Tech of the Week: the Holus 3D hologram tabletop device … that isn’t?

We’ve all marvelled at the holographic communication thingy that was used by characters in the Star Wars films, and many a geek have spent countless hours trying to produce one. Now, one Canadian company claims it’s cracked it, but online pundits beg to differ.

“Obi-wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”. It’s one of the most iconic lines to have ever been spouted in sci-fi film history, and revealed to the world what the future of communication may be like.

Nearly forty years after Star Wars first came out, true holograms have still yet to appear. The latest in technology offers high power lasers to ionize air. It’s extremely dangerous however, and definitely not something you’d want on your tabletop. Other solutions use screens or LED arrays rotating at extremely high speeds, which aren’t exactly kid-friendly either.

But here comes the Holus, and it might be the answer to our holographic dreams, if its stylish video presentation is anything to go by.

Announced on KickStarter on June 10, it reached its goal of CAD$50,000 (NZ$57,980) in just 19 minutes. It’s now sitting at CAD$222,937 (NZ$258,516.48), or 445% of its funding goal – still with 24 days to go. So what is it, exactly?

Developed by Vancouver’s H+ Technology, it’s a “tabletop holographic platform that converts any digital content from a computer, tablet or smartphone into a 3D hologram,” according to the company’s PR. Viewable from four different angles, it can provide a holographic experience for both education and entertainment possibilities.

Applications such as moving, interactive models, immersive collaborative gaming, and voice chat with a holographic image of a person are all listed among the possibilities for Holus users.

What Holus does however aren’t ‘true’ holograms. At least not according to the proper definition of the word: “a 3D image formed by the interference of light beams from a laser or other coherent light source”. Holograms are, technically, photographs of a light field, and are viewed without the aid of special glasses or other intermediate optics.

The Holus instead, projects media from below a glass pyramid, presenting an ostensibly 3D image that can be viewed from 360 degrees around the machine. It’s a device that uses the Pepper’s Ghost effect, a trick dating back to the 1800s that uses reflective glass at a specific angle to make ghostly figures appear and disappear on stage.

Pundits online have been quick to jump into the fray with pitchforks raised, wanting KickStarter to pull the campaign for its use of CGI and false advertising for using the word “holograms”. Users also won’t be able to get true depth or 360-degree parallax viewing. Within a couple of days, H+ responded:

Really though, what is exciting about this project isn’t really the hologram aspect (though that would be really exciting if it was real). Instead, it’s the collaborative, shared learning opportunities offered by the device and the refreshingly realistic consumer level prices. Interesting, but still worth tempering your expectations before dunking down a lot of cash.

The Holus will come in two variants – Home or Pro – and will cost KickStarter backers $850 and $950 respectively.

The device is expected to ship globally in March 2016.