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Forget tablets, I want a 3D video smartphone

holographic 3d videoIf you’ve been reading my blogs, you may have noticed I enjoy thinking about how new emerging technology will impact video streaming. That includes how it’s created, delivered and consumed.

Google glass, still-only-rumoured iWatches, or flexible displays on, well, everything, any of these could revolutionise video.

But as cool as those are, a company based in the U.S. is designing a 3D hologram projector small enough to fit into smartphones. To me, that’s sci-fi finally happening in real life.

The company, called Ostendo, has already demonstrated the working miniature 3D  projector to the Wall Street Journal. The projector beamed a 3D hologram of dice with a  resolution of 5000ppi. In contrast, the Retina display of an iPad air only provides 264 ppi. The  WSJ report said the dice appeared the same no matter what side they looked at them. One reviewer commented that at 5000ppi the dice would look almost real.

According to their website, Ostendo was awarded $58.2M in 2012 to develop holographic 3D displays under the Synthetic Holographic Observation Program run by a combination of US military and research organisations. In a press release the company states:

“The program aims to deliver dynamic, high-performance, synthetic holographic 3D workstation display systems, simultaneously viewable by multiple people with the unaided eye, with very low power, no perceptual display artifacts, and no eye strain.”

That’s a lot of words, but it sounds to me as if they plan to develop what every science fiction fan has wanted since Princess Leia begged Obi-wan for help in the original Star Wars movie in 1977. Only this time the holograms will appear from our smartphones and not a droid.

While impressive, it isn’t quite ready to ship with the next generation of mobile phones just yet. The company is planning to continue improving the resolution on the chips and be ready to manufacture them towards the end of 2015.  That means 2016 might be the year 3D capabilities arrive on smartphones.

In the meantime, Ostendo will be shipping their 2D version of the chip in mobile phones the middle of 2015. The 2D version allows projection of anything displayed on your smartphone onto a wall or flat surface up to 48″. The projector fits into the palm of a hand, about the size of current mobile phone cameras. When integrated into a mobile phone, they will likely be as seamless as cameras are today.

I’m not as excited about the 2D display, at least not yet. And it isn’t the first projector integrated into a mobile phone. Back in 2010 Samsung announced the Beam which was a smartphone that included a built in projector. They released a second version in 2012 but the phone didn’t catch on.

It will be interesting to see if Ostendo’s 2D projector will perform any better in the smartphone market. And though I’d love to have one, I don’t know if the 3D version will fare better. We don’t yet know some key factors, such as what content can it display in 3D, how well it can display if it relies on cellular connectivity (vs. WiFi), and who will be creating content for it. Even if the 3D display is amazing, if there is no content the general consumer would want (including 3D video, no glasses required!) then sales might be poor.

Would you buy a smartphone with 3D capability when it first comes out, or would you wait until there was enough content (videos, games or apps) for it?

Oliver Burt

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