Updated February 18, 2021 - 10:47 am
The lights are off and The Joker’s on, illuminating the room in an orange blazer the color of a dazzling sunset.
The comic book archvillain leers and jeers from inside a white box a bit larger than a phone booth.
Is this real life? Is this fantasy?
A bit of both, actually.
Though the aforementioned cosplayer appears to be inhabiting a room at Fresh Wata Studios on Monday afternoon, making balloon animals and demanding cigarettes in vivid detail, it’s really a hologram — though you wouldn’t know it unless you tried to touch that inflatable poodle.
It’s generated by PORTL Epic, a new hologram device from PORTL Inc., which has just arrived in Las Vegas.
Not only does PORTL create strikingly lifelike holographic images, the company takes things one long-legged step further: The machine can beam those images out to other people thousands of miles away, where they can interact with the hologram in real time.
With just a camera and a backdrop, a hologram can be sent to the device, so that people present can talk to the hologram.
Call it “holoportation.”
And it could be coming to your home before long.
Is this the future of conference calls?
“We’re making hologram Zoom,” says PORTL CEO David Nussbaum, who founded the company in 2019. “When you’re standing somewhere, I want you to be able to beam in a digital asset of yourself in 4K resolution. I want to make it look like you’re really there. Nothing has ever looked like you’re really there before.”
No need to pull the shades
Unlike other hologram technology, PORTL can work in daylight — the room doesn’t have to be dark — and is a self-contained unit with no additional projection screens or other gear.
Nussbaum, a veteran of the hologram entertainment industry, initially designed his machine to provide much more realistic holograms than previously were available.
“I thought that was going to be it. ‘OK, this is certainly the world’s coolest novelty projector,’ ” Nussbaum says.
He rented out machines to numerous conventions and trade shows early last year. And then the pandemic hit.
“Everything canceled — about a half-a-million dollars in signed contracts for last summer,” Nussbaum says. “So, I brought on some super-smart people, and I said, ‘What do we do?’ And we turned it into a communications company. If you can’t be there, beam there.”
Since then, PORTL has secured over $3 million in funding, including investments from noted venture capitalist Tim Draper, an early supporter of Skype, Twitch and Tesla.
At $60,000, the 7-foot-tall PORTL Epic currently is more suited for commercial purposes than widespread in-home use.
Nussbaum envisions the device in casino lobbies, where it could be used as a directory, for instance, or in museums, where certain figures could be brought to life.
“Think about presidential libraries,” he says. “You could ask the president anything. Anybody can immortalize themselves, freeze themselves in time.
“It can be used as a communications tool,” he adds. “Hospitals and universities are buying these to send doctors and professors outside of their area into different states, different countries. We’re talking to religious leaders about beaming them into churches this year.”
‘Holoportation’ hits town
Vegas’ first PORTL Epic is being by operated by a combination of partners in Fresh Wata Studios, Dreamland XR art and entertainment technology company, and Illusion Entertainment.
Dreamland XR founder Christopher Crescitelli is an old acquaintance of Nussbaum, who clued him in to his new device, which they have had in-house for about two weeks. They plan on renting out the machine, which is also available for purchase.
“PORTL has a lot of different use(s),” Crescitelli explains. “If you’re a venue that has advertising displays, you could have a PORTL display featuring your products, and it’s a very good way of catching people’s attention.
“If you’re on the show side of things, a producer looking to produce a socially distanced show using hologram actors instead of live actors, that opens a whole range of possibilities,” he continues. “We’re looking forward to rolling out the first hologram show in the city.”
PORTL is also developing a smaller, desktop device at a more affordable price that will allow more in-home use — meaning you, too, could be a hologram soon.
“Hopefully, by the end of this year, we’ll have tens of thousands of units in homes,” Nussbaum says. “By the end of next year, hundreds of thousands.
“You shouldn’t have to be a millionaire to be a hologram,” he adds. “So, I started PORTL.”