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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Holographic Theaters of the Future

In the future virtual reality will be very big. But there will still be groups of people who will want to go out and be entertained together, particularly young people. Such people will still be able to go to the theater and see live actors, or see movies on a flat screen. But such forms of entertainment may seem very old fashioned. Will there be any way in the future for a man and a woman (or a group of young friends) to go out and get some futuristic high-tech entertainment that will seem to transport them to another time or place?

Let us imagine a very new form of entertainment that we might call a holographic theater. Rather than imagine something like the holodeck in the TV series Star Trek: The New Generation ( a device which involves incredibly advanced technology you're unlikely to ever see), let's imagine some technology you might actually see within a few decades. The holographic theater I imagine would be a dome of between 10 and 30 meters. In the center of the dome would be a circular or rectangular area that we might call the audience area. All the rest of the interior of the dome would be a projection area.

holograph theater
The audience in the audience area would see what appeared to be some other place, typically some place outdoors (although it might also be some vast indoor area such as the interior of St. Peter's Cathedral). It would be a full 3D 360 degree projection, so an audience member could look around in any direction and see the holographic projection (although if he looked down at his feet he would not see the projection).

The idea behind the holographic theater is that it would be just like being transported to some other place. For example, you and the person you were dating might go to a holographic theater promising to take you to the top of Mount Everest. After entering into the audience area, you could look around in all directions and see what someone might see if he was on top of Mount Everest.

In such a theater there would not be the movie and Broadway theater convention that the audience sits motionless in seats. Instead, audience members would be encouraged to walk around a little, within the confines of the audience area. The area represented by the holographic projection would have to be chosen so that the restriction of movement in the audience area would somehow seem natural. For example, such a holographic theater would not make an audience member think he was in the middle of Times Square, but the theater might make the audience member think he was on a balcony or roof of an apartment building with a magnificent view of a city. Similarly, such a holographic theater would not make an audience member think he was in the middle of a vast meadow, but it might make the audience member think he was on top of a mountain (with no easy climb down from that top).

In such a theater there need not be the Broadway and movie convention of a show lasting about 90 minutes or two hours. Since the size of the audience area would be limited (not allowing hundreds of audience members at the same time), it would be better to allow no more than 5, 10, or 20 audience members at the same time, with the show ending after only 10, 15 or 20 minutes.

To aid in the “you are really there” illusion, there might be some props in the audience area. For example, if the holographic projection was supposed to show the view from the top of Mount Everest, then some artificial snow might be placed on the floor of the audience area. With a little care and forethought, it might be impossible for the audience member to tell where the audience area ended and the holographic projection began. 

holograph theater
  The simplest way to do such a holographic projection would simply be making the audience member think he is motionless in some place with an impressive view. But with a little more advanced technology, it would be possible to also provide an illusion of motion. If the audience area was set up to look like the deck of a boat, a holographic theater could provide some kind of projection giving the audience member the feel of a boat trip down the Amazon River. Providing the bodily sensation of motion might be a little tricky, but it could probably be achieved with some hydraulics. 

Why would such a holographic theater be more realistic than a virtual reality system? It's because a virtual reality system only offers a small image projection area, about the size of the virtual reality goggles. But a dome of between 10 and 30 meters would allow an image projection with vastly more pixels -- thousands of times more.  

In such a holographic theater, a story would generally not be presented. Instead of making the audience member feel like a theatergoer watching some play or movie, the idea would be to make the audience member feel just as if he was in some distant and beautiful place. The place depicted might be some place that now exists on Earth, some place that once existed (such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon), or some imaginary place existing on some alien planet. The holographic projection could be created from actual earthly photography, or it could be based on some artificial CGI representation of reality. The latter would allow almost any possibility for the scene represented. By the time we had the technology for the holographic theater, photo-realistic CGI technology would be perfected. So inside the holographic theater, some imaginary and visionary landscape would look just as realistic as anything you might see in real life.