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New Ways to Watch: BBC Experiments with ‘Holographic’ Content

“Holographic experiences offer audiences a level of detail and realism that only a short while ago seemed virtually impossible, but are now becoming a reality."

The BBC has continued to experiment with emerging broadcast technologies, creating an experimental “holographic” TV device for future audiences. Explains BBC head of digital partnerships Cyrus Saihan, “Like ultra-high definition video or virtual reality, holographic experiences offer audiences a level of detail and realism that only a short while ago seemed virtually impossible, but are now becoming a reality.

“For our experiment, we used existing technologies and simple techniques to explore ‘holographic’ content,” Saihan continues. The “low-fi and low-cost” device was constructed “to assess how the ‘floating’ images of augmented and mixed reality devices, which aren’t readily available for audience testing, might be used to view BBC content in the future.

Cyrus Saihan is head of business development at BBC Future Media.

“We had seen that people had created small ‘holographic’ displays using mobile phones [make your own:], and so it occurred to us that making a super-sized version of these low-cost displays would give us a way to see how ‘holograms’ might work on a larger scale—something comparable to the size of a living room TV,” he recalls.

“To make our ‘holographic’ TV, we took a 46-inch TV that we had in the office and then asked a local plastics cutter to make a simple acrylic pyramid shape based on some sketches that we had done. By placing this acrylic pyramid on our flat-screen TV, we were able to try out a modern-day version of an old Victorian theater technique and create the illusion of floating ‘holographic’ images.

“For this theater trick to work, the video footage needed to be of a certain type, so we looked through the BBC public service and BBC Worldwide archives for iconic footage that matched this criteria and then worked with UK-based visual effects and hologram specialist company MDH Hologram, which tweaked and formatted our archive footage to bring it to life,” Saihan says.

“Holographic” device in living room.

“Our experiment was fairly simplistic, but the new technologies on the horizon have the potential to completely change the way that audiences experience media content in the future. You can imagine a world where instead of watching a film star being interviewed on the sofa of a TV chat show, it feels as if they are sitting right next to you on your own sofa in your living room, or where instead of looking at a 2D image of Mount Everest, it appears as if the snow on the mountaintop is falling around you.”

According to Saihan, the mobile game Pokémon Go is only “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to augmented reality, with major companies investing in various immersive mediums such as AR and VR. He adds, “If devices such as Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Google-backed Magic Leap also capture the public’s imagination, we could soon find ourselves in a situation where the lines between digital content and the real world become increasingly blurred.”