Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi


by Tim Moran

Holographic videoconferencing may be coming soon, even if you don't work on the Death Star.

Researchers "have made a major step toward a holographic videoconferencing system that would let people communicate with one another almost as if they were in the same room." The scientists say they have developed a "full-color, 3-D display that refreshes every two seconds." They believe that, within a few years, they will be able to concoct a system that will refresh at standard video rates.

Nasser Peyghambarian, chair of photonics and lasers at the University of Arizona, has been working with Nitto Denko Technical, the California-based research arm of a Japanese company, "to improve the sophistication and refresh rate of holographic displays. The new displays refresh significantly faster than previous systems and are the first to be combined with a real-time camera system to show live images rather than ones recorded in advance."

So how are holograms different from 3D? According to the article a hologram uses an optical effect called "diffraction" that produces the light that would normally come from an object "if the physical object were in front of the viewer." These images appear to be floating out in space--recall Star Wars, in which holograms were all over the place--and, perhaps best of all, there is no need to wear special glasses, as you do with 3D, to see the images.

The article goes into reasonable detail about what makes the hologram tick--polymer-composite substrates, hogels (holographic equivalent of pixels), and the like--so by all means read the entire article if that sort of thing interests you. There's also a cool video showing what the holograms look like in action.

And where is all this leading? The researchers are working to make the imagery clearer and the refresh rate faster, at which point they might give clunky, already-old-fashioned-seeming 3D television a fun for its money. As Obi-Wan Kenobi said upon seeing a hologram of Darth Vader slaughtering Jedi: "I can't watch anymore."