#1100: Looking Glass Factory’s Holographic Displays feel like Magical Portals: Demystifying their Lightfield Display Technology

Looking Glass Factory has been producing Holographic Displays for a number of years with their Kickstarted Dev Kit and then their $400 Looking Glass Portrait, and at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 9th they publicly premiered their 65-inch Holographic Display with a piece there called Zanzibar: Trouble in Paradise. I took an opportunity to visit the headquarters of Looking Glass Factory in the Greenpoint Neighborhood of Brooklyn during my trip to New York City in order to see their interactive and CGI demos on their new 65-inch Holographic Display, and it was like looking into a Magical, spatialized portal into another realm.

There are not a lot of other companies who are producing multiple perspective, holographic displays and so I sat down with Looking Glass Factory CEO and co-founder Shawn Frayne to have him explain the fundamentals of their lightfield display technology. Their magical portal effect is produced by their custom-designed, optical overlays that are placed on top of high performance and high color depth, 8K resolution, LCD or OLED panels.

Their highest resolution 65-inch and 32-inch displays both take 8K input, and able to produce 100 different “views” by spatially directing nearly 100 million subpixel points of light. To break that down, 8K resolution is 7,680 horizontal and 4,320 vertical pixels for a total of 33,177,600 pixel groups. There’s a red, green, and blue subpixel for each pixel group, which yields 99,532,800 total subpixels. Looking Glass Factory’s optical overlays can control where each of these ~100 million points of light are directed towards as they split up that resolution into roughly 100 different images that are roughly 768 x 432 each. That’s seems like an incredibly tiny resolution, but these 100 different horizontal parallax views are laid on top of each other into a light field radiated from the screen, which has the effect of producing an incredibly high resolution image with lots of depth where Frayne says experts feel like it should not be possible from a screen of that resolution. It’s certainly feels like a mind-bending, magic trick that they’ve pulled off when you look at their displays.

Frayne provides a lot more context in our conversation, but this is also a technology that you really have to see for yourself to fully appreciate. They are currently taking reservations to schedule a demo of the 65-inch Holographic Display, which I highly recommend doing. The interactive demos with hand tracking and using a 6-DoF Quest 2 controller to shine a spotlight into a video game scene was also really quite compelling.

Frayne also recounts his own history with becoming obsessed with holograms as a kid after seeing the Jaws 19 hologram in Back to the Future 2, and his parents then bought him the 1982 book “Holography Handbook: Making Holograms the Easy Way” where he became a legit holographer making holograms from the interference patterns of coherent light. After the successful Oculus Kickstarter in August 2012, then there was a lot of buzz around 3D and VR content that led Frayne to start Looking Glass Factory to their own series of four successful Kickstarter projects over a four-year period that bootstrapped their company and cultivated a community of enthusiasts for holographic content:

  • Looking Glass: Hologram 2.0 ran from May 29, 2014 to July 6 2014 with a $25,000 goal, and successfully ended with 406 backers who pledged $36,477.
  • L3D Cube: The 3D LED Cube from the Future ran from November 24, 2014 to January 5, 2015 with a $38,000 goal, and successfully ended with 689 backers who pledged $252,678.
  • The Looking Glass: A Holographic Display was the dev kit and Unity Plug-in that ran from July 24, 2018 to August 23, 2018 with a $50,000 goal, and successfully ended with 1,301 backers who pledged $844,621.
  • Looking Glass Portrait ran from December 2, 2020 to January 14, 2021 with a $50,000 goal, and successfully ended with 8,051 backers pledged $2,511,785.

They’ve been able to build a strong community, and then leverage each of these Kickstarter projects by making progress towards a larger vision of making holograms real and producing a really quite compelling lightfield display. It’s been such a successful evolution that the Intercept reported that the Looking Glass Factory received a “$2.54 million of technology development funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA, from April 2020 to March 2021 and a $50,000 Small Business Innovation Research award from the U.S. Air Force in November 2021 to “revolutionize 3D/virtual reality visualization.””

Frayne said that Looking Glass Factory are producing general purpose spatial computing display technologies, and that there are plenty of compelling use cases for their Holographic Displays across many different contexts. After seeing the display technology myself, I can see how there would be many useful decision-making applications for evaluating and analyzing spatial data within a group context. Most holographic displays are either tracked or untracked for a single user, but Looking Glass Factory’s displays are unique in that they produce over 100 different views simultaneously at 60 frames a second that can be field by groups of people.

They’re not only developing these cutting edge display technologies in different sizes, but also creating an ecosystem for embedding holograms and displaying lightfield display content that’s responsive to the whatever depth the display tech can output. Their HologramsOnTheInternet.com is in closed beta at the moment, but from the demos that I saw is a promising way of embedding spatial content onto web pages, that can then be displayed within WebXR views or via an external Looking Glass Factory Portrait display that’s connected to a computer.

It’s hard to fully describe the experience of seeing spatial content on one of Looking Glass Factory’s Holographic Displays as it shows a range from 45 to 100 different views. You really do have to see it to believe it and to fully grok it, and we’re at the beginning of having new ways of displaying this spatial content. A anecdote Frayne came back to again and again is having us imagine that someone has developed a way to capture color on film, but that the only display technology that we have is black and white. Just the same, the world is infused with spatialized 3D content, but we’ve been living in a world of 2D displays. Part of the lesson from the Looking Glass Factory is that the paradigm shift from 2D to 3D goes beyond just head-mounted VR and AR devices, and into new forms of holographic displays and lightfield capture technologies that do a better job of capturing and displaying volumetric lightfields that more closely mimic the physics of reality. These new types of holographic displays for volumetric lightfield content provide additional outlets for a responsive immersive design within the XR ecosystem, which will surely find a number of use cases where having a group-viewable, magical portal into another realm provides some business utility.


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Music: Fatality