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CES 2019: Holograms May Finally Be Coming of Age

A few years ago, virtual reality was the hot new thing at the annual CES technology trade show in Las Vegas. Over the last year or two, augmented reality—a close cousin to virtual reality— has claimed some of that spotlight.

This year, after years on the fringe, holograms are starting to elbow their way into the conversation at CES. A number of companies are promoting the technology, which can be used to project M&M mascot characters springing from a bowl of the candy or text messages that seem to morph in the air to help drive people into stores.

Each company developing hologram technology—whether it’s projectors, holographic content or the cameras and 3D art tools used to create them—uses a slightly different definition of the term. But they share the same enthusiasm, firmly believing that three-dimensional video images have a huge potential for consumers and business customers.

Kevin Gordon, chief marketing officer of Hypervsn, a startup that focuses on creating holographic promotions for corporate clients, says that people see the technology and then say: “‘I want this in my home. I want it in my bar or home theater’.” But it’s a unique few people. As this becomes something can watch live video on and watch, say, a game on, this will become a home device and we’re not that far away from that happening.”

Since a stunning display at 2012’s Coachella, where slain rapper 2 Pac “performed” with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg via a hologram, interest in the technology has grown. It’s still a far way from becoming a household technology, but there’s a good chance you’ll see more holographic images in the coming months.

Corporations are already on board, according to Gordon. Hypervsn’s clients are said to include Coca-Cola, Nike, M&Ms, and UNICEF.

The rise comes as consumer shopping shifts from brick and mortar stores to online. Holograms displayed as part of a physical store’s marketing strategy, whether inside or outside, are said to be successful at getting shoppers both in stores and convincing them to loosen their purse strings.

“We find that conversion rates are between 30-40% increased with our device,” says Gordon.

If so, that’s encouraging news for companies that want to move holograms into the living room. China’s Photonics Crystal, for instance, is showcasing “Holobot,” a rudimentary smart holographic digital assistant—giving a human-like form to an Alexa or Siri-like artificial intelligence for both homes and businesses.

No one at CES was more bullish on consumer-focused holograms than Andreas Hronopoulos, CEO of adult entertainment company Naughty America. He sees holograms as the future of porn and the company has recently premiered a series of holographic clips of strippers, letting subscribers who pay up to $30 monthly watch a virtual pole dance.

One of the hurdles of holograms in the home, though, is hardware. Display technology for good holograms—which can range from a monitor to a stand-alone projector—is far beyond most people’s budgets. To compensate, Hronopoulos uses them in a fashion akin to augmented reality, displaying the three-dimensional video captures on phones and in VR (meaning users can rotate the image in 360 degrees and see the video clearly).

To promote the service, Naughty America hopes to partner with strip clubs nationwide and use the technology to lure people to those clubs in real life. But Hronopoulos says he has a more ambitious ultimate goal.

“We want to be the world’s largest strip club,” he says. “Naughty America’s goal is to be the world’s largest strip club, open 24/7/365.”

That’s still far off, of course. And, like AR and VR, holograms have a long journey before they get anywhere close to mainstream acceptance. It’s possible the technology could quietly fade away as so many others have. But, as its backers point out, it’s still very early and, for now at least, there’s an incredible potential.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” says Gordon. “Right now, it’s primarily a B2B product [a product for businesses serving businesses]. It’s used at events. We’re using it in entertainment. But this is just the first generation of this. … There is literally nothing on the market today that stops people in their tracks like this.”