Holus: H+ Technology back-pedals in the wake of “holoscam“ backlash.

On June 13th, H+ Technology published a video in response to my previous article and various other questions they received from the community regarding their ongoing Kickstarter campaign: the Holus, a purposed holographic display that raised more than 200.000$ in less than two days. But backers who expect a fully 3D holographic display are in for an expensive disappointment. Read on…

Who you gonna call? Pepper’s Ghost Busters!

Part 1: Did Holus scam 200.000$ of Kickstarter backers using a 19th century parlor trick?

Part 3: Is Holus about to become the most successful scam in the history of Kickstarter?

Do you believe in Pepper’s Ghosts?

Doubts were soon raised about H+’s claims and people noted the similarity between the Holus and an earlier pseudo-holographic effect known as the Pepper’s Ghost effect. A trick dating back to the 1800's, that uses reflective glass at a specific angle to make ghostly figures appear and disappear on stage. It was famously revived in 2012 to bring Tupac back from the dead.

A screen-based Pepper’s Ghost from 2010. Source: Aircord

A pyramid Pepper’s Ghost allows for 4 distinct views (front, left, right, back) projected onto 4 panes of glass. That gives the illusion of the image floating in mid-air. The effect is broken as soon as you move away from looking directly at either of the 4 sides. It doesn’t offer smooth 360 degree views, just 4 separate 2D views. (Note: this paragraph is based on a Reddit comment by HuTheFinnMan)

Each view appears as a 2D pane, floating at the center of the pyramid

H+ Technology recants holographic claims

Steven Pugh, Producer & Game Designer at H+ Technology talks about the shortcomings of Holus.

In their statement, H+ Technology admit that their technology is using a screen-based Pepper’s Ghost effect but claim to create a “proper hologram” using motion tracking on your smartphone. Unfortunately, such a setup still won’t be capable of providing depth cues or a fully tridimensional image and this is something no amount of motion tracking can fix (I’ll come back to that).

Beauty is in the CGI of the beholder

The CGI used in the Kickstarter video shows a volumetric model with perfect parallax.

H+ did not comment on the use of CGI in their video. Shots like the one above don’t reflect the limitations of a Pepper’s Ghost setup. They are far more impressive and clearly suggest that the Holus can display volumetric content, show an image across the edge of the pyramid, and even include colors darker than the background (something even proper holograms can’t do!). None of these claims are supported by their response video. This is misleading for backers and in clear violation of Kickstarter’s rules concerning photorealistic rendering of prototypes.

Depth cues? There’s an app for that!

So what about the motion tracking they are showing in the video? H+ says:

It changes the image so we actually get different perspectives. As a result, we have now turned it into a proper hologram.
Using a smartphone orientation sensors to rotate a model in the Holus.

This is a cool trick but don’t be fooled: while the model on the screen is rotated, the image is still a flat plane since both eyes are looking at the same image (of course, this is hard to see in a 2D video).

It may look vaguely convincing for a moment if you move the phone exactly right BUT it’s unlikely to trick your brain into thinking that there is an actual volumetric object in the pyramid (unless maybe if you lack binocular depth perception). It also won’t make the reflection of the monitor magically extend across the edge of the pyramid, because… physics.

Nope, still CGI.

Meanwhile, the question remains: will H+ confirm that the most impressive demos in their Kickstarter video are photorealistic renderings and not an images of the real product?

Moving the goalposts

It’s easier to understand how H+ can say that Holus creates a “proper hologram” when you realize that they made up their own definition of what qualifies as one:

A hologram is a picture that when you view it from a different angle, you will see a different perspective. — Steven Pugh (H+ Technology)

This is inaccurate. A hologram is a “fully three-dimensional image which is seen without the aid of special glasses or other intermediate optics [and is] exhibiting visual depth cues such as parallax and perspective that change realistically with any change in the relative position of the observer” (source: Wikipedia) [emphasis added]

Holus only checks one (and a half) out of four. The bombastic CGI of the video makes this discussion moot, but it’s interesting to mention nonetheless.

What can I do?

More and more people are becoming aware of the problem, sharing this article and alerting Kickstarter. You can help by taking a minute of your time to report Holus to Kickstarter for “false claims” using the link a the bottom of the project page.

Here’s a possible message:

H+ Technology’s presents a “Holographic Display” supposed to offer a “3D holographic experience”.
The Holus video is using CGI to make it appear like the Holus can display volumetric content providing depth cues and parallax (in particular at the 0:50 and 0:58 mark). This is in clear violation of the rules of the Kickstarter platform concerning photorealistic renderings.
These renderings don’t reflect the actual limitations of the product as made clear by this other video from the project creators: https://vimeo.com/130601555
More information can be found in the following articles:
Part 1: https://medium.com/p/c12a861cb8bf
Part 2: https://medium.com/p/6bd4a70d7d9e

If you are a backer please ask this question to the project creators in the comments:

The city at 0:50 and the ring at 0:58 look really impressive! Can you comment on the allegations that they are photorealistic renderings and not images of the actual Holus prototype? Source: https://medium.com/p/c12a861cb8bf & https://medium.com/p/6bd4a70d7d9e

Note: it is possible to back a project at the lowest tier, post a comment, then cancel your pledge. Your account won’t be charged.

Then, if you do not feel like backing anymore, visit the project page and click the blue “Manage” button that appears next to your pledge amount. At the bottom of the next page you’ll see the “Cancel Pledge” button.

A Humanizing note

From my exchanges with H+ and their response, I got the impression that there are good people working on Holus, who are really trying to make a good product. And in some ways, Holus IS a good product. It’s just not the product people expect from looking at the video. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun to use and moving away from the isolation of sitting in front of a screen to the social experience of siting together around a “digital fireplace” is a very interesting concept.

If you engage with H+ employees on social networks or in real life, please be respectful. They worked hard on this product and are not necessarily responsible for the misguided way it got presented to the public.

I advised H+ Technology to cancel their campaign and launch it again without the infringing elements. I wish them all the best in their future crowd-funding endeavors.

Acknowledgments

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you for spreading the word and sharing this story. Keep it up! This is not quite over yet.

Why are you out to get them? [update]

This question was asked to me on Twitter. I’ll answer it here. I love new technologies and I’m as excited as anyone by all the incredible innovation we have seen in the sphere of mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality in the recent years. Like many of you, I can’t wait to try the Hololens, the new Oculus, the HTC Vive and whatever MagicLeap ends up releasing!

Building expectations for an upcoming product can be dangerous for any company. You don’t have control over people’s imagination. Your “aspirational” CGI will be taken literally by some. Your bombastic marketing lingo will spark the imagination of potential customers way beyond what you intended or can hope to deliver.

This is why Oculus in particular have been very careful about their claims; Palmer Luckey never missed an occasion to remind the public of the limitations of the current Rift prototype. There’s a good reason for that: since the first attempts at VR, there has been a cycle of expectation and disappointment. Every time the public felt cheated, the bubble burst, investors became wary and innovation was held back for years.

The same happened to the north american videogame industry with the crash of 1983 which was caused by a flood of bad games and poorly conceived gaming consoles.

The same can happen to augmented reality and volumetric displays if companies don’t actively avoid building up unreasonable expectations or release unfinished hardware.

Lenticular arrays & stitching [update]

It looks like I missed a response article published on June 13th. In it, H+ Technology explains how they are planning on using a lenticular lens array combined with some advanced image stitching algorithms to provide depth cues and a fluid 360° viewing experience… Case closed? Not quite.

What is a lenticular array? As a matter of fact, you are probably already familiar with them. This is one simple example:

A lenticular print. Source: this video

While they do allow displaying depth cues to a certain extent, they have quite a few limitations, some of them outlined in the H+ response article (blurriness, seams from one viewing angle to the next, etc). The Holus team says they are working on algorithms to workaround these limitations but it is hard to judge how effective they can be without seeing a prototype.

dynamic stitching is performed using dynamic perspective mechanism in opposite directions with two sides adjacent to each other.

The dynamic stitching is an interesting idea. It seems that H+ is trying to correct the discrepancies that appear as the user moves from one view to the next. However the stitching would likely only work for one or two users at a time and only at angles close to the edge. Since H+ hasn’t demonstrated this either, this is speculative at best.

Regardless, the CGI question remains and no amount of pie-in-the-sky lenticular arrays and dynamic stitching will answer it.

If this is CGI, then H+ is a fraud.

If H+ can’t demonstrate that the image above was generated on the actual Holus device, we have to assume that it is CGI. This is misleading the backers into thinking that the Holus is a perfect volumetric display.

One last thing

Just in case you still doubted that H+ is using misleading CGI, let’s see how they deal with this embarrassing question in their Kickstarter comments.

You don’t want to answer a question but can’t delete it? Just bury it under a pile of irrelevant content!

Then this happened: