports for getting media on and off the device. It’s a more compact and streamlined design than the previous $600 and $3,000 Looking Glass displays we covered in 2018, and notably vertically-oriented where the old model was horizontal. The display needs to be plugged in to a power source, but has a built-in Raspberry Pi 4 for standalone use. With the company’s HoloPlay Studio software you can also upload your own photos, videos and 3D models to the device. Outside of just photos and videos, the Portrait can also be connected to Microsoft’s Azure Kinect, Intel’s RealSense or a Leap Motion Controller for tinkering with slightly more interactive holograms.
Looking Glass Factory makes the Portrait seem like a device for anyone. Depth mapped photos have only gotten easier to capture and the new lower price feels a lot more approachable for a non-enthusiast. But I have to wonder what using the device is like long-term. Much like trying to find 3D videos for a 3D TV, there’s no single source that’s consistently putting out holographic content. Maybe tossing up holograms of your kids is enough of a novelty, but with the cooler integrations that the Portrait allows, I’d want reassurance there’d be new content for it over time. Looking Glass Factory has cultivated a community on Discord and its forums, but how much content shared there will actually be of interest remains to be seen.
The Looking Glass Portrait is available to back on Kickstarter, for an Early Bird price of $199 through December 7th, with the display shifting to $249 for the remainder of the campaign after that. Early Bird orders are expected to be fulfilled in March 2021, with normal campaign orders following in April. The final retail price will be $349.
Update December 4th 1:29PM ET: Added new end date for Early Bird pricing.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the Looking Glass desktop software as Holographic Studio, it’s actually called HoloPlay Studio. We regret the error.