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The BBC has just announced an experiment with holographic TVs, letting the broadcaster explore how BBC footage might look on these kinds of displays in the future, should they take off.

The experiment was extremely low-fi but gave some striking results with archive footage, ranging from the iconic BBC globes to giant dinosaurs. Cyrus Saihan is Head of Digital Partnerships and explains more on this exciting project.

“Although the famous Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars was set a “long, long time ago”, this type of audience experience might not be that far away. Holographic experiences, like Ultra-High Definition or virtual reality, offer audiences a level of detail and realism that only a short while ago seemed virtually impossible but that are now becoming a reality.

“For our experiment, we used existing technologies and simple techniques to explore ‘holographic’ content. The device that we made also gives us an extremely low-fi and low-cost way to assess how the ‘floating’ images of augmented and mixed reality devices, which aren’t readily available for audience testing, might be used to view BBC content in the future.

“This is all part of our work exploring emerging technologies for future audiences – in fact, our Research and Development team wrote a theoretical paper on holographic techniques back in the 1970s. You may remember that we dipped our toe in the water with virtual reality when it first came out and have since gone on to create several experimental pieces of 360 video and virtual reality content.

“While virtual reality has been grabbing the headlines, some of the worlds’ largest technology companies have recently been investing in mixed reality and augmented reality, which has just become a mainstream phenomenon, if you are a fan of catching certain pocket monsters. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: if devices such as Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Google backed Magic Leap also capture the public’s imagination, we could soon find ourselves in a situation where the lines between digital content and the real world become increasingly blurred.

“Although it was just an experiment based on some sketches and made using low-cost acrylic, it produced some striking results.

“We tested out our display with a few audience members who were doing a tour of our New Broadcasting House building in London. Reactions were mixed, ranging from “you feel more engaged with the image, more involved” and “it brought it to life” to “it was better from a distance than closer up”.

“When we asked them what types of program they thought might work well on a ‘holographic’ TV, the most popular suggestions that our audience members gave us were nature documentaries and sport.

“We learnt from our experiment that the images were much more powerful when the ambient lighting levels were low and when the room was dark. We also noticed that the effect worked best when the display was positioned at eye level.”

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