As early adopters in the event industry have shown, hologram technology allows presenters to "beam in" with lifelike 3D effects — in real time. With equipment costing up to $60,000, however, widespread use may still be the stuff of science fiction.
Hologram technology is available, and business conferences may widely implement it in the coming years. It can allow organizers and speakers to save costs, time, and carbon emissions. However, the hologram technology itself is expensive, with a seven-foot PORTL epic machine costing up to $60,000 USD. Is it a matter of time before hologram technology is commonly used, or is this trend another flash in the pan?
Recently, Chris Gardner made headlines after appearing at the ALHI Executive Exchange in Southern California via hologram technology. The device, created by PORTL, demonstrated how far this technology has come. It transported Gardner's image in a life-sized, high-definition live replication with crystal-clear sound. It looked like he was in the room itself. And while he was only a relatively short distance away, a speaker could theoretically 'beam' in from anywhere for any, or multiple, conferences, simultaneously, globally.
So this is cool. My tech company @PORTLhologram “beamed” international best-selling author of The Pursuit of Happyness Chris Gardner (@CEOofHappYness) into a speaking event to give a keynote the other day. https://t.co/rwYbRZbyNe
— david nussbaum (@theNuzzy) September 30, 2021
“Now I can get anywhere without all the drama and drain and damage of flying — I can just PORTL there. I can even be in a dozen cities at once if you want to book that, interacting with the crowd at every single one.”
Chris Gardner, author of Permission to Dream
Why Hologram Technology Could Be Revolutionary
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided many obstacles to holding business conferences and events. The business economies of cities worldwide have been rocked, with San Antonio cancelling five events that would have brought in an estimated $21.6 million last month. Among these are the variables that include keynote speakers and essential guests having to cancel due to their contraction of the virus. If a speaker has the virus, they can no longer attend the event. And as the virus is an invisible threat, they can potentially catch it anywhere on their travels to the conference, whether it's a continent or a 15-minute taxi ride away.
“With Chris Gardner demonstrating the power of PORTL and both the practical problems it solves and the excitement of the hologram technology, our properties are truly seeing the future here first.”
Silvia Zamora, ALHI’s Vice President, Meeting Design & Experience
Hologram technology could cut that variable out, allowing speakers to attend events from the comfort of their homes in hologram form. Not only would this be good for the environment, but it could also reduce travel times and provide significant return on the initial investment in the long run. It ensures that events can continue without a Covid hitch while speakers are presented in a much more engaging way than a Zoom call.
Moreover, it could make it easier for events to secure big-name speakers reluctant to travel, even after the pandemic is a distant memory. Holographic technology relies on cameras that capture the speaker from several angles to create a 3D effect, making it look like the presenter is in the room. Graphs, charts, and other presentation features can be recreated in 3D form for both the speaker and the audience.
Why It May Not Work In Practice
We know that business attendees, and the wider world, are tired of Zoom meetings, but surely there's a halfway house between free-to-low-cost software and expensive hardware? Hologram technology is high-priced right now.
Perhaps in time, it will be a standard device for business people to own, but until that day, hologram presentations will likely be reserved for major events with top-tier corporate backers or high ticket revenues. Perhaps there’s room for a new business model based on making holographic devices available to rent in major cities around the world. Without that kind of service, real-time holographic presentations will likely remain the exception rather than the norm.
On the flipside, the current rarity of this technology may partly explain the fanfare around it. Until the day it is standard fare, conferences will receive attention for having a speaker attend via hologram. The novelty is still present, but it may eventually wear off.
How It Compares to Zoom and Other Alternatives
Beyond the logistical difficulties that come with holographic technology, there is the question of whether it’s really worth the extra effort. Is it really that much better than watching a 2D screen projection of a speaker?
The main advantage is that hologram presentations give the audience a more three-dimensional impression of the speaker, as well as a full-body view. PORTL’s technology also has the option to include an audience-facing camera, so the speaker can see (and react to) the audience in close-to real time.
With that said, a standard Zoom interview allows the audience to see a close-up view of the speaker’s face. Furthermore, a Zoom call can easily be live streamed out to a remote audience. Anyone who wants to see the hologram presentation will either have to attend in person, or invest in their own holographic projection machine.
Some may even dislike hologram presentations due to the uncanny valley effect they bring. Audiences are unlikely to complain about the presence of a hologram, but there may be a downturn in ticket sales when speakers choose to "beam in" instead of attending in person.
Although holograms have interactive possibilities relating to the presentation itself, the question of whether it’s an adequate replacement for an in-person speaker remains. After all, there is an appetite for in-the-flesh interaction after the last 18 months. Then there is the dilemma for organizers as to how to promote their speakers — are they ‘live’ or will ‘beamed in’ become a part of our conference lexicons?
Holograms are impressive, headline-making features of modern-day business conferences and events, but they are in no way common, and it’s hard to see them becoming so for a long time.
The technology is simply too expensive and impractical for now. However, the capabilities of ‘beaming’ a speaker in for a presentation or talk are clear and exciting — and the novelty of it arguably adds extra appeal.