Old Trick Enhances Modern 3D Video Teleconferencing

Modern teleconferencing is taking its cues from beyond the grave! Pepper’s Ghost is an old stage illusion that was originally developed in the Victorian era to give the illusion of floating spirits visiting a seance. Using a partially transparent mirror and lighting techniques, an object in one room appears as if it were in another room. Modern versions use digital light processing (DLP) projectors and thin reflective films to give the same illusion. If you’ve ever been to the Tower of Terror or Haunted Mansion at a Disney amusement park, you’ve seen the effect. One company, Musion, has taken Pepper’s Ghost into the 21st century by utilizing high speed internet connections and expensive DLP technology to create what they call a “3D holographic video projection system” known as Eyeliner that can be used for teleconferencing. While Eyeliner isn’t truly 3D or holographic, it is pretty cool. See for yourself in the videos after the break.

The original Pepper's Ghost illusion (left) used a reflective surface (green square) and lighting so that people looking into a room (through the red square) would see a floating ghost. Musion has used DLP projectors and thin films to modernize the technique for teleconferencing (right).
Pepper's Ghost illusion (left) uses a reflective surface (green square) and lighting so that people looking into a room (through the red square) would see a floating ghost. Musion has modernized the technique for teleconferencing (right).

For years the Musion system has been used to augment musical performances and important marketing presentations. Al Gore, Prince Charles, Madonna, Richard Branson (Virgin) and Gorillaz (the band) have all made use of the technology. Major car launches by BMW, Cadillac, Land Rover, and Honda took advantage of Musion’s Pepper Ghost to create multimedia presentations. But the big new application Musion is pursuing is video teleconferencing. As we’ve mentioned before, telepresence is a growing trend that threatens to do away with a good portion of business travel. Teleconferencing giant Cisco has already shown interest in the Musion technology.

Musion leader Ian O’Connell gave a presentation in Berlin while still in London to demonstrate the uses of Eyeliner for video teleconferencing. Check out the singing performance at 2:36.

New Scientist has a short video that better explains the technology behind Musion’s version of Pepper Ghost:

If Pepper’s Ghost is over a hundred years old, why is Musion getting all the credit, not to mention the patents? Well, good marketing for starters, but the company has also innovated the thin reflective film that is used to project the ‘ghostly’ image. At just 0.1 mm thick, Musion’s film can be stretched under thousand of kilograms of weight in two directions to provide a surface that is incredibly smooth. That taut surface allows Eyeliner to project images with no discernible distortion.

Ian O’Connell and others at Musion have bandied about the idea that we may all have an Eyeliner system in our homes one day. If so, there’s going to have to be a large reduction in costs. The necessary camera currently retails around $7500, video software at $60k, the 8000 lumens DLP projector is another $60k, and the requisite broadband internet connection runs around $50k per month. That connection is only available on a very limited basis. For now.

As Larry Smarr discussed in his Singularity University lecture, there is an academic broadband network that is being established between academic institutions. This network will have a bandwidth many times that of the current internet. Already, Cisco, HP and others are pursuing using similarly expanded bandwidth to stream flawless looking video between distant locations for teleconferencing. It isn’t too crazy to think that we could all have super broadband access in the years to come.

The question is, will we use it to talk to each other like Victorian versions of Obi Wan Kenobi? I’m not sure, but there are many different “3D holographic” technologies that will undoubtedly fight for the market. Any or all could ultimately become next generation replacement for webcams and Skype. While we’re waiting for that to happen, enjoy this DIY video from BigScreamTV that shows you how to create a (fairly) cheap version of Pepper’s ghost on your own. Major brownie points to the first reader who adapts the technique with a webcam to mimic Musion’s technology on the cheap.

[photo credit: Wikipedia Commons, Musion]

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