Did you see the CNN hologram?

November 10, 2008

by Mark Ollig

Last Tuesday evening while watching the election returns on CNN, I was surprised to see CNN’s news correspondent Jessica Yellin apparently “beamed” into the news studio.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in the New York studio appeared to be standing about ten feet away from Yellin’s hologram.

For the at home television viewer it looked like Blitzer was engaged in a conversation with Yellin standing in the same room, even though she was in Chicago.

Yellin’s hologram appeared to be “glowing” at times – but she was easily recognizable.

“You’re a terrific hologram,” Wolf Blitzer told Yellin . . . or her holographic image that is.

“They shoot my body at different angles and I’m told that’s what transmits my entire body image back to New York,” she said to Blitzer.

Watching this exchange reminded me of a certain 1977 Star Wars movie character, (Princess Leia) when she was shown as a holographic image saying, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.”

For the first time in TV news history – we saw the message banner along the bottom of the television screen display: “CNN’s Jessica Yellin via hologram from Chicago.”

How could they virtually transmit 3D (dimensional) 360 degree footage of CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin from Chicago all the way to the CNN election center in New York?

Well, they used forty-four HD (High Definition) cameras, twenty computers and a lot of bandwidth.

At the Chicago location, Yellin was standing in the middle of a circle with 35 HD cameras pointed at her.

These cameras were shooting at different angles in order to transmit the entire body image. The use of infrared tracking was utilized as well.

The cameras in Chicago are connected to the cameras at the CNN studios in New York.

The camera angles are synchronized so the viewing of angle perspectives looks correct.

She (Jessica Yellin) watched herself on a 37-inch plasma screen, as the return feed of the combined images were fed back to the originating location, which was in Chicago.

Twenty computers are used to crunch and calculate the video streams and operate the software program from where Yellin is.

A group of computers then takes this “crunched information feed” from Yellin’s location in Chicago and interlaces it with the video feed from the CNN studio in New York.

From the sources I read, it seems Yellin’s holographic image is actually “projected” onto the same floor in the CNN studio where Blitzer is standing.

The HD video of Wolf Blitzer was “mixed” with the 3D video from the Chicago feed and these combined video images are seen on another large plasma screen in the CNN New York studio that Blitzer is looking at.

So, was Wolf really pretending to be “seeing” the holographic image standing in front of him?

To me it seemed a little too “gimmicky” for CNN to do this, (especially during the election returns) although this holographic interaction did give us a glimpse of how we may watch television in the future.

In the distant future, we may not only watch – but interact – with newscasters as they are “holographically” beamed into our living rooms. I may be so old by then I’ll probably embarrass myself in front of the great-grandchildren and offer the holograph a beer or something to eat!

To see the video of this historic CNN holographic presentation, check out this week’s “Web Site of The Week” forum.

It is turning out just like Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”