During the recent US election coverage the CNN news channel tried out a new video effect, a “hologram” of a remote reporter projected into the studio, so that the viewer can see a “3D” picture of the reporter.  When the cameras move in the studio, the view of the “hologram” also changes so that the person appears to be standing in the studio a few metres away from the interviewer.  It’s a nice effect.

As you might expect, it’s done using the “green screen” technique that is used so much in TV and film these says, so that the picture of the person can be mixed into to the main video picture using chroma-keying.  The remote reporter is actually standing in a circular green room that has cameras looking from every angle.  The clever part is that when the physical cameras move around the main studio, this information gets fed back to a computer that works out how to combine the many video streams from the “green room”, to make a sympathetic 3D picture to transmit back to the studio.

It reminded me of the “bullet time” effect that was created for the movie The Matrix.  Here the 360˚ room was equipped with a circle of still cameras which were fired during a stunt.  The effect is to stop a character in mid-air and sweep around, viewing them from all sides, usually surrounded by bullets, vehicles and so on that have been “stopped in time”, hanging in the air.  This eye-opening effect was quickly emulated by other film makers, and within a few months was even appearing in TV commercials.  

This is of course the way that technology works: in the first place someone builds a prototype, often at a very high cost, then quickly imitators find out how to do that on a budget, and the technology becomes commonplace.  Video is probably the most extreme example, because Hollywood movies aim to create a jaw-dropping effect that has never been seen before, and cost is (very nearly) not an issue. Later, the technology becomes more commonplace, and it is cheap to do, but the flipside is that within a very short time our eyes have grown tired of the effect.  

I expect that now CNN have developed the “hologram” effect, it will quickly come into common use, and we will get used to it being there. Probably before too long the effect will be consolidated into a single appliance that will do all the position calculation and video mixing. I wonder if there might also be a use for it in enterprise video conferencing?