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Are holographic picture frames as cool as they sound?

Looking Glass is making holographic picture frames that might actually be worth the hefty price tag.

There’s lots of vaporware out there, and if you had asked me in a vacuum if a crowd-funded holographic picture frame made by a relatively unknown startup in Brooklyn, New York exhibits all the warning signs of a perfectly vapid product, I’d have instantly agreed with you.

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But then I got my hands on the Looking Glass Portrait

Looking Glass, which launched in 2018, is an emerging purveyor of these nifty little holographic displays, one of which is a book-sized rectangle called the Looking Glass Portrait (seen here).

$300

You can pre-order a Looking Glass Portrait for $299 with shipping starting in October.

The Portrait is exactly as it sounds: a rectangular glass display (7.9”) shaped like a picture frame that can be positioned upright on a desk or end table as long as it’s close to an outlet — this thing is wired, mind you, no batteries here.

Using patented technologies, the Looking Glass Portrait is able to render 3D images and animations with as many as 100 different views, meaning as your animations move, or your perspective relative the frame shifts, your rendered holograms do too.

Located on the side of the Portrait are a few touch-sensitive buttons that allow you to cycle through your pre-saved holograms and adjust brightness of the Portrait’s perimetric lighting.

On the other side there are ports for the power adapter and HDMI input, which I’ll get into in a moment.

Here’s where it gets really interesting....

Using Looking Glass’ own software, HoloPlay Studio, you can actually create your own holograms in several different styles, including...

Portrait mode

iPhone owners with portrait mode are at a special advantage here since their phones are able to take pictures containing depth information — data that HoloPlay studio can use to render more realistic and dynamic holograms.

Android phones aren’t totally left out of the fun, however. HoloPlay Studio is compatible with:

• Samsung phones: A7, A9, S10, S10e, S9+, S20, S20+, S20 Ultra.

• Huawei phones with "Aperture" mode: Mate 20, Mate 20 Lite, Mate 20 Pro, P20 Pro, P30 Pro.

• Newer Pixel phones: the Pixel 3, 4, and 5 models.

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RGBD

You can also add photos in an RGBD format (seen here) that contains color info on one side of the image, and depth information on the opposite side.

Looking Glass even recently widened the scope of allowable holograms by enabling users to convert 2D images into 3D holograms on its website. The conversion method is cloud-based and is able to interpret depth maps on technically flat photos. The results...

Are pretty impressive

I tested the feature out on a few photos I snapped last summer at the Bronx Botanical Gardens and was surprised how well the conversions translated the 2D information.

In fact, the conversions looked even better than some pictures I’d taken in Portrait Mode with actual depth information, though that could be because I’m using a slightly older iPhone XS. As Looking Glass notes, the newer your phone is, the more detailed its depth map will be.

Not everything about the process of creating holograms was smooth. For example, I encountered this glitch that left one of my images superimposed over others in my playlist. Luckily the fix was as easy as they come — switching between modes.

In general, self-created holograms may vary in quality. RGBD images uploaded into HoloPlay Studio do have two fields of adjustment, “depthiness” and “focus” which work exactly how they sound, but sometimes no amount of tweaking can mend an unsuited picture.

That being said, high-quality images typically beget high-quality holograms, and the disappointment to satisfaction ratio favors the latter on the whole.

It’s not all just family portraits and cat pics either. Looking Glass can also be used as a second display for people creating animations in Unity, Unreal or Blender, and can be coupled with an AI camera like the Azure Kinect and a photo rail to create more advanced 3D holographic videos.

By far the most exciting aspect of the Looking Glass Portrait is the fact that it actually works. For me, the holograms are as holographic as I pictured them to be and given the fact there’s not really much else out there like the Looking Glass Portrait, the feat is even more impressive.

Is $300 a lot to spend on a device you’ll likely never actually need? For most people, the answer is yes, but that being said, Looking Glass Portrait does live up to its claims both as a piece of unique hardware and as a functional tool for creatives.

But you don’t need to be a pro to have one. You can just set it up, pull out your phone, and let the Instagram clout roll in.

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