Holographic TV is the stuff of sci-fi, for sure. But scientists have been researching the idea for years, and back in November a University of Arizona team hit the headlines with a holographic TV device that used 16 cameras to "record" an object in true 3-D, then portray it as a jerky moving image that only refreshed every two seconds—hardly the kind of thing your family would huddle around for an evening's entertainment.
MIT is trying to change that.
3-D TV may or may not be the next big thing in consumer electronics, but 3-D in the theater, at home or on your 3DS is not the same as what you've seen in many sci-fi shows. The 3-D we know is an optical trick, using the same sort of stereoscopic imagery that your own eyes use when seeing the world...but it can't let you see "around" a "3-D" object in front of you as you move your head, as would happen with a real object. For this, you need holograms.
It's possible to create moving holograms using several rapidly-scanning laser systems, powered by sophisticated computers: In real time, these systems create the same kind of high-res visual hologram you're probably familiar with from your credit card logo, only as a moving image.
MIT's team has used a developmental laser scanner that's descended from one in use for years, and has bolted it to a simple MacBook that's connected to a Microsoft Kinect. The imaging and positional sensors in the Kinect, it turns out, are absolutely ideal for a quick-and-dirty holographic object scanner for real-time TV.
Check it out below. What better image to test it with than a faux Leia from Star Wars?
There are some limits to the tech as you can see (starting with the fact that we can't see the 3-D effect without being there--the camera just captures red blurs). The MIT team has also only managed to push the Kinect hardware to capturing motion at 15 frames a second, compared to to the 24 needed for feature films (or the 25 or 30 per second needed for TV in Europe and the U.S.). There's also the fact that the processed signal from the Kinect scanner/Mac combo is sent to a powerful desktop PC running custom software on three high-end graphics cards to power the laser-display system...so this is the bit of the tech that's not quite ready for the mainstream.
But it's absolutely a taste of the future. Remember Kinect only came out in December. What will MIT's boffins be able to create with it in a year or so? And also bear in mind that with rumors of "supercomputers on your desktop" recurring, and advances in handheld image-projection devices, and laser tech, this system will seem far simpler in a very short time.
To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.