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BBC experiments with ‘holographic’ TV

The BBC has showcased an experimental ‘holographic’ TV device that “brings to life” some of its archive footage, ranging from the iconic BBC ident globes to giant dinosaurs.

Cyrus Saihan is Head of Digital Partnerships at the BBC and explains more on this exciting project in a posting on the BBC’s Internet Blog site: “Although the famous Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars was set a “long, long time ago”, this type of audience experience might not be that far away. Holographic experiences, like Ultra-High Definition or virtual reality, offer audiences a level of detail and realism that only a short while ago seemed virtually impossible but that are now becoming a reality.”

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“For our experiment, we used existing technologies and simple techniques to explore ‘holographic’ content. The device that we made also gives us an extremely low-fi and low-cost way to assess how the ‘floating’ images of augmented and mixed reality devices, which aren’t readily available for audience testing, might be used to view BBC content in the future.”

He added that the BBC has been involved theoretically in holographic technology since the 1970’s, it has more recently been focusing on 360-degree transmission and Virtual Reality output.

“To make our ‘holographic’ TV, we took a 46” TV that we had in the office and then asked a local plastics cutter to make a simple acrylic pyramid shape based on some sketches that we had done,” said Saihan. “By placing [an] acrylic pyramid on our flat screen TV, we were able to try out a modern-day version of an old Victorian theatre technique and create the illusion of floating ‘holographic’ like images.”

“For this theatre trick to work [AKA ‘Pepper’s Ghost’], the video footage needed to be of a certain type, so we looked through the BBC public service and BBC Worldwide archives for iconic footage that matched these criteria and then worked with UK based visual effects and hologram specialist company MDH Hologram, who tweaked and formatted our archive footage to bring it to life.”

“There are limitations with our experimental device: as mentioned above, only certain types of footage will work, you need a fairly low level of light in the room to get the maximum impact and the viewing angles are narrow. The physics of the light reflecting off the pyramid and the TV’s screen size also means that there will always be a practical limit to the size of a display such as this,” explained Saihan.

“However, this wasn’t an exercise to test how well this specific prototype performed, it was intended to give us a good approximation as to what BBC content would look like on a ‘holographic’ TV, get an insight into what audiences thought of it and give us a cheap way to explore floating images in the real world. Our experiment was fairly simplistic, but the new technologies on the horizon have the potential to completely change the way that audiences experience media content in the future. You can imagine a world where instead of watching a film star being interviewed on the sofa of a TV chat show, they feel as if they are sitting right next to you on your own sofa in your living room, or where instead of looking at a 2D image of Mount Everest, it appears as if the snow on the mountain top is falling around you.”

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