You Can Make Eye Contact With This Startup's Holograms

You Can Make Eye Contact With This Startup's Holograms
Image credit: 8i | Facebook

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This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

New Zealand startup 8i is one-upping the holographic technology most recently seen in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The company debuts its volumetric 3-D consumer media platform, 8i Portal, at CES this week for Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.

Co-founder Linc Gasking says this holographic video format will expand to additional platforms later this year, including Sony’s PlayStation VR.

“We see this as the transporting vehicle to move the Internet from a 2D space to a 3D space,” Gasking says. “In ecommerce, this changes the online sales experience into something that’s more of a digital reality, and it’s scalable.”

Unlike those Star Wars holograms, 8i provides high-definition video that’s not transparent. People can walk around the person or object as if they were in the same room.

Gasking says this will change the way business meetings occur for international companies, allowing executives to make eye contact and walk around in meetings with a true sense of presence. But that’s just the beginning of the technology’s potential.

“This will change the way automakers sell cars because consumers will be able to check out a vehicle from the inside out and even have a first-person experience with the CEO of the company,” Gasking says.

Gasking is working with fashion designers on this new technology, which would allow consumers to see how a dress or suit looks on someone walking around.

Hollywood is also interested in the technology, which doesn’t require special 360-degree cameras to capture the volumetric images.

“Studios are looking at ways to get into virtual reality and a lot of the initial budgets are coming from the home video divisions,” Gasking says. “This opens up a new type of director commentary, where you can watch a film with the director sitting next to you, talking you through scenes.”

8i is showcasing three short video demos at CES: a Grand Canyon rock-climbing experience called The Climb, a short film called #100humans that will premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival later this month, and a more personal consumer example, Mom and Baby, of a mother experiencing her daughter’s first steps.

“There are new uses for this technology on a personal basis that we never thought of,” Gasking says. “A lot of the focus of virtual reality has been on gaming, but this technology opens up other opportunities that everyone can enjoy.”

8i video can be recorded with a minimum of three cameras, although the demos at CES were recorded with 20 to 40 cameras to get the full volumetric experience. The technology fills in the 3D space when fewer cameras are used. Gasking recommends a minimum of 16 cameras for a full experience.

The company has veterans from Sony Computer Entertainment, Google, Valve, ILM, Pixar, DreamWorks, Nvidia, Weta Digital, and Digital Domain working on the new format. That’s helped the startup raise $14.9 million in series A and seed rounds from investors such as Founders Fund Science, Horizons Ventures, Samsung Ventures, Dolby Family Ventures, Signia Ventures Partners, and Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments.

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