November 15, 2008

The Hologram: Media Miracle or Cheap Trick?

by Dan Sweeney

On election night, November 4th, a media phenomenon occurred that I did not think I would ever see in my lifetime. On CNN, the network beamed in correspondent Jessica Yellin to their studio for an interview about the crowds gathering in Grant Park in Chicago to see Barack Obama. My jaw literally dropped when I saw this and I thought there was no way that this could be happening right now. In a sense, I was correct.

According to CNN, the cable news network used 35 cameras to circle Yellin and film her, well, all 220 degrees of her. She stood inside a large circular room with green screens all around her and the cameras captured all of her movements blocking out other background factors. When she appeared it looked like she was from some science-fiction film, complete with the hazy blue outline. The technology comes from an Israeli company, SportVU. It looked like she was actually in the studio with Wolf Blitzer and he talked to her like he could actually see her. However, this was not the case. The cameras circling Yellin were synchronized with the cameras in New York to make it appear like she was actually there. Yellin could see Blitzer from a television at the front of the room where her live remote report originated. CNN has not discussed the technology much further.

Various technology savvy critics denounced this so-called "hologram" as nothing more than a cheap trick. It was not a real hologram because: it did not actually photograph her in the complete 360 degrees; Yellin's "hologram" not actually present in the studio with Blitzer, and there was no way for Yellin, inside the so-called "hologram" to see Blitzer without the aid of a television. Some criticized CNN because they superimposed Yellin's enhanced image on the picture of Blitzer in the studio, and called it a hologram although such green-screen technology to superimpose images has been widely used in television since the 1970s. In other words, there is still a ways to go before we have anything like a Star Wars' Princess Leia-type of hologram. CNN projects that it will take about ten to twenty years for their "holograms" to reach near that level. Although, the "holograms" on election night had their flaws, they set the foundation for future hologram production.

The benefits of possible hologram technology are huge. First, news has something cool to draw in more viewers and possibly tempting young people to watch it. Interviews can be given with a more intimate setting. according to CNN, by cutting out all the background of the one interviewed. People can have a more personable conversation without having to look at a television or just hear their voice on the telephone. If holograms are successful in the news industry, they could spread to other industries as well. In stores a pre-recorded holograms could appear and tell you about the day's sales, instead of having it listed on a sign. This makes shopping a more pleasant and friendly event.

I never thought I would have seen a hologram in my life, even if some say it was not a real hologram technically. Hopefully, as this technology evolves over the next few decades, it will become more commonplace. Needless to say, although present holograms have their flaws, it was really cool to see that on election night.

(Photo by zephyrbunny of Seattle, WA via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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