Imagine taking your phone out of your pocket, attaching a pair of goggles and being transported into a fully immersive virtual space where you can move freely and peek around corners. Via holographic 3D video, you'd be able to enter a game, story, faraway locale or learning environment. If this scenario sounds like it’s a prediction for the 2020s, several companies say they're working to bring us similar technology within a matter of months.
We recently spoke with Jules Urbach, co-founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based cloud rendering company OTOY, who recently made waves in the tech and entertainment world when they announced that their pipeline would be helping companies bring holographic video to mobile phones by 2015.
Can you explain this technology for the average person? How will this directly affect our lives in the next few years?
Jules Urbach: There's a lot of work being done to take your mobile phone and turn it into the equivalent of a viewfinder. The software we're working on is focused on bringing the most true-to-life interactive scenes to any device, even relatively low-powered smartphones.
Google has Google Cardboard and Samsung has announced their Virtual Reality [VR] initiatives with Oculus. Those things are going to impact tens of millions of people that already have a mobile phone. There's been a lot of focus on VR for gaming, but there's an even bigger impact, especially on mobile, to view something that's immersive — a phone that you can strap to your eyes, that tracks your head as you move it. That's the immediate impact for consumers. We've designed a video format that streams that kind of experience and it goes perfectly with these VR experiences that Google, and Samsung, and Facebook are delivering this year.
What are some uses for this technology in the realm of education?
Jules Urbach: I think the idea of having a holographic stream serve as a living photograph, for example, is awesome for things like touring far places like the Taj Mahal or the Smithsonian. You can have almost an identical experience. You're not really allowed to touch anything in the Smithsonian; you can only look at it. If we captured a holographic volume of the entire Smithsonian, well, that's something you can replicate pretty well inside of a lot of these streams.
I also think that classroom VR is pretty exciting because it's not just sitting in a lecture, but the teacher's visuals can be presented holographically — that makes a big difference in communicating key concepts visually.
When you're immersing a student in a VR experience or a hologram, they also don't have anything outside of that to distract them. The room itself turns into the lecture. If you're fully immersed in looking at a molecule or a lipid and that's all you're seeing, not only is it fun, but it will capture your entire attention. That's very important for younger students who are growing up in a digitally rich society with a lot of distractions.
What about entertainment?
Jules Urbach: We make the software secret sauce that will let you enjoy incredible scenes from your favorite movies in a completely interactive and realistic way on your phone. We're also working with three Hollywood studios currently, where if you buy the Blu- Ray, or the DVD, or the online video on-demand version [of a film], you will get a link to a holographic stream that gives you a tour of the sets behind the scenes. That's going to be probably one of the first things we launch commercially with this technology.