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Holocrap, a holograph

December 6, 2008

Been a looooong week.  Still not very busy, hopefully it will start to pick up tomorrow.

Check it: the future of multimedia theater?

Watch the video.  Especially the part where the camera operator walks 180-degrees around the display.

This is freaking amazing.

A lot of kids in my queue will ask me as they’re filing in, “Is this 3D?”  My stock response is, “Yes, but not how you think.”  (An equal number of kids and adults ask where they pick up their glasses… *sigh*  I’m always amazed by the number of grown adults that have literally no clue what a planetarium is.)

Technically all planetarium shows are 3D–real, actual 3D–because the images are being projected on a three-dimensional shape (a hemispherical dome) instead of a flat screen like a movie theater.  Well-crafted planetarium shows will give the viewer an extended sense of 3D: images and animations projected with subtle zooms and changes in perspective will appear to leap off the dome, and large panoramic images with proper hemispherical distortions will look convex instead of concave (important when you’re projecting lots of spherical things… like stars and planets).

The right kind of video projection systems can also shoot images with computer-driven 3D offsets, the ol’ skool red/blue standard, or the headache-inducing polarized stereoscopic images (seriously, we watched Creature from the Black Lagoon in my Sci-Fi and Horror Studies class in college, and it was linearly polarized 3D… I had a SPLITTING headache by the time it was over).  From what I understand, there are a handful of newer techniques that supposedly make a pretty decent 3D image, but they all need glasses, and having to handle the infrastructure to distribute, reclaim, and sanitize glasses is a huge hassle.  I think most planetarians stay away from it.

But this sort of burgeoning holographic stuff, which seems pretty straightforward and simple, could seriously make some fantastic effects in a planetarium.  Don’t let the low-resolution fool you; it hasn’t been that long ago that full-dome planetarium systems had relatively low-res outputs (for instance, Evans & Sutherland’s early full-dome video setup, DigistarII, shot monochromatic vector images; they’re on Digistar3 now and D4 is supposed to be hitting streets soon), and a lot has happened in 15-20 years.

Planetarium manufacturers are nothing if not clever and ambitious, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this sort of technology (among other really cool stuff) creeps into space theaters sooner than later.

And a quick nitpick: the popular use of 3D to mean “video images in three dimensions” is technically wrong…  Since time is a dimension, two dimensions of video (like on a TV) plus one dimension of time equals “3D.”  What people today think of as 3D movies really should be called “4D.”

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