MIT unveils holographic TV system

An MIT Media Lab team is recreating the famous scene from Star Wars in which a hologram of Princess Leia pleads with Obi-Wan Kenobi to help her, using a real-time holographic video system.

Using a single Xbox Kinect and standard graphics chips, the researchers say they’ve demonstrated the highest frame rate yet for streaming holographic video. The first video depicts a paper crane.

The new MIT system uses only one data-capture device — the new Kinect camera designed for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming system — and averages about 15 frames per second. Given that they achieved this in just a couple of weeks, they say, they reckon they’ll soon be able to double that, giving the same illusion of continuous motion as TV.

“Really, the focus of our work in digital holography — and I think this makes us pretty much unique among the very small community of people in the world even doing holovideo — is that we’re trying to make a consumer product,” says Michael Bove.

“So we’ve been saying, ‘How do you make it as cheap as possible — take advantage of hardware and standards and software and everything else that already exists?’ Because that’s the quickest way to bring it to market.”

The Kinect feeds data to an ordinary laptop, which relays it over the internet. At the receiving end, a PC with three commercial GPUs computes the diffraction patterns for the final image.

The one component of the system that can’t be bought at an electronics store for a couple of hundred dollars is the holographic display itself. Bove says that his group is developing a new display that is much more compact, produces larger images, and should also be cheaper to manufacture than previous models.

For the team’s demonstration, grad student Edwina Portocarrero, sports a version of Princess Leia’s cowled tunic and a wig with ‘telephone’ buns.

The resolution of the real hologram isn’t nearly as high as that of the special-effects hologram in the movie. But, as Bove points out, “Princess Leia wasn’t being transmitted in real time. She was stored.”