HYDROGEN ONE: Princess Leia’s smartphone

If the Stars Wars heroine used a phone, it would probably be RED’s HYDROGEN ONE. Princess Leia heralded the “holographic age”, RED is simply following the dream.

HYDROGEN ONE: Princess Leia’s smartphone

We now know a little more about RED’s smartphone, which is, in fact, much more than an Android smartphone. HYDROGEN ONE is the promise of a powerhouse in terms of imaging, a pocketable revolution.

Jim Jannard’s shared some more information about the new product from RED and that gives us a more detailed image of what’s coming in 2018.  On a post published on RED user forum after the first news came online and the reactions from people, Jannard wrote this “ So… very interesting day to say the least. I love some of the reactions” and continued by answering to some of the comments made.

HYDROGEN ONE: Princess Leia’s smartphone

The holographic display is, according to Jim Jannard, “incredible. It is multi-view (4-view) as compared to stereo 3D (2-view). Watching shocked faces light up when people see it is really motivating. There is no good way to describe it until you see it. Hopefully we will get some skeptics eyes on it soon… then they can tell you.”

On the same post Jannard adds that “Our display is technology you haven’t seen before. It is not lenticular, which is inferior tech in every way, has been tried many times before and failed for good reason (see Amazon 3D Fire, LG Optimus, etc). Lenticular display dramatically lowers resolution, cannot be turned off for standard 2D content, only works in one direction (usually landscape), has color crosstalk… to name just a few issues. My bet is that other ‘big’ companies will try to re-package lenticular 3D displays with eye-tracking in response to our program. Don’t fall for it.”

Complete trust, hard skepticism

The number of negative reactions to the announcement is huge, and it happens for different reasons. From pure disbelief in the viability of such thing as HYDROGEN ONE, demonstrated by some, to those others that bought the product, because it is from RED, but hate Android – the OS – and claim that they will never use the smartphone, although they will use the remaining functions (Android dependent…), you get an idea of how the public read the announcement.  Then you’ve the others…

Jim Jannard wrote in his post that “Today we saw the full range from ‘complete trust’ to ‘hard skepticism’. I have seen this before… many times actually. Makes me smile.” In fact, since the very early days, one decade ago, that RED has gone, according to Jannard, “from scam (announcing the impossible) to delivering the impossible… over and over. Our core customers have seen and participated in this process and have stories to tell. Apparently we have earned their ‘blind trust’ because we have not let them down. We understand that those unfamiliar with our history will certainly not get this.”

Looking through the forums it is easy to confirm that many Redusers blindly ordered HYDROGEN ONE right after it was announced, without even reading the release. Some even bought more than one!  The release document itself does not say much, either, but Jannard assures one thing:  HYDROGEN ONE will come with a battery… evidently poking fun at a website that said it was unclear whether RED’s smartphone came with a battery.


From Oakley to HYDROGEN ONE

Although the information available confirms that RED’s smartphone is not just a smartphone, more the hub of a modular system, Jannard wrote this in his post: “So why do we feel we can make a difference in the cell phone market? Because we are doing everything different and (we feel) better. That is the only way to enter a market. That was the thinking behind Oakley. It was the thinking when we released the RED ONE. Same formula. Make something significantly better and you have a reason to be.”

Right now, still following the information provided by RED and Jim Jannard, we know the smartphone “also comes with internal storage and an external micro SD card slot. And a headphone jack. A selfie camera and a back camera. These cameras will not produce cinema quality images. No cell phone does. What we will have is a modular system that adds image quality well beyond any other camera short of our professional cameras.”

RED will release many more details and specs about the project as time goes along, and  Jannard says that “anytime you don’t like what you see, full refund for any reason spoken here. However… be prepared to be surprised on the upside. It only gets better the more information you have.”

RED introduces HYDROGEN ONE, an holographic smartphone

A modular smartphone for a modular system

The early announcement of the product, criticized by many, who view HYDROGEN ONE as “vapourware”  has advantages: it allows RED to get feedback, both positive and negative, and adjust its road map accordingly. Browsing through the Reduser forums one immediately understands that most of the comments are positive and there are multiple suggestions, some which sound as if taken from a “science-fiction” compendium, about what HYDROGEN ONE should be. The feeling one gets is that a bunch of kids just got excited with the promise of a new toy they will get on the first quarter of 2018, and they are discussing what they would like to see in it. It’s the mixture of all those reactions, good and bad, that will, no doubt, help to define the final mould for RED’s smartphone.

Is HYDROGEN ONE a viable product? I do not have many doubts about it. On one side, we’ve the fact that this modular product will be part of RED’s cinema cameras system, used for everything from controlling cameras to image monitor, as many smartphones already do. So, there is no reason to doubt that RED has covered those aspects already, even if only in conceptual form, and only needs to put them together to introduce a new tool within its own ecosystem, which will, like a Transformer, able to shape shift into different things, from a DSLR-like camera to a not yet imagined cinema camera.

What many doubt is the ability of the smartphone to be a holographic display.  In fact, the industry has been after the holographic dream for some time now, and although you can create a simple holographic-like display with a plastic prism placed over your smartphone, we’re not there yet in terms of the holographic concept as we dream it. But we’re getting closer, have no doubt.

My first holographic experience

On a personal note, which I think is important, my first contact with a holographic experience – bar the classic one from Star Wars – happened in 1991, in London, while there for the worldwide launch of what was considered the multimedia machine for the future: Philips CD-i. In London. I visited the Trocadero, an entertainment complex on Coventry Street, where the first Virtuality machines, pioneers in Virtual Reality, were available to try.

Although I was amazed by the experience of VR in 1991, something else attracted my attention: Sega’s holographic cabinet, the first ever holographic video game, Time Traveler. The game characters appeared to be holographic projected, but were in fact not holograms, but the result of an ingenious system based on a laser disc player a TV monitor and a curved mirror. The 2D image projected through the surface glass produced an illusion of depth, when viewed from the 240 degree angle of view. So, despite the images seemed to have dimension, they were not viewable from any angle and the magic could not be called a real hologram. Still, in 1991, right after having tried the Virtuality machines, I did spend a few coins to be amazed by Sega’s machine. Now, any smartphone – which were nowhere to be seen at the time – can show “holograms” in a very simple way.

Technology has moved, so it should not come as a surprise that HYDROGEN ONE promises to offer a single product which is a stand-alone, full featured, unlocked multi-band smartphone operating on Android OS, but is also a 5.7” professional HYDROGEN holographic display allowing users to view all traditional 2D content at full screen resolution, view holographic RED Hydrogen 4-View content (H4V), view stereo 3D content and view 2D/3D VR, AR and MR.

HYDROGEN ONE: Princess Leia’s smartphone

The Chinese Takee 3D

Holographic images will have RED’s unique H4V format, which we will know more about in due time, but the question that many people put forward is one: can it be done? Apparently yes, and it’s not even absolutely new. Looking back in time, a smartphone offering holographic images received the 2015 CES Innovation Awards Honoree, at CES 2015, in New York: the Takee 3D Holographic smartphone.

Presented as the world’s first mobile device to integrate Smart Holographic Technology, the Takee 3D features a forward facing camera that tracks the viewer’s head and eyes. Next, the 3D phone’s spacious 5.5” high-definition screen sends separate images to each eye. The result is a 3D Holographic image visible to the naked eye that is both projected out of the screen and appears to go right through the device.

HYDROGEN ONE: Princess Leia’s smartphone

“The biggest difference between our 3D Holographic display technology and legacy naked-eye 3D displays is that holography won’t make you feel dizzy” said Meihong Liu, Chairman and General Manager of Estar Technology Group, “3D Holographic technology can adjust perspective to users’ changing position. It’s closer to the feeling of watching the real scene.”

The Takee 3D Holographic Smartphone supports naked-eye 3D holographic pictures, games, videos and applications. The Anti-Friction coating makes the screen durable and fingerprint resistant, while the matte finish on the back adds extra grip. Constructed of aircraft-quality aluminum and Corning 3rd Generation Gorilla Glass, the Takee 1 is durable yet refined, claims the company.

Holoflex, a foldable smartphone

The first Takee 3D Holographic Smartphone, the Takee1, is powered by the MediaTek True Octa-Core processor. It has 32GB of storage. AudioCauldron 3D Sound technology from Bit Cauldron Corporation provides 3D Sound to match the 3D video, enabling a new level of 3D immersion and a more believable sensory experience. It also supports dual SIM cards (one standard SIM card, one Micro SIM card) to allow calls to and from two phone numbers and calling plans at the same time.

The Takee smartphone didn’t, apparently, excite the crowds, and is now, it seems, discontinued. But technology has moved forward, and we now have the world’s first flexible holographic smartphone, called HoloFlex. Announced in 2016, the HoloFlex was developed by researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University. The device is capable of rendering 3D images with motion parallax and stereoscopy to multiple simultaneous users without head tracking or glasses.

“HoloFlex offers a completely new way of interacting with your smartphone. It allows for glasses-free interactions with 3D video and images in a way that does not encumber the user.” says Dr. Vertegaal.

HoloFlex features a 1920×1080 full high-definition Flexible Organic Light Emitting Diode (FOLED) touchscreen display. Images are rendered into 12-pixel wide circular blocks rendering the full view of the 3D object from a particular viewpoint. These pixel blocks project through a 3D printed flexible microlens array consisting of over 16,000 fisheye lenses. The resulting 160 x 104 resolution image allows users to inspect a 3D object from any angle simply by rotating the phone.


HYDROGEN ONE: Princess Leia’s smartphone

Europe receives holographic smartphones

So, the holographic dream is closing in. Why can’t RED take a slice of the pie and create their own holographic media machine? That’s apparently what they aim to achieve. The patent document registered by Jim Jannard is a good source of information for many aspects of the HYDROGEN ONE and the whole system, but apparently the answer to many questions is somewhere else: with a company that is mentioned by Bloomberg, in one article from March 2017, as one of the 50 most promising startups you’ve never heard of.

Founded in 2014 by David Fattal, Zhen Peng and Pierre Emmanuel Evreux, the company is a technology spin off from Hewlett Packard laboratories developing a light field display technology platform for naked eye holographic and virtual reality applications. It focuses, today, on the mobile and automotive markets, with first devices expected in the hands of consumers by the end of 2017. The company is based in Menlo Park, CA with operations in Suzhou, China.

The company partnered with Altice to introduce the first holographic handsets to the European market – France, Belgium,  Luxembourg and Portugal – before the end of 2017. The company leverages recent breakthroughs in Nano Photonic design and manufacturing to provide a complete Holographic display platform through the use of special hardware and complementary software. The firm commercializes mobile screen able to synthesize dynamic 3D holograms and sense your fingers to let you manipulate virtual objects in midair.

A company named Leia

The company was mentioned on French television back In January 2017, with David Fattal and Pierre Emmanuel Evreux showing the latest prototype. The company is called Leia 3D or simply Leia. Yes, the logical name for a company promising a world of holographic images could not be any other than Leia, in homage to the Princess Leia from Star Wars. After all, it’s that popular scene of the film that has kept us wanting to have holograms. Well, we are on the verge of having them, in multiple flavors, apparently.

Although it is not confirmed that Leia’s technology will be used by RED,  there is no doubt that whatever technology is used, it will be very similar. Add to this the fact that RED’s smartphone has, from the images available, a unique look, and it is not hard to believe that Princess Leia would love to have such a phone.

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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…