Using a single Xbox Kinect and standard graphics chips, MIT researchers demonstrate the highest frame rate yet for streaming holographic video. Naturally for the hologram demo (video below), one of the group’s members donned full Princess Leia garb to re-enact the fabled “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope,” scene from Star Wars. The group is looking to develop alternative versions of the diffraction screen at lower costs, and is seeking to design a laptop-scale screen that retails at around $200. Scaling up the devices to the size of movie screens will be difficult because it is tough to generate complicated diffraction patterns on larger scales. The actual holographic effect doesn’t look like much unless you’re there in person.
In November, 2010, researchers at the University of Arizona made headlines with an experimental holographic-video transmission system that used 16 cameras to capture data and whose display refreshed every two seconds. 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. Moreover, the MIT researchers didn’t get their hands on a Kinect until the end of December, and only in the week before the conference did they double the system’s frame rate from seven to 15 frames per second. They’re confident that with a little more time, they can boost the rate even higher, to the 24 frames per second of feature films or the 30 frames per second of TV — rates that create the illusion of continuous motion.
The challenge with real-time holographic video is taking video data — in the case of the Kinect, the light intensity of image pixels and, for each of them, a measure of distance from the camera — and, on the fly, converting that data into a set of fringe patterns. Bove and his grad students — James Barabas, David Cranor, Sundeep Jolly and Dan Smalley — have made that challenge even tougher by limiting themselves to off-the-shelf hardware.
“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,” Bove says. “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.”