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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Are holograms the future of video calls?

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When the coronavirus forced countries into lockdown, many looked to services such as Zoom to conduct meetings. But could holograms soon dominate video calls?

Online video conferencing has existed for many years, though the pandemic certainly accelerated adoption worldwide. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet saw their combined user base grow 21 times in the past two years.

As businesses grew dependent on video conferencing, people noticed limitations with online calls. One limitation that stands out is that 2D calls don’t feel natural enough.

Portl, a US company, wants to address this issue by beaming people into meetings using holograms.

The participant is recorded then beamed into a white cube where a life-like replica of them appears. Portl boasts that its service offers low latency, as the hologram moves almost in sync with the actual person.

It features a 4K resolution for HD graphics and a speaker and a microphone to make presentations feel more natural.

The left is a holographic replica of the person on the right [Portl]

The company refers to its holographic calls as “telepresence, or even holoportation”. The idea is that holograms are combined with video conferencing to beam someone into another room that could be on the other side of the world.

It works by constantly recording the user and recreating their figure in real-time inside the Portl device.

The company claims its device works so well that if no light was reflecting on the glass, you’d think the person is actually there in real life.

Do people want holographic calls?

The concept of holographic calls has long existed in sci-fi movies, and now it seems like it’s finally becoming a reality. Though, as with many sci-fi inventions, people wonder if holographic calls are even beneficial.

Yet, despite its starting price of $60,000, Portl’s CEO said, “we can’t make our portals fast enough”. 

[Portl]
The holographic product is reportedly in-use by companies such as T-Mobile and Netflix. The company believes that holograms will replace traditional video calls within the next five years.

Portl isn’t the only one competing in this field. Several businesses, including Microsoft, are racing to develop tools to create an augmented holographic experience.

Perhaps the biggest competitor to holographic technology is the metaverse, though that’s likely many years away. Meta (formerly Facebook) recently launched its social VR app Horizon Worlds which allows 3D avatars to interact in a shared virtual space.

Meta is among many companies that believe digital communication will take place in virtual reality. Rather than life-like holograms, the metaverse is expected to show participants’ avatars.

Where holograms fall short

Holograms don’t allow users to interact with each other within the same space. Instead, users are constrained, all acting separately from one another. A group holographic call may include multiple people seeing replicas of each other in real-time, but they won’t be able to walk around a shared room.

In comparison, the metaverse allows for precisely that. Users can interact with each other. This will enable them to work, play, and engage together in a more realistic atmosphere.

Where holograms beat the metaverse

Holograms, however, have the advantage of presenting life-like replicas of participants in large boxes. Over time, this may work in an open environment too. If the idea of a replica in a box sounds dystopian, think of how video calls are currently 2D replicas inside a box too.

So while holograms can’t interact with each other, they at least have the advantage of showing a realistic looking person.

Who wins?

With the metaverse offering realistic interactions in cartoon graphics and holograms showing no interactions in realistic graphics, which of the two will become the next medium of video conferencing?

Holograms will likely hit the market a few years earlier, giving them a little head start over VR meetings.

As is usually the case, though, we are likely to see a combination of both technologies spread in the future. Each medium may find its strength in its own niche. For example, holograms may be used in presentations as it allows one person to “appear” in a room among other people. Meanwhile, the metaverse may become the go-to for more collaborative meetings.

While tech companies invest billions of dollars into developing the next generation of meetings, one thing remains inevitable: your next online meeting will take place in a video conferencing app. Holograms and VR meetings are at least a few years away, and we’re all stuck with our traditional video calling app for now.

Do you bet that holograms will replace video calls one day, or will the metaverse win this race? Or perhaps you believe that Zoom is here to stay for the long run? Let us know in the comments.


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