Portl M will allow folks to beam into homes as a hologram
During the numerous lockdowns of the last couple of years, the humble webcam has helped many of us feel less isolated thanks to videoconferencing platforms like Zoom. But such things can lack depth. What we need is the kind of freestanding holograms like the one in Star Wars. We're not quite there yet, but the M by Portl comes pretty close.
Instead of trying to float images in the air like Voxon or Samsung, Portl encloses the experience in a box. The LA-based company was founded in 2019 by David Nussbaum, who had previously worked on holograms for arena-sized concerts, a big name fashion show and movie premieres. In August of last year the Epic hologram projection machine was launched.
Epic by name and epic by nature, the 7 x 5 x 2-ft (2.1 x 1.5 x 0.6-m) standalone unit has been designed to "beam" life-size holograms of people, and features evenly distributed LEDs inside the cabinet designed to display both shadows and reflections for volume and depth.
Portl is keeping exactly how the projection system works close to its chest, but the result is quite impressive – as you can see from the video below.
The cabinet is home to a camera array up top that includes a depth sensing module, and there are front-firing, head-level stereo speakers and microphones that allow for face-to-face, real-time conversations. The window into which a hologram appears to be beamed is fronted by a 4K touchscreen for swipe-and-tap interactions and control.
The big box is powered by a standard wall outlet and plugged into an internet connection, can be moved around thanks to hidden wheels, and camera kits are available for folks at the sending end of the equation to record "beam" presentations or for live feeds.
There are reportedly around a hundred Epics installed around the world, and though you could conceivably put one of these boxes in your home if you have lots of room and lots of cash, Portl has now developed a more consumer-friendly desktop version of the system called the M.
Currently in prototype form and scheduled for release in March, the tabletop "holoportation" machine works much like the Epic, and features an AI-enabled camera in the top bezel of the reinforced fabric-wrapped enclosure and integrated speakers to the sides. The unit's stand accommodates portrait or landscape orientation, there's a high-definition touchscreen display out front, and 16 GB of system memory and 1 TB of storage inside.
Possible applications include immersive entertainment, new ways to buy stuff online, telemedicine and digital artwork display (such as NFTs). Of course the M is also geared towards more life-like communication with friends, family and colleagues, and a person wanting to beam in live will only need a smartphone running the Portl Beam app and access to the Portl cloud.
Folks can reserve a Portl M now for a refundable payment of US$100. We're told that the final price tag is still being worked out, but should be in roughly the same ball park as a "good flatscreen TV" or less. Production models are expected to be shown off at SXSW in March, ahead of commercial release. The video below has more.
Product page: Portl M