We've fantasized about holograms for decades only to watch the big tech companies bet mostly on VR or AR. Today, however, a startup called Looking Glass is officially unveiling its idea for a hologram viewing device: the HoloPlayer One. Looking Glass previously announced a different volumetric display, called Volume, but pivoted its efforts to HoloPlayer One when Volume didn't take off like the company hoped it would.
This new development kit and its SDK allow users to display and interact with 3D creations. The company built two versions — one that requires an HDMI hookup to a computer and another with an Intel Core i7 processor inside that works independently from a PC. The HDMI-reliant version costs $750 while the premium computer version costs $3,000.
Both models rely on the same hardware to produce the holograms. They reflect the content from a 2560 x 1600 LCD display. A depth-sensing camera, like the one used in a Microsoft Kinect or iPhone X, is mounted on top to assist with interaction. Strangely, the cheaper device is powered over USB-C while the more premium version relies on MicroUSB. People can view content so long as they're within a range of 50 degrees from the device.
Although the HoloPlayer One's screen has an acceptable resolution, users won't see a crisp, bright image on the device. Instead it's blurred and dim.
This happens because the HoloPlayer’s screen is reflected into 32 different depth planes, which gives you an effective 267 x 480 resolution for the resulting 3D image. Looking Glass created a GIF of this to give you a better idea of how the device works:
All of this is to say you might not be impressed with the actual holograms. If you're expecting a vibrant, lifelike hologram, you won't get that.
The development kit also isn't a fully formed idea in the sense that it gives developers a thing to play with and leaves it to them to find the best use case.
Looking Glass has some ideas, though. When I checked the device out a couple weeks ago, I interacted with animations, used my finger to mold a 3D sculpture, and explored a 3D CAT scan of a heart. You can see more examples of Looking Glass' work on its website. All the demos used my finger as the primary controller, although a drawing application took advantage of four built-in buttons to control when paint was released. The company has also experimented with custom remotes, like hacking a Nintendo Switch controller to use as a wand in games. I didn't find the device to be super intuitive, but maybe it would come with more practice.
All the company's applications hint at its big idea of digital images rendered without the use of smart glasses or a headset, yet none of them felt like they worked as a concept that could make the device mainstream. Maybe marketing it as a hologram memory display would do the trick. Still, I'm hoping someone stumbles upon application gold because I like the idea of 3D content everyone can witness without a headset strapped to their faces.