From little things, big things grow.
Like this little story in the Dayton Daily News:
An Englewood company that plans to develop office centers equipped with remote video conferencing technology (has) acquired a Texas firm and 14 patents.
That doesn’t sound like much, but the company involved, Buffalo Pacific, will use the acquisition to build the first of a series of community portals featuring holographic video conferencing.
The 14 U.S. and European Union patents involve holographic reality technology which Buffalo Pacific plans to build into a series of video conferencing suites around the country. These suites will then be leased out to banks, doctors, and colleges so they can access cutting-edge technology that would otherwise cost tens of thousands of dollars.
It’s a big idea, tucked away in a 180-word article within an online newspaper.
Currently, holographic video conferencing technology is more of an expensive spectacle than a practical communication solution, but if it falls within the reach of the average small business it could become the hot new way to make a first impression.
Holographic Video Conferencing Technology Is Expensive
Unless you’re a global Fortune 500 company, like Accenture, holographic video conferencing is way beyond your means. If you are Accenture, you can build a network of holographic suites across the globe to create a digital office, or just to show off at parties by presenting 3D holograms of guests from three different locations on the same stage.
Holographic video conferencing currently only works between fixed locations, and you need a lot of digital firepower on both ends of the call to make it work. That means it’s no good for a single company seeking face time with customers and partners across multiple venues, and it means you’re effectively buying two devices for every destination you want to reach.
Even the small, single-product-sized 3D holographic devices you might use to feature goods at a distant trade expo cost $2,000. The type needed for a person-to-person holographic call costs more than $60,000.
What you get for all that capital, though, is a pretty impressive trick of smoke and mirrors.
The Smoke and Mirrors of Holographic Video Calling
Much of the difference between a holographic video call and a webcam call on your desktop has to do with the screen. Where your webcam feeds an image to a bunch of flat, 2D pixels on your computer, a hologram is projected onto a bunch of flat, 2D pixels on suspended, transparent glass or fabric. The image gets its depth because it seems to be part of the surrounding background.
The famous Tupac hologram at Coachella 2012 is a good example. The rap icon appears to be moving in front of a live band, but it’s just because we can see the other musicians through a clear veil of fabric–if you watched from the wings you’d see nothing.
The image is convincing though. Deployed imaginatively by Buffalo Pacific, it would allow doctor and patient, as the company intends, to reach a greater level of online intimacy than currently available in any telehealth app.
It’s in business, however, where appearance builds confidence and respect, that the community hologram portal could really get interesting.
A Good Video Calling Impression
There’s one major drawback to the Buffalo Pacific idea. You must get each holographic caller to attend a community portal in person, because every end user needs the device. That’s going to be restrictive, at least in the beginning, because even if a portal springs up in every major city, it still means taking a road trip to make a video call you could stage in regular old 2D from your smartphone.
With that in mind, you’ll have to do something more impressive than just sit and talk to make the event worthwhile. That’s easy to achieve if you bear in mind that anything can be projected onto these holographic screens. You could send flocks of digital eagles hurtling at your callers, or transport them to starlit space, if Buffalo Pacific gets creative with how they arrange their projections (despite what Star Trek and Star Wars promised, we can’t yet project a hologram onto thin air).
However, because there’s no need for goggles or other smart wear devices such as the Microsoft Hololens kit, it means your audience is free to speak and move freely without feeling like an astronaut.
By using that natural freedom, a holographic video conference can be more intimate and natural. You can display video and sound so that it swirls around your fellow callers, and speak to them face-to-face like you’re sharing a table, not a video game. Mostly though, business will want to use holographic calling to impress. Maybe there’s a potential partner that needs wooing, or a customer who needs to find big company trust in a small operation. Invite them down to the local portal, dim the lights a little, and walk right into their personal space even though there are hundreds of miles between you.
For now, only the richest companies get to use holographic video conferencing technology. If Buffalo Pacific’s little announcement grows into its big idea, though, any mom-and-pop business could communicate like a Fortune 500 company.