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Project Starline: Feel like you're there, together (blog.google)
1339 points by ra7 on May 18, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 511 comments

A good friend of mine at Google is the technical lead of this project (he has a Phd Princeton, and was a professor before joining Google).

I've tried it in person and it was truly amazing. They used some very fancy tech when I saw the demo, so I'm thrilled it is finally being announced and possibly shared with a larger audience.

Explanation of why it is amazing: It totally fools your perception. No glasses or goggles--but rather an 8k display with special glass that allows your different eyes to see different pixels (a light field).

They also optimize the sound, and the rest, so as all the testimonials point out, you actually feel like the person is in front of you.

It also works for the "cube" around them, so if they hold up some object, it also feels like that is in front of you.


I want to try this just to see what happens, if I will have again the feeling something is more real than reality.

Because optometrists are illegal in my country (here only medics can decide what glasses you can use), currently I don't have stereoscopic vision, although my brain CAN do it, if I had the correct images sent to my eyes somehow. (one of my eyes muscles is slightly shorter than the other side thus the images on that eye are shifted unless I had an optometrist design me glasses with a prism).

So when I watched Avatar, an actually well made 3D movie, it literally felt more real than reality, despite it being obvious fantasy with aliens, floating rocks and all that stuff.

EDIT: for those wondering, I am from Brazil, here medical professionals often sue the shit out of anyone offering any service remotely similar to an optometrist, they are quite aggressive about it, some attempted to make even discussion of the subject illegal. And when I was trying to get the prism and asked around my medics about it, one of them went really ballistic, I honestly thought the guy was going to punch me. I believe the reason for that is that for many medics, designing glasses is their only source of income, a guaranteed one, since here is ALSO illegal to buy glasses without a medic desining them for you first, even if the new glasses are supposed to be identical to the old ones!

Sounds like a great reason to do a little medical tourism once the present situation is under control.

Brazilian guy here: my girlfriend just bought two pairs of glasses from China, I don't know from which site exactly, but some AliExpress type of site. She paid 5 dollars each, just telling which degrees she needed for each eye. The quality was the same from the 200 dollars pair she bought with a medical note here in Brazil. Unbelievable. Just telling that, if you want it, you can import it through the mail and it will pass through customs without a problem.

Not surprising.

Something used in some countries is a briefcased-sized glasses making kit. Eyeglass lenses have three parameters - spherical radius, cylindrical radius, and axis of the cylindrical curvature. The trick is that for round lenses, you can use the same lens for all axis angles, which reduces the number of combinations to a set you can carry around. Once the right set of lenses has been decided, a notcher is used to cut a small notch on the side of the round lens so it locks into the frame and can't rotate.

would be nice to share the site

If you search for "myopia glasses" on Aliexpress you'll find prescription glasses starting as low as $2. I just added a pair to my cart and the total was $3.31 including shipping. :O

Could be Zenni Optical. Prescription glasses, right as ordered, no questions asked.

I have glasses from Zenni. Very cheap, and well made. My current glasses cost ~10% of what the previous pair cost me in NZ, and the lenses are better quality. The glasses cost less than the optometrist visit, and I bought a second identical pair as a backup.

>currently I don't have stereoscopic vision

>my brain CAN do it, if I had the correct images sent to my eyes somehow.

>when I watched Avatar, an actually well made 3D movie, it literally felt more real than reality

Buy an Oculus Quest 2. (Or any VR headset, but that's the best value at the moment.) It sends seperate images to each eye. You should get that same 'more real than reality' feeling. It may even train your eye muscles to see in 3D, I know I've seen some research into that area. (https://www.seevividly.com/ comes up on a Google search, though it seems to be prescription only)

I'm someone with Amblyopia and would love to hear people's experiences using this. Seems like the project made some waves on reddit and kind of died down. I have bought Oculus Quest last year in anticipation of trying this but the pandemic and work pushed it out somewhat.

Watching 3D movies in the theaters just gives me a headache but Oculus actually works fine, I've played a few games and it was amazing...

I have that too. My right eye keeps steady while my left eye floats around at random (or at least that's how the linguistic side of my brain describes it). It would be great if a VR headset could track the left eye position and translate the image accordingly.

Can you import glasses? Or, say, receive a box that someone accidentally dropped a pair of glasses into, along with the item you ordered?

Shouldn't an ophthalmologist here in Brazil be able to diagnose you and give you a prescription for corrective lenses, or even perform corrective surgery?

I'm asking in case I might need to look for one in the future.

The profession of optometry came from physics instead of medicine, many of the early ones with physicists specialized in optics that ALSO understood how the eye worked, optics-wise.

In places where they are legal they spend their time learning more and more about optics, physics, math and eye anatomy, they don't study diseases, infections and so on.

As result you can't rely on one to fix certain stuff where you do need a medic, but if you need fancy lenses, they will calculate them, not just use a number they get from their measurement machine like ophtalmologists do.

They also would be helpful to design proper 3D glasses and whatnot, holograms and so on.

Got it, I was a bit confused as I never had heard about the problem you mentioned. Too bad here in Brazil you can't get the specialized care you need for the condition you have.

This is a major screw up and inefficiency from this country.

Thanks for explaining the concept more in-depth too.

I'm from Brazil too, and my eye glasses are recommended by a optometrist. The only way an optometrist to work is being an ophthalmologist with specialization in "optometry". It is a sad reality from our bureaucratic government that don't give us freedom to innovate.

Cool, thanks for explaining this for me!

I would've never guessed Brazil (or any country for that matter) would be like that. I guess I can see why if medics depend on that for their income, but I certainly would've never guessed they would act so aggressive about it. It seems like there should be some other way for them to make enough money. There should be somebody who's specialty is optometry. Do you have specialists for other things like a heart doctor, or cancer doctor?

Online eye exam: https://www.easee.online/en/

Wait – I also don't have stereoscopic vision, do you have any details or sources for those magical glasses with prisms?

I first learned about this prism business when I read this article: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/06/19/stereo-sue

Back then people even were saying it was pseudoscience or a scam, but seemly there is ongoing research that shows that the article wasn't lying.

Maybe this is a way to do so? https://www.eyebuydirect.com/prescription-lens/prism-glasses?

Maybe it depends on the exact condition you have. Is it Binocular Vision Dysfunction?

My mind was also blown when I got to demo this a few years ago.

You sit down and you forget that there's technology happening. The person is there, in front of you. I don't know how else to describe it.

The testimonials in the video aren't exaggerating compared to my experience.

Do you know if it supports multiple people on "screen" at once? Or does it rely on eye tracking of a single person (plus projection of some sort?) to be able to achieve the 3D effect?

I don't know anything more than what's been released, but from my understanding, light field display don't rely on eye tracking, and you can have multiple people looking from different angles (although the range may be limited to near the center). In the video itself, the camera filming the interaction is moving independently of the person sitting, and unless it was faked, it was able to see its own perspective.

It seems like it does, given in the demo video there's a lady and a baby in the same shot.

We don't know if the baby is seeing the full 3d effect, but my understanding of how light-field displays work is that it isn't based on eye-tracking.

I suspect this worked because the person was, indeed, there.

I mean, not in the same room, but down the hall or so.

You can have the most perfect rendering in the world and 100ms of latency will be enough to make the experience miserable.

Depends on how much bandwidth it needs. I've been video conferencing a lot (who didn't, this past year) and even with people on the other side of the globe I don't recall latency ever being a problem.

Also depends what you're doing. Singing together is impossible over standard video conferencing, for example.

yeah, like if your playing keys live for example, you want your audio interface to have around 6ms latency max (the delay time between your finger pressing a key and you hearing the sound from pressing that key) above that and it starts to become detrimental to your playing. above 10 and you can barely play.

You could imagine commercial/institutional sites hundreds to thousands of miles apart with <10ms latency on dedicated fiber.

Wouldn’t that be way faster than the speed of light?

Depends how many thousands ;) light travels about 3000km in 10ms


That’s in a vacuum, in a straight line. In fibre optic cable, light travels around two thirds of that speed.

i got curious (since you said you'd seen this years ago) and found my way to your cppcon 2016 talk. good talk but in particular i want to congratulate you on the weaving pun (first multithreaded tech).

Haha thanks. Not my pun, I just saw it somewhere on the internet!

Do you think it's possible 90% of this is due to the studio quality lighting, large high quality screen, good mic/speakers, and low latency network? It seems like those factors alone would get most of the way there and the 3D aspect is just a bonus. Obviously I haven't used it in person but this was just a thought since most people are used to video calls on their small phone/laptop with poor lighting, mics, etc

What I think you're trying to describe already exists as a product from Cisco called "telepresence". It is/was insanely expensive, was a permanent installation that only Cisco contracted techs could install, and did what you describe: It is a series of large, curved HD displays with desks at an appropriate distance from the screens/cameras, and copious amounts of indirect lighting from behind the setup to make each party look good.

It seems like the imaging/rendering technology that Google is using is much more advanced.

I’ve used such a Cisco system. Compared to regular video calls the latency and quality was light years ahead, much more natural conversations were possible. By which I mean it was possible to laugh, interject, and generally have a realistic conversation with a colleague in another country without having to compensate for video lag in that very careful way I find necessary on Meet and Zoom.

That said, there was no “emotional connection” like the Google one is described as offering. It was still a video call. There was no forgetting that. I suspect the 3D and the apparent physical closeness to the display add a lot.

Wow I forgot about Telepresence. I used it a decade ago at a Fortune 500 company. With all of the cameras and displays perfectly positions, everyone was life-sized on video, felt like you were sitting around a roundtable. Now I'm imagining that with higher resolution and 3D light field display, wow.

Low latency is more important than all the other bits. I worked at Bell Communication Research in the nineties and they had an experimental video conferencing system that used analog circuit switched video and it worked really well, mainly because the latency was only a little more than the speed of light.

I spent a year using telepresence a few times a week. It was genuinely amazing. Lifesize people 1200 miles away with audio so crisp that one of the guys was idly rubbing the edge of some papers with his thumb and I could hear it.

I've spent a decent amount of time and money to make this happen and it helps less than you would hope.

Partially there are just affordance issues of things like eye contact which are physically out of alignment unless you start using two way mirrors [1].


Essentially eye-contact is the missing ingredient. I believe it! Eye contact is key to a conversation feeling authentic.

There are technologies that can automatically adjust videos for eye contact today, so I imagine something similar could be implemented for this later on.


It is impossible for me to explain how/why it works so well.

It looks like it came out of the high-fidelity Immersive Light Field Video presented at SIGGRAPH 2020. Quite impressive that within a year it's now a consumer product


WebAssembly SIMD is coming to Chrome as well. 2D images and video that only consisted of RGB and Alpha channels may appear downright primitive to future generations as depth camera rigs gain distribution ;)


I am sure that the immersion of the experience is higher. My question (and perhaps that of GP) is: is this greater immersion actually beneficial to communication?

I think this is cool tech, and valuable. I'm just not sure that it offers a communication benefit over well-lit, well-miced, wired, low latency, 8K videoconferencing.

Maybe there's some 3D emotional perception face processing stuff that we have deep in our brains that can immensely benefit from this, but I'm skeptical. I think simply doing 4k or 8k low latency high quality videoconferencing might be a 90 or 95% solution without needing special cameras/displays.

I think you might be underestimating the value of viewing a 3D model on a no-glasses 3D display. This is one of the basic aspects of in-person communication we take for granted that current 2D technology can't replicate. You can move your head and actually see a different angle of the person in front of you. This can even be subtle, our brain will still pick up the effect, and it makes the experience beyond what we usually consider as "immersive".

Yes, having low latencies and high definition video is an important aspect of this, but the 3D part is no gimmick. Once the technology improves and gets affordable this is a game changer for how we communicate online. The step after that are holographic displays, and since we'd be used to 3D models and smart displays, it probably won't feel like such a big jump.

I'm _super_ excited about this project. Hopefully Google doesn't axe it. (:

Any benefit from the 3d seems like it would be vastly overshadowed by the massive artifacting in the hair though.

C'mon, they're showcasing prototypes or early 1st gen products here. There is some artifacting, true, though not nearly as much as I expected. Kudos to them for choosing to show objects difficult to scan/model accurately and doing a pretty impressive job at it. Under ideal conditions to be sure, but still. It's certain this will improve with future advancements and probably will by the time general consumers get to use it. Unless it never gets a widespread release and ends up as another Google research project ala Google Glass, Project Ara, etc. Hopefully not, but if nothing else it would have served as inspiration for other companies to step in now that we know what's possible.

I thought that as well watching the video, but have you used a PSVR?

I've got one and the first minute is always noticing how low res the eye screens are, then as soon as the game starts, I've forgotten and I'm _there_. The 3D part makes up for the low quality

Being able to feel like another person in the room is enough for me to reconsider working from home. As of right now I strongly have a preference for in person, but I do acknowledge most people prefer commute and cost benefits over productivity.

The state of video conferencing today is a poor one and I'm very excited for something that can change the industry like this.

I'm right there with you, and I use a 4k camera and a boom mic and headphones and wired ethernet to videoconference now: I have been regularly complaining about the low resolution and framerates of current videoconferencing systems (10-15fps, 720p, low bitrate - and that's the highest quality setting available!).

If Google wanted to make me believe they care about videoconferencing quality, they'd have a 4k 60fps option that auto-enables in Meet if it detects everyone on the call is on wired gigabit with a 4k camera.

And most people won't have wired gigabit and can't,

A lot of residential areas in the US have gigabit options, in some cases symmetric. There are lots that have 1000mbps down/40mbps up cable.

Even 100mbps is sufficient for a 1-on-1 4k video call, as high-bitrate 4k is 30-40mbps. Most commercial office buildings in business districts have it available. Even Starlink (20mbps up) should be sufficient for 1-1 30fps 4k videoconferencing with a lower bitrate.

40mbit != gigabit

50 megabits is enough for most scenes in 4K Blu-ray. 10 megabits should be enough for 4K stream with good enough quality.

They will eventually. Hopefully the ISP monopolies are broken again.

>I think this is cool tech, and valuable. I'm just not sure that it offers a communication benefit over well-lit, well-miced, wired, low latency, 8K videoconferencing.

>Maybe there's some 3D emotional perception face processing stuff that we have deep in our brains that can immensely benefit from this, but I'm skeptical.

>I think simply doing 4k or 8k low latency high quality videoconferencing might be a 90 or 95% solution without needing special cameras/displays.

From my experience, 4k or 8k doesn't matter. Sound quality actually matters most, really clear low latency audio alone will give you a surprisingly strong sense of presence.

Video quality is important but 1080p is enough, beyond that the lighting and latency matter more.

Equally important from my personal POV is video size - physical size. Take a cheap 65 inch TV, turn it vertically, and talk to someone on that. When your talking to someone that is actually life size the sense of presence is vastly improved, even at the exact same video quality. And TVs are so cheap this doesn't seem like much of a techical barrier.

If you just screen share from your cell phone to your 65 inch TV and video chat -- holding everything else equal for audio and video quality -- it's SO MUCH BETTER.

I imagine they are using lightfield type displays like the ones made at this company - https://lookingglassfactory.com/

My intuition is that a great lighting+microphone+speaker setup is necessary, but not sufficient, for this demo.

Even from viewing the short demo, the stereo display alone is an entirely new dimension that no amount of studio lighting will recreate. While better lighting and audio setup would certainly improve the average person's videoconferencing experience, this looks to be a genuine step beyond.

That said, we've been seeing holographic-display prototypes for the better part of a decade, and it'll be interesting if this actually pans out or fizzles.

Eye tracking is the core feature here--the rendered "hologram" is correct from every possible angle. The things you mention are probably closer to 2% of the final result.

Source on the eye tracking? The light field displays I've seen (https://lookingglassfactory.com/) don't need eye tracking to work

It looks like they're doing photogrammetry in real time, which is mind boggling. I'm not familiar with this space, but building a 3D model, texturing it with live video, compressing and sending that over the internet, and doing it with minimal latency for it to be believable/enjoyable? Incredible technical achievement if that's the approach. Using state of the art tech, no doubt, and probably lots of ML magic to smooth the rendering. The 3D display is the icing on the cake, it must look amazing in person.

not that hard to do if you have actual depth sensing cameras, and even without those, something like the oculus quest 2 does that exact task (generate a rough 3d volume based on several 2d video feeds) you can see a neat example when you draw your guardian space, and move objects (and notice how it updates the 3d volume representation)

The difficulty completely depends on the level of quality you're after. They're certainly working on cutting-edge-level quality, so it is likely no easy task. Someone else pointed out that they released a paper on related tech last year:


That's not true -- even with depth sensing cameras, it will still be full of artifacts, and things like curly hair or strands of hair will become disastrous because they're not easily geometrically modeled.

The Oculus Quest 2 doesn't do anything like what you're describing -- it essentially just pipes in stereoscopic video from its stereo cameras and stitches them together in a trivial way. It doesn't attempt to build geometric representations of objects in your environment at all.

(For guardian functionality it does very simple things like using the depth cloud to figure out the height of the floor, and if there are points inside the guardian that shouldn't be there, but that doesn't inferring object geometries.)

The Oculus Quest 2 (and the Quest 1) infers the geometry of your environment in the same way a Magic Leap does. The Quest uses the mesh to show perspective-correct stereoscopic pass-through views. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3V__SEPobM4

if you look at the video you can see there are artifacts around the hair. It is likely applying some matting via AI to make it less obvious, but it is still there.

Good point, I haven't followed the latest VR advancements, that does sound neat. Still, Starline's approach is surely much more sophisticated (the hardware obviously has a lot to do with that, these are prototypes of a desk-sized machine vs a headset). The 3D model looks reasonably detailed, and the final render has very few artifacts. Making it all work over a WAN link with latencies critical for teleconferencing is also impressive.

> not that hard to do

Then it would be done already.

Yep, it is done already. https://kinectron.github.io/#/

Using Oculus Quest 2 had me just walking around my room in wonder about seeing straight through the headset for a bit.

If this was a consumer product I would buy two of these today, one for myself, and one for my parents. It is more compelling that any product I have seen for a long time.

This is a 3D monitor. Not a light field display like Starline.

The traditional glasses free 3d monitors rely on special coatings on the glass to "split" the direction of a pixel. Some coatings are electronically controlled (like Sony's), some are physical (lenticular filters) It still displays a 2D projection of a 3D image, but twice.

By contrast, my understanding is lightfield displays projects the entire volume. So you don't have a pixel, you have a voxel. So each eye gets a different bit of the same voxel

The term light field display includes lenticulars and parallax barrier displays (and holograms and volumetric displays). They are all different ways of carving up, sweeping out, or multiplexing a light field.

How much would you pay? I expect the lower end to be around $20,000 from hardware alone, plus at least gigabit down/up connectivity.

I suspect eventually this will percolate down, somewhat like Facebook's Portal TV (£149) but possibly also integrated with something like a Google Assistant/Siri type smart device to power the software and do other smart-home type things in your home.

Many ordinary folk already have 4k TVs at home and 8k will probably become commonplace in the future. The real bottleneck will be good low-latency broadband both up and down, but fibre to the home should make that easier. I wonder if ISPs in the future will offer QoS guarantees to enable really good videoconferencing?

I mean, Zoom, Meet et al are much better than video conferencing solutions like Webex even from a few years ago, but it's hilarious how much drama there still is around video calls. "oh, sorry, I didn't realise I had muted myself", "can you hear me...?", "I think we just lost Steve", and so on. I'll be glad to see all of that just go away.

Facebook Telescreen™

To be followed up by Facebook Telepresence™ and then Facebook Omnipresence™? ;)

Mark Zuckerberg might announce that, but I think he'll go straight from Facebook Telescreen™ to Facebook Panopticon™.

I doubt you need gigabit for an 8K stream. The real issue is the abysmal common network infrastructure. Latency will be a bottleneck if most ISPs don't care about treating your packets properly.

Most internet providers here in Finland provides you fiber connections from 100-1000mbs pretty cheap. And 4g/5g connections from 100-300mbs for cheap prices too. Most of them does not have any data caps.

I have 300/100mbs connection which costs 20 euros in month.

Agreed, 10Mbps is likely where it'll be, probably less. If I were to guess, they are going to apply a lot of smarts to texture mapping to avoid needing a lot of bandwidth.

Doubtful, IMO. The fact that you need it to be both extremely low latency and with essentially zero compression artifacts (probably lossless, based on their goal). If the numbers listed here[1] are correct, then the most efficient lossy codec at that time was doing 100 minutes of 8k video in ~37GB of data. From that we can intuit that it was using an average of 50 Mbps for that 100 minutes of video. For the most efficient codec, and I'm not even sure from that whether it was using lossy or lossless numbers, because apparently HVEC can do both (but I would assume lossy, since it's about streaming video in that case).

You can't do weird texture mapping or lossy compression and expect people to really seem like they are there. Even if you don't notice that stuff normally watching a video, I think you'll notice it when you're interacting like someone is really in front of you, and that will throw off the immersion.

1: https://www.quora.com/In-regards-to-filesize-how-big-is-1-mi...

HVEC is no longer king of the hill when it comes to compression efficiency. AV1 and the upcoming VVC do better.

That said, my intuition is they aren't doing a pure video encoding solution. The fact that they talk about 3d modeling leads me to believe they are doing a combination of model + texture to get the realistic results. That would significantly decrease the amount of bandwidth and computational power needed. Over a low bandwidth situation you'd simply need to send model updates and do some smart interpolation to determine what things should look like.

Similar to the concept that playing a 3d game requires MB of resources but recording the same game at 8k would require a boatload more memory.

My assumption is they are using LIDAR to get a good model, high quality cameras to texture things, and a nice AI to stitch things together and interpolate when data isn't arriving fast enough.

I think this is what will be done in the future. You will interact with the camera for 15 minutes or so and it will create a custom compreasion algorithm for you.

That seems unlikely. My game stream in 1080p at 60fps already takes 40Mbps. So 4K at 30fps would need more like 80Mbps, and 8K 320Mbps

It heavily depends on what encoder and config you use. In my experience, 20Mbps (or less) HEVC by Turing NVEnc realtime encoder is enough for 1080 60p. Also halving frame rate won't halve bitrate because of how video compressed by reference frame. Also video meeting won't move pictures as much as FPS gaming.

You can't even do basic video calling on a 10 Mbps connection. You definitely need the reliability and low latency of fibre for this.

Max I'd pay would be $6,000 because I'd need to buy two: one for me, and one for my parents. If it were $3000, I'd have already bought it.

$20,000 is a bit out of the reach of most people, and reserves this for business use or desperate need.

I could see a bunch of execs getting this installed in their home offices as a company perk, and then using it for personal reasons too.

> reserves this for business use

Even for business use a price with 5 digits would make it confined to a few executive offices.

A lot of execs don’t have optimal setups with current tech. A lot of people just don’t care.

Well that wouldn't be a consumer product then. But I would pay as much as a high end tv. 2500? Maybe more? The experience looks to be transformative.

probably built into smartphones in 10 years.

I think one of the major aspects of this technology is that the person you are talking with appears in its real size, with the same ratio than in real life. Something you cannot do with a smartphone, except if you are referring to a projector.

I imagine it isn't (yet) because of the price tag.

And it would probably be very difficult to install at the moment as well.

I've used the Echo Show 10 with the drop-in feature for my mom with vision issues (basically can't use touchscreens) and it works fairly well. That said I fully agree with you that something like this would be really excellent. A full-sized person's face and head in 3D is far easier to recognize and understand than a poorly lit 2D 10" display.

The question for me is how much it matters after the novelty wears off.

I count at least 5 waves of 3D technology starting in 1851 with the Brewster Stereoscope. Each time there's a surge of popularity driven by the legitimately amazing initial experience. And each time people slowly stop caring. People were incredibly excited about Avatar, and many thought it would change the movie industry. But how many people now go out of the way to see something in 3D?

I'm a regular in the XR space. A popular running theory is that wearing something is the barrier right now. Often what's brought up is that the only wearable to make it to the prime time is the smartwatch--and even then it's a very slow uptake. People absolutely do not want to wear something to make marginal gains in their viewing experience.

In that respect I'm very excited for Starline and related technologies--"trying them" will finally just involve being in the line of sight of one rather than having an attendant fit some goggles onto your head.

The original 3G phone spectrum auction was in part premised on the notion that we would all be placing video calls.

Personally I though VR glasses would take off when I had a go with them in the late 90's.

Today with remote working I am on the end of a microphone without a picture of myself or my colleagues in the chat.

Yet I am looking forward to being in the office.

I see what Google are trying to do but we have wave after wave of this. VR is a classic, if only we can solve the motion sickness!

On the family level those zoom calls with my niece are now plain telephone calls. Or WhatsApp messages. We stopped caring.

I honestly think it's amazing and I'm sure the novelty would wear off, but it would still be useful. One of the things that stood in the way of 3D viewing was dedicated hardware, which is the same issue here. Although the need to wear glasses is gone, you still need to buy some serious equipment for it. Maybe at some point this will be bundled into a normal TV setup and people will just take it for granted that it's there

Anything's possible. But I want the people saying 3D TV/monitors failed because the glasses were just too burdensome to argue things out with the VR people who say that 3D is so amazing that the (much heavier!) facehugger units will take over the world.

I do. Ha ha. I really loved Dr. Strange in 3D. I'm sad 3D movies aren't really a thing anymore.

Oh, I'd bet that team did a great job with 3D. (For those who didn't see it, it was a movie with great visual effects designed to blow the viewer's mind.) But you and that movie are the exceptions that prove the rule: for most people and for most movies, it just doesn't add much. The reason people go to see something on the stage is never stereoscopy!

Exactly, it's just a fancy FaceTime technology, I would be bored after few days. Tell me a problem that it solves.

> Tell me a problem that it solves.

Replicating the experience of in-person communication much more closely than video and 2D displays will ever do. That's a noble research goal if nothing else, I don't get the skepticism.

There are several reasons 3D content and previous generation displays didn't take off, but there's no reason to believe a revolutionary new approach and product couldn't change this (e.g. electric cars were invented in the 19th century and are only now becoming popular). AFAICT the real time photogrammetry they're using here along with the no-glasses 3D display is a major leap forward. If they can get it cheap and reliable enough to mass market, it would be a game changer.

I certainly know what kind of display and teleconferencing software I want when the next pandemic hits, and it's not what we have now.

> Replicating the experience of in-person communication much more closely

That's not a problem people express much, at least not in ways where "3D" points to a solution. When I want to see people in person, it's not because of a lack of stereoscopy. I want to hug them, to break bread with them.

> there's no reason to believe a revolutionary new approach and product couldn't change this

There is indeed! In specific, the many times we have already had revolutionary new approaches and products that were met with great enthusiasm in the market for a few years.

I'd add that the telephone was not only a very successful technology for a century, audio calls still remain very popular. (I'm not sure what your work calls are like these days, but quite a lot of people turn off video in mine.) The lesson I take from that is that people mainly self-generate the feeling of interpersonal connection, and they can do it with very little in the way of cues. To me that's another strong indication that no new 3D technology will make much of a difference.

"Hard tech" often only matures after several hype cycles. Sometimes cool tech demos can be produced a century or more beforehand. If you were in the 1980s and people were talking about video calls being the next big thing, you might point out that people have been working on video calls since the 1930s[0], and it hasn't caught on in every one of the hype cycles that have followed, so that's an indication that it won't catch on in the future. Video calls have caught on now though - especially as they've reached mobile devices instead of requiring a literal booth in your house, as with AT&T's initial "Picturephone" tech in the 70s.

I will say though that people tend to assume that each new technology will replace the preceding technology (text->audio->video->VR/light-field->...), but in fact it tends to end up just supplementing the existing tech.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_videotelephony

> When I want to see people in person, it's not because of a lack of stereoscopy.

Of course, I'm not saying this will replace physical communication (I should've said "simulating" instead of "replicating"). But it's a clear step forward for traditional teleconferencing solutions. What do you think is the next leap from 2D video and displays? We're at the point of diminishing returns as far as increasing resolution goes, most consumers don't have a need for 8K or higher res displays. VR/AR is chugging along, but we're still a few generations away from mass market adoption.

> I'd add that the telephone was not only a very successful technology for a century, audio calls still remain very popular.

I don't understand. Video calls were never meant to replace audio calls, they just added a new sensory experience. It's perfectly fine for both technologies to co-exist for different moments and preferences. In a similar way this 3D approach is an extension to traditional 2D video conferencing if people have the equipment and prefer it. Judging by the expressions of the people in the demo and some of the comments here, you're underestimating how impactful this could be, especially if it's polished and cheap enough.

It's not a clear step forward except in technical terms. Those often don't matter. For example, the big revolution in the last 20 years is not faster computers, it's mobile ones.

I don't have much reason to think there is any near term "next leap from 2D video and displays". 2D renderings are more than 40,000 years old. They have improved drastically in resolution and fidelity. Computers added being dynamic and interactive to that. it's really not clear that 3D rendering adds much.

> Judging by the expressions of the people in the demo and some of the comments here, you're underestimating how impactful this could be

I am not, because that kind of novelty-driven excitement has driven every wave of popular 3D rendering technology for 170 years. VR/AR has been close to mass market adoption for 25 years. We've just been through an unprecedented period of demand for at-home entertainment, and the hardware that many said was finally, finally the thing turns out once again not to matter.

People have had those excited faces every time. There were people jazzed about the possible impact every time. The Brewster Stereoscope. The ViewMaster (with the US Defense Department purchasing 6 million reels on the theory it would revolutionize training). 3D movies in the 1950s. VR in the 1980s and 1990s. 3D movies again this century. 3D TV for 2 CESes. And then the latest wave of VR, which you agree is still not there despite fantastic investment from companies floating in cash.

Could it be different this time? Maybe! But if we keep measuring it by novelty effects, we're setting ourselves up for the exact same failure that keeps happening.

> the big revolution in the last 20 years is not faster computers, it's mobile ones

Surely the improvements in manufacturing processes, faster hardware and better screens are partly responsible for that. The iPhone as a concept has existed since the 1980s, and revolutionary ideas like what General Magic tried to produce in the 90s were just too early to be successful. When Apple tried it again in the late 00s it was a massive success, but technology finally reached a point when it was commercially feasible.

So it doesn't take much to push a product to mass adoption. Just the right industry circumstances, a manufacturer willing to take the risk and capable hardware and software existing to make it happen.

> We've just been through an unprecedented period of demand for at-home entertainment, and the hardware that many said was finally, finally the thing turns out once again not to matter.

Are you dismissing the potential of VR/AR as well? The current innovation wave we're on is much bigger than whatever we had before. Headsets are becoming cheaper, more comfortable and accessible, and the visual tech we have now is leaps and bounds better than previous generations. Once we get to being able to put on sunglasses and experience different worlds, though likely sooner than that, the market adoption will likely go through the roof.

> People have had those excited faces every time.

I think it's different this time. It's not just it being 3D, but the merging of new generations of light field cameras, face/eye tracking, powerful ML algorithms, low latency networks and revolutionary displays is miles ahead of previous attempts. You can't just compare this to the ViewMaster and last century VR. The improvements here are much more substantial, and if they can make it cheap and reliable enough it could be a ground breaking product.

Again, you're arguing that the technology might get better. I don't disagree. I'm not comparing the technology of the ViewMaster. I'm comparing the lack of demonstrated demand/utility and the pattern of hype.

Every one of the products I named was greeted at the time exactly like you are now. The new technology was amazing! The potential was unlimited! And for the repeats like 3D movies and VR: It's different this time!

I agree it might be different this time. Nobody's denying that. Aliens might land tomorrow. What I'm saying is that because of the clear pattern of "OMG novelty! OMG possibilty!" around 3D tech that has failed repeatedly for 170 years, you can't just uncritically make the same arguments. If you want to be persuasively realistic, you have to explain why the 3D novelty effect isn't the major driver this time. Because the long evidence is that 3D displays just don't matter enough for people to stick with them.

Just one final comment: I agree with you that there are technical innovations that don't result in mass adoption and ultimately don't matter. Where I think you're mistaken is that the leap from 2D displays to 3D holograms (or 3D displays as an intermediate step) is similar to the leap from black and white TVs to color TVs. It's obvious that it's the next big step since our world is not black and white in the same way that it's not 2D. The potential market for that is global so we've been pushing in that direction for 170 years, as you say (though sources for that claim would be appreciated as I couldn't find any), yet the technology just wasn't there to make it a good product.

Do you remember the Virtual Boy? Or the old cheap red/green paper glasses, and recently plastic glasses that are uncomfortable, darken the picture and give you headaches? These are all issues that better technology can solve, thus reducing the barrier to entry. A display that shows a 3D image without glasses to every viewer with a head tracking effect can potentially solve a lot of them. With similar improvements in camera technology, networks (5G anyone?), ML, etc. and all the pieces are starting to fall into place for what could be a revolution in how we communicate electronically.

Or Google might just axe it as they've done before ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Still bummed about Project Ara...)

I agree it's "obvious" that it's the "next big step". And I'm saying that's the problem.

Obviousness is a feeling people have about ideas in their head. Feelings can be useful or misleading. Every single person who got behind previous generations of 3D thought that it was "obviously" the next step. Many thousands of people had that feeling each time, buying in to a new platform. Great sums of money were invested by smart execs. All of those people were wrong each time. All of them. That you have the same feeling is not proof that it will be different this time. Indeed, the history suggests you should distrust that feeling.

Color video is a great example, so thanks for bringing it up. Color TV and color movies were quickly and widely adopted despite the extra cost and complexity. But 3D movies and TV have failed. Wearing a pair of glasses is not a major burden; 64% of Americans do it every day. Millions of people tried 3D movies and gave a collective shrug. The pretty obvious lesson to learn from those waves is that people are drawn to the concept but actually do not care in practice once the novelty wears off.

Another way to look at it is that people don't even care about stereoscopic vision much in actual life. Humans have a lot of mechanisms for extracting spatial information from the world, and the stereo-ness of it doesn't matter much. About 10% of people don't have it; they can still drive just fine. My grandfather, for example, was blinded in one eye as a kid, and nobody ever noticed. You can try it yourself; go out for a walk and keep one eye closed. Your 3D perception will be basically unaffected except for relatively close objects.

So sure, as I've said repeatedly, anything can happen. I'm just saying there is good reason to believe this will not happen, and excellent reason to not just assume it will. To see this not as a technological problem, but a problem of demand.

As to citations, I'm not sure what you're looking for. I've mentioned the Brewster Stereoscope twice in this thread. Ditto the ViewMaster. What do you need that isn't in the first page of Google results for those?

Wow, this is a pretty ableist take. Deaf people or hard of hearing exist.

I've got a hearing problem where I struggle to make out what people are saying on a phone but with a video call I can add lip-reading and visual cues which helps me keep on thread.

Which is excellent, and I totally support that. But that doesn't change the market dynamics that I'm describing. We probably should live in a world where what drove the adoption of video calling was supporting the hard of hearing. But we don't, so it's not a relevant factor for the market analysis of what will drive the adoption of 3D video.

> (e.g. electric cars were invented in the 19th century and are only now becoming popular)

I hate this example, and it's like one of the most common ones on HN.

As said by thousands of people and many documentaries before me , the electric car had numerous real conspiracies working against it, some of which were the most powerful financial groups in the world.[0]

The 'electric car' wasn't made popular and possible by recent technological strides -- although it was made better.

The success and popularity of the electric vehicle was made possible by financial shifts away from petroleum exploration, facilitated by dwindling profits and increased scarcity of oil, and encouraged by a movement towards sustainability both from the social culture of the world and the various actions of government from country to country.

Yes, range has improved. Yes, the cars are more intelligent and better to drive -- but these improvements have been seen across the automotive industry since its' inception with ICE based vehicles included.

The real motivating factor behind the electric car is the environment that now exists that allows such endeavors to be profitable -- an environment that not only includes technological improvements like you hint towards, but more importantly it's an environment that fosters development of such things due to the existence of a profit incentive and increased governmental-body cooperation.

All that said, unless Cisco is even more evil than I realized (woah..), I have a hard time presuming that video conferencing has been held back by the same sort of conspiratorial under-handed back-office dealings that slowed the progress of EV adoption.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Killed_the_Electric_Car%3F

Why does it matter which circumstances allowed the electric car to become popular only now? Whether that's because of major industry and consumer shifts, or because the technology matured enough for mass market, they have the same effect. It's certainly a combination of both, and we shouldn't downplay the advances in battery technology alone.

I mentioned that example because the previous two comments were dismissing this attempt at 3D teleconferencing on the grounds of it being old technology with past failures. But I think we agree that it takes a certain industry environment along with a technical leap to make a technology truly popular. Even if that never ends up happening in this case and it remains a niche product, we should applaud the technical merits here instead of being dismissive.

>this attempt at 3D teleconferencing

For that matter video teleconferencing period has only just really hit critical mass even though there were videophones at the NY World's Fair in the 1960s and camera systems have been around in conference rooms for a few decades.

What really happened was that it became more or less accessible to anyone with a laptop and an even marginal network connection for basically no cost. And, oif course, the last 18 months really pushed it over the finish line if it wasn't already.

Exactly. Video calls have become successful because remote work has become successful. The goal was not to make video calls. The goal was to further improve a team that was already remote. And I think you're right that the low/no cost hardware for most adopters has been key. Which I think is further proof that the demand is really pretty modest. I was just on a work meeting where half the people had their cameras off, and where I often didn't have the Zoom window on top because the video was very much secondary to what they were saying.

Tell me a problem Instagram solves. It's just a fancy Myspace.

Tell me a problem WhatsApp solves. It's just a fancy SMS.

Tell me a problem X solves. It's just a fancy Y.

Etc etc

If you talk to daily Instagram users, you'll find out what problem it solves. In particular, it was the lucky winner in the crowd of early photo-sharing-on-mobile apps. But the demand for that was proven by early photo sharing successes like Flickr. Realizing people would want to do that on their pocket camera device is not a big leap given what people were already doing to share photos from their mid-aughts cameraphones phones.

There's no such plausible story for 3D video calls. It's not like people are already demanding 3D displays for any of their other 3D stuff. The 3D first-person shooter, for example, has been around for decades. But 3D displays have never been popular despite being available for at least a decade.

I (and probably everyone in immigrant communities) will get such a thing to my family and our parents as soon as we can afford it.

That's an interesting hypothesis, but I'd need to see some data. Since you haven't experienced it, you would be buying based on hype, on the concept of 3D. As I said, I'm not arguing that the novelty is appealing. I'm saying that once people actually experience it and the novelty wears off, people stop caring.

Another issue here is that this is being sold as like "being there", but it's more like "being there at a jail" where you can see person but can't get close to them, can't touch them, can't hand them anything. I have immigrant friends who do calls with their parents basically daily. They do it with mid-grade consumer tech, even though they could easily afford big screens and high-res cameras. That suggests to me that image size and video quality are not as important for this market as one might think at first blush.

You're not winning anything with casting Skype on TV, except messing with another remote for audio controls (which is in no way immersive or often not even high quality).

And yes OF COURSE I predicate buying on it actually delivering to the extent people describe it in the marketing video, it's ridiculous I have spell it out.

Casting Skype to a TV is not the only possibility Right now with off the shelf hardware one could make a great video-call station. 4k screen, 4k camera, high-quality mics and speakers. But approximately nobody does it because laptops and iPads and phones are generally good enough for them.

That to me demonstrates that, contra your initial assertion, there isn't a big market for this.

As to the last part, you've gone from "I will get it" no questions asked to what sounds like "I will get it if it checks out". But that's a big jump. You've gone from an early adopter to a mainstream purchaser. From one of those people that buys things on Kickstarter to the much, much larger group who want to see proof of value before they buy.

I think that's very reasonable, but it's exactly the kind of reasonable behavior that has killed 3D over and over in the past. By definition novelty doesn't last, so by the time mainstream purchasers might be ready, the social proof just isn't there.

What I enjoy here most is how you clearly know better than me (M44, immigrant, kids, MSc. SE, embedded systems engineer) what I actually want.

It depends on what you mean by want. Are you having feelings of desire? Sure. That's the point of demos and commercials. I fully believe you have those feelings, and trust you to be an expert on them.

But I've done a lot of customer development over the years. People say all sorts of things. The question when doing market analysis is what they'll actually do. And the better guide there is what they're actually doing , not what they say they would do.

So when you say that "everyone in immigrant communities" will buy it, I'm going to be skeptical because what people are actually doing is nothing like that. They could already move in this direction with existing tech. As far as I can tell, they aren't. If you have evidence otherwise, I'd love to see it.

I also can't find evidence of third parties competing with shared higher-quality video call setups, which is what we'd expect to see if the demand were there but the price hadn't fallen enough yet. That's the pattern we saw with video arcades and internet cafes/wangbas, for example. Wangbas are still getting by because they've shifted to gamers, who are willing to pay up for better hardware and connections (and room for team play). But I can't find mention of any similar shift for video calls. E.g. India's PCO network seems to be in rapid free-fall, not reinventing themselves around high-quality video calls. That suggests what all the other market data suggests: to the extent people want video calling, relatively low-quality gear like smartphones and laptops are in practice sufficient.

>Tell me a problem WhatsApp solves. It's just a fancy SMS.

I gather it mostly solves that SMS is expensive in a lot of contexts. Personally I never use it because most of the people I text with have US phones. And the one person who doesn't, we use Facebook.

Yes? Other than not being hip, how is Instagram better than Myspace? WhatsApp at least added features over SMS, although it sacrificed interoperability and went all-in on a closed system to get there. Newer is not always better.

Eye contact

It sounds like they are using this technology or something similar:


Does anyone know whether they're using that tech, something similar, or something else? I've always been interested in light field technology.

Does it have perceptible regions where the view angles are ideal?

If it's as seamless as it looks in the video that would be truly novel and exciting.

Interesting. Does the light field work only for one person or multiple (they show mother and baby in the video)?

So in my company, I've used various avatar's of Cisco TelePresence systems over many years.

The big commercial need it turns out isn't so much realism as it is flexibility to accommodate people dialing in from different systems - phones, laptops, different types of telepresence setups from small single room to big conference rooms or even telephone connections etc.

Many years ago, we were all wowed by the life-size realism and had people come into offices for it . Nowadays these meetings have lots of people crammed in across multiple screens dialing in as they please and all the better for everyone :-)

Sony has it's own version of the light field display. https://youtu.be/KrLMnQM0_Ps

Over a decade ago I used a holographic video conferencing system that used kinect for depth mapping, it was very convincing. It would also reorient the display based on your head position. so you could look "around" the avatar.

There are demos of binocular 3d conferencing done with a lenticular display (lookingglass), although those large displays are extortionately priced (1/4 of the size of this google one is $3000...) - keeping them out of the hands of most devs.

No doubt google are doing the same, but can afford these larger displays.

You can easily find examples (and research papers) by googling for the relevant terms. Google claiming they have invented a "new technology" just shits on all those folk who dont have the publicity/funding of google.

Isn't it just the "Pepper's Ghost" technique?


No, this sends a different image to each eye. It's not actually a transparent piece of glass with an image on it[0] - I think they just try to make it seem as if it is a transparent pane you're looking through.

The marketing for it is pretty terrible though, because I initially came away with the same impression as you.

[0] See image here: https://www.engadget.com/google-project-starline-191228699.h...

How does it do the light field if multiple people are behind the glass? They can’t really optimize it for every person individually right?

I have wondered in the past if a similar result could be achieved using a 3d headset with some tracking/cameras and removing the headset from the view through a real-time deep fake that could be achieved through a short scan before the call. Would this even be feasible?

probably would have an uncanny valley effect

Is it lenticular, or something else?

Just very practically, is this a $xxxx.xx improvement over simple video chat with a large screen and simple camera? Will this even work without low-latency high-bandwidth connection up and down?

It seems more like an art project than a tech usable in the coming decade.

I've seen 3d screens in Japan 20 years ago. TVs, ad displays, mobile phones. It works really well, and it's actually very simple technology. Never understood why that never took off.

This is different. It's a light field display, so you can view things at different angles as you move around, rather than having to sit in a very exact position and only seeing one angle.

Wouldn't there also have to be some kind of head tracking involved? Otherwise you're still limited to just showing a fixed perspective in 3d.

No, that's what the lightfield does. You see different physical images depending on your angle to the screen

Fascinating. So not only is it feeding it an 8K / 30 (60?) FPS image, it's feeding it numerous incident angle variations and displaying all of them simultaneously?

Sounds like a monster data rate.

I think that is where the custom compression algorithm comes in. If you think the fact that human body and face doesn't change much, and the fact that it's a 3d model based, the compression ratio could be very high.

Good point. Also the very neutral background would contribute to that.

I bet they'd also just fix focus on the person and whatever they're holding, then blur out the background in most cases.

I only know what I saw from the IO stream, but I think it might send a compressed 3D mesh + texture across the network and render the light field locally.

I think what they are transferring is not a video but 3d model and the skin texture applied on the model (all derived from the realtime video / depth recording on the other side). The receiving and then renders it as a 3d model on the screen.


> the 8K is their Input Resolution. > That resolution is then divided into the 45 viewing directions:

Is existing Looking Glass Factory tech the same though? Not so sure about that. Those displays are typically monitor-sized at the largest and not really aimed at displaying a live feed of a person. This looks to be a more seamless experience on a larger screen.

Downvoted, with no response, for posing an open question. Shame on you, honestly.

Sounds like eye tracking could still be useful to not bother with images for angles that are 100% not visible at the moment.

I'm still not understanding how the 3D works... is it like the 3DS? Because that required you position your head in a very specific place.

The "New 3DS" introduced head tracking and no longer needed your head in a fixed position by the way.

Similar tech in the display of the nintendo 3ds?

Can you tell your friend at Google that their website weights whooping 89 MB, most of which are huge animated GIF-s? This is insane! Doesn't Google know about HTML5 video yet? https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2018/11/gif-to-video/

Was this display developed by Google, or did they buy it from elsewhere? Is it still on the market?

I recall there being glasses-less 3D displays about 10 years ago, when the TV industry was trying to make 3D displays the next new thing. I wonder if this is the same technology.

IIRC those were displays that used sterescopy, while these simulate a light field instead.

Sounds super cool. I can't wait for LFD tech to become more accessible to consumers.

I've been thinking about pre-ordering the Looking glass portrait. $250 for the unit, and I already have a leap motion laying around.


It's neat and I'm waiting to see what creative things people come up with for it. A Japanese developer put together a Wizardry/Megaten-style dungeon-crawler demo:


That's very cool, but out of curiosity

> project (he has a Phd Princeton

Why is this part relevant? Was the PhD in light field technology?


How does this relate to advertising and the necessary surveillance to support it.

Will this "product" be set up to phone home and "update" by default. Will the price be "free".

Commercial viability. How much would someone pay for this.

Sheesh. Why the FUD?

It would presumably work exactly the same way as Google's existing videoconferencing hardware:


In other words, you pay market value for it, it doesn't include advertising, and Google is contractually obligated not to snoop on your content.

Which is why even Google competitors use this hardware, because the legal and technological protections are strong enough they don't worry about Google stealing their IP.

On a related note, I wanted to share my amazing experience with a similar but lo-fi tech.

My mom and dad for the past 2-3 years have mostly lived in two separate countries (due to work reasons) and I could tell they miss each other quite a bit.

I got both of them an Echo Show 10" device each and set it up for them. I don't think I can explain how our lives have changed for the better, just based on this simple piece of tech.

The Echo Show is now pretty much constantly on video call for 14-16 hours a day in the living room of both houses and it has become an extension of the one another; a window into the other house. The audio and mics are good enough that at times you genuinely forget the other person is not in the same room. This has truly helped them, especially during Covid times.

It's actually good enough that my parents have their morning tea together practically almost the same way they used to when they were physically together. They've told me multiple times "I don't know how we could've lived without this Alexa thing".

If Google can eventually get the prices down to reasonable levels, I really think people would be shocked at how fast this thing becomes part of our daily lives.

>The Echo Show is now pretty much constantly on video call for 14-16 hours a day in the living room of both houses and it has become an extension of the one another; a window into the other house. The audio and mics are good enough that at times you genuinely forget the other person is not in the same room. This has truly helped them, especially during Covid times.

>It's actually good enough that my parents have their morning tea together practically almost the same way they used to when they were physically together.

I don't understand why this sort of persistant 'portal' isn't more popular. But 10 inch screen is so small! A 55 inch TV is what, $300? Put it portrait mode and that's a life size portrait. The feeling of presence when the person's head is the correct size is so strong! I know Facebook sells something for the TV but can it be left on all day like that?

I want it feel like one half of living room is a shared space, at all times. Like the couch is split in half by a portal. Then it just cycles through a list of friends and family with the same setup to find someone else watching Netflix or whatever, and you can casually join them just like a real shared living space.

I don't need 8k or 3D tv. Just a 55 or 65 inch TV on the wall at the end of the couch!

Wouldn't it be really difficult to put a 55 inch TV in portrait mode?

Although I think as I live in a city with small apartments, wall-mounting is much less common. I guess with a decent wall mount perhaps it is trivial to rotate it?

If you don't mind Facebook invading your house, I find their Portal TV peripheral to be good since the screen size is much larger.


There's another portal model that's as big as a small mirror.

I can echo (no pun intended) this experience with the Echo Show, but I would love something much bigger and higher-def. My family is separated long-distance, and I would pay big money for a higher-def "window to another home" product.

Facebook has a 15.6" version of this called Portal Plus. I can't speak to the quality/value of it.

It looks really nice, but I'd really like a larger one that supports drop-in. Being able to just show up without having to deal with an elderly relative trying to find a button to answer is really a killer feature.

We tried Portal Plus at work to bring our two remote workers closer to the local office but it never really caught on in the office setting. The quality and tech was quite good though. Fb login required of course which was a minor nuisance.

Can't one facetime on an appleTV/macMini with a webcam? Or use an ipad Pro?

"Alexa, drop-in to Kenya" works amazingly well.

I share the feeling.

I started working fully remote two and half years ago. Company has a couple of meeting rooms fully set up with Zoom, which I and a few other remote people used to connect to with my laptop for standups together with the in-office people. That's not the case everywhere but quite classic.

The company also had a dedicated TV+camera+24/7 Zoom meeting setup in the open space itself, so that remote people could connect to and say hi anytime. It was surprisingly nice.

Then one day on a whim I got a wide-ish USB webcam plugged into my Xbox One†.

The difference in perception is insane: instead of having this wall of people faces, like you're on several phone calls at once, I got a portalesque window between the office and my place. Instead of connecting people, it connected places††. But it only works if both sides are sharing a space instead of a selfie angle, and I think the way sound was picked up by a fixed element in the room played a lot as well.

So I'm a bit partial about this Starline thing, as it seems to be a step forward in "definition" but also feels like a blown up selfie angle.

† There's no Zoom app on Xbox (which is really a shame) so I used Edge, for which Zoom on the web is more limited and barks on webaudio (which works! Zoom just support only Chrome so I had to dial in on a phone). Also, Xbox+Kinect truly had the potential to be something amazing beyond games. I believe the marketing was botched alright but it was also way too early for the audience.

†† Which ends up connecting people on a deeper level. At some point I caught myself intuitively wanting to hand over physical objects through the TV.

This is very very cool.

I remember when I used to be in a long distance relationship with my now wife. We used to have the laptops on Skype for hours just to have each other's company, even if we were studying or doing something else. It was very unique at the time.

I'm quite jealous cuz back then we didn't have Echo Show, it'd probably be used just like your parents use it.

Did you consider Google Nest Hub for this use case? I’ve been thinking of doing the same thing but I’m not sure which to get.

Last I checked, Google Nest did not have a "Drop-in" feature like Echo where my parents can just drop-into the living room of the other house (no calling or ringing).

The Echo device just makes a sound that someone is dropping-in and gives a 10 seconds heads-up (of course this only works if you enable the permission for family members. Else it's turned off by default).

Neat! I’m sold on that feature. Thanks.

I used the small version of fb portal with my parents for a while and it was great, but I wish it would have been bigger. I’ve been thinking about buying a larger portal, but I might want to wait for this starline thing (although I have a feeling it’ll be very expensive).

That is really, really awesome!! I'm so glad it worked out for them! Its nice when a comment restores some faith in humanity.

This is cool as hell, but I have to say I feel like we're solving top-level problems when most consumers don't even seem to be getting solutions to the most basic pain-points.

For me, the problem with video-calling isn't the image-quality. It's all the much more mundane technological problems - high latency, lag-spikes caused by bad ISPs, failed noise-cancellation for people who don't use headsets for audio, bad wifi routers cutting out, etc.

First thing I did when I realized we were going to be WFH long-term was buy myself a $100 gaming headset. Next thing I did was get all my home computer stations wired with Cat 6.

That stuff is far more fundamental and far less interesting than 3D telepresence, but it's the real unsexy problem that so many people are suffering through this pandemic.

Even simple things like latency make simple, natural reactions agonizing. Talkcover and crosstalk is incessent and I've developed a filthy habit of just talking over people because otherwise it's a solid 20 seconds of "you go no you go" caused by awful latency. I've had to defuse angry reactions by co-workers who feel they're being interrupted by other co-workers and explain to them that the latency makes interruptions feel worse than they are.

I've tried to push friends to join me on my private Mumble server where the latency is near-nil and the call-quality is excellent, but there's always one person who doesn't have a working headset and wants to just use a laptop or tablet mic with no feedback-cancelling that destroys the conversation through echos (plus Mumble's auth system is needlessly bewildering).

Then with video, problems are similar but less impactful - cheap cameras, poor lighting, compression artifacts, poor sync with the audio, etc. And it's infuriating because every person has a wonderfully powerful camera in their pocket right now - and there's software to connect them but it's just too tricky for most people.

Good on Google for taking an interest in the subject, but I feel like they're decorating the apex of the technological pyramid while most people are pushing stones around at the bottom.

Both problems are worth effort and energy. It is worthwhile to push the envelope at the top because that technology, if it really works and can be developed in a more consumer friendly way, will eventually become vastly more accessible.

Solving gigantic scale problems requires a completely different kind of innovation than what you can achieve by pushing the pinnacle of what's possible.

It also in its (albeit) small way could push ISPs to get their act together. Perhaps thats a bit naive to say but if this sort technology is available, this will help push the boat forward in terms of underlying infrastructure.

I mean to be fair Google has also tried very, very hard to improve home internet access for people, to the point of setting up their own ISP and running municipal fiber networks. That's a pretty big try, and I really wish it had taken off beyond the places where Google Fiber operates.

(NB: I work at Google, but this comment has nothing to do with my work.)

When it really comes down to laying Fiber isn't a job requiring innovation, it require hard man hours to pull cables.

In the end Google tried to innovate around the hard work by burying cables around 5cm deep or so in stead of a meter, which turned out to be short sighted.

I thought Google was mostly buying up dark fiber (I think that's the case in my city at least). Where did they run their own, and what was the impact of the shallow runs?

edit: nvm, found it :) https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/16/18381466/google-fiber-lou...

I mean Google also has Meet for regular videoconferencing that's available to normal humans for free, so it's not like they're ignoring the mainstream.

The issues with connection stability and latency are very real, but I don't know if it's reasonable to expect Google to fix it; the issues there are probably more political than technical.

edit: Also, I think they did mention using AI for noise cancellation while videoconferencing in the keynote today.

Perhaps one drives the other. Availability of magical tech will drive adoption of best practices in all the areas you have mentioned.

In India, ISPs already advertise low latency and high speeds for "PUBG Gaming". The market evolves to solve the needs of consumers. Advertising for low latency for gaming was unheard of in Indian ISP scene, just a few years ago.

So having this tech, would induce customers to get better hardware, wiring, ISPs etc, and would induce ISPs to provide better service.

Most of that Google can't do anything about, because it's not under their control.

And it's really a question of money. If you want to fix all those mundane problems you describe, literally every one can be addressed by renting a better pipe and buying and setting up better equipment.

This Google product is clearly designed for high-end offices that already have all of those things under control.

Google owns one of the major consumer operating systems (Android) and a lot of videoconferencing goes via Chrome. They could absolutely be doing things like offering better connection quality metrics - look at how everyone currently ends up using a random shady "speed test" site.

That exists now. If you Google search ‘speed test’ (on mobile at least) the first result is now a simple speed test provided by Google.

Doesn't for me... but either way, they could do far more than that.

If I'm having connectivity issues to a person, I have no feedback as to what's wrong. If I'm having a connection issue talking to a person, I want to see my ping to their server, my ping to my router, my ping to my ISP, their ping to their router, their ISP, their server, how much packet loss... anything to help diagnose what's wrong.

Instead, when somebody turns into a slideshow with a robot voice, with no idea what's causing the problem.

Not for me, either on android or desktop chrome.

I don't know why, it's been around for at least 5 years. Maybe you have a Chrome extension blocking it.

Anyways, Google absolutely does provide that, as well as additional analysis/warnings in YouTube.

So Google's doing exactly what you're asking for.

This needs to be upvoted. Google no way innovated any of this. They will use their billions of dollars, combine that with free voice slave labor from Google 411 and image labor from captcha to train and lock more people in.

Tonari is an indie company, that probably can't "innovate" as fast as google.

Google is probably going to use this to start generating free video data and innovate something else later. It can be used for so many things: gait recognition AI, realistic models for facial expressions, and release that at then google conv.

To words. Fuck Google with their monopolistic BS

For what it's worth, Google used Meet internally for years before making it publicly available.

Normal video chat at its best is just kind of shitty though, so people don't have a whole lot of motivation to put in a bunch of work to make it still shitty, but slightly less so.

If I could get video chat that felt like real life, that'd be worth running some wires for.

Anybody here want to fork Mumble for a better UI and authentication experience?

Convenience and necessity. If the apex tech is so wonderful that its convenience becomes necessity, then it will become those proverbial stones on the bottom.

The poor you will always have with you

Thought: This could bring back phone booths.

If this tech turns out to be too expensive (for normal people) we could still use it on a pay-per-use basis, like with a "video conferencing booth". You'd schedule your call and reserve a local booth for both participants through an app. And most companies should be able to afford having one of these in the office.

I hate to say it but my first impression of this was that it looked like a visiting area for a prison. (Something about the bleak colour palette and minimalist display). But, I think that presents a similar long-distance use-case as the 'phone booth.' I wouldn't be surprised to see this as a pay-per-use option for prisoners/families. It's probably only a matter of time before the 'Echo Shows' capitalize on it.

Yeah I had the exact same impression. Still vastly preferable over a zoom call, but I expect I'd have to use it extensively before I can shed that association.

This is assuming that this somehow does allow me to interrupt someone's sentence — otherwise might as well do a zoom call.

I didn't realize the current state of prison phone systems in both the US and Canada...

2020 notes:

>["Why are jail phone calls so expensive?"] (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/why-are-jail-phone-calls-so-exp...) OCTOBER 13, 2020

> ["A mom’s $6,000 phone bill in three months: The push to rein in Ontario’s costly prison phone system"](https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-activists-see...) JANUARY 30, 2020

> [Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act] (https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6389) 03/25/2020

it would certainly sit comfortably in a black mirror episode, lol.

A fantastic twist would be a reveal showing that the other person (no longer) exists in the real world and is digital construct... or some forbidden knowledge is secretly interdicted and censored by big brother, body-snatching peoples avatars in real time.

Plot twist: the person behind the screen is actually sat there, everything else turns out to be a hologram!

That’s exactly the thought I have. I have a feeling it would be truly bizarre to sit down and talk to my mum or dad through this.

Better than what we have now

Well at some point prisoners won't have the choice in practice, because for safety and convenience remote video call will become the norm. This is the same paradox as social networks; making people supposedly closer, but in reality making humans further and further away.

It would have to be really futuristic to convince people to coordinate timings, reserve a slot, pay and drive to some location for a video call. FaceTime/WhatsApp are still good enough for most.

The office use case is probably more realistic, but some other related products (Surface Hub, Jamboard) haven't become as ubiquitous as originally imagined.

Remote job interviews.

No way anyone cares about visual detail for job interviews.

I agree with you, I'm also imagining these in public libraries, retirement homes, small village community centres. I just hope we don't end up with a bunch of incompatible, proprietary appliances that can't talk to each other.

That's just reminded me that phone booths were usually filled with advertisements for "escort services". I'm sure it wouldn't take long for this to come back in this brave new world

I doubt that very much. Consider these scenarios:

1. Call for free from home/couch with a regular camera in the privacy of my home.

2. Go to some location and pay a third party to do a less private call, and have a better visual experience.

The most obvious choice would be number 1 in 99.9% of all cases. In theory, privacy can be increased by creating a sound-proofed environment for your call, but in practice, that would easily become very expensive.

The main thing here is the radically improved UX (as advertised). With this kind of tech I might actually hook up with some remote friends with whom I currently just text (I don't really use video calls for anything other than work).

Edit: And even 0.01% of the video call market would be quite large. Naturally this idea wouldn't work if something like 10% of all video calls were replaced with these booths, they would be fully booked for weeks forward. ;)

Edit2: And we already know most people don't care that much about their privacy since they already use services like Google Meet and Zoom and whatnot.

I would like to see this as a franchised service for cafes and bars. It would be nice to be able to treat drinks and the 3d chat experience to a friend who lives in another country. And you know, some conversations are done better at a place other than family home.

Great idea.

I’d first go with an Internet cafe style booth booking. Book an hour slot and get your coffee included.

Setup cafes in major cities and I think people would use this - could imagine setting a meet with a friend in another country. Parents showing off their new babies. Etc.

I'd pay something for this but I bet there's more of a business market.

Totally unrelated but on the radio there was a company talking about making internet pods to be able to communicate without being in the open like in starbucks.

It seems we're seeing a second coming of distributed private comms.

> And most companies should be able to afford having one of these in the office.

Most companies don't give decent webcams already, I doubt they'd consider paying thousands for such a system.

This could bring fax machines back too. Draw something on a piece of paper, put it into the receptacle, and voila - it's instantly printed on the other side.

Or, I mean, live synced drawing tablets. Why paper? (Unless you like the feeling of writing on paper like me but I bet money they’ll replicate that sooner rather than later).

Really cool execution.

I wonder what the lag is like. I can imagine that's one thing that would break the illusion. I know with something like Zoom I've gotten used to managing the lag over time by taking turns with the other person. However, with the "live" feel of this, there could be an uncanny valley effect if the lag is subtle, but perceptible.

Another thought: this is being presented as ongoing research. I wonder what the corporate thinking is in presenting it now when it's still being tried out. Does Google want capitalize on remote meetings while it's still hot? If the pandemic wanes and we have more in-person meetings, this might not make as big a splash. I remember when I worked at Microsoft, I often noticed research announcements we'd make in public often wouldn't translate to actual product, so I got a bit jaded on any cool new thing that was announced without a product timeline.

The longer the project exists and the more people there are who get to try it, the more likely it is to leak.

To speculate, here are some reasons why keeping it secret longer might be hard:

  - They're going to do wider testing within Google.
  - They're going to start bringing outside testers in to try it.
  - They're going to start working with manufacturers.
  - Some newspaper got wind of it and is about to publish a story. (I think this happened with driverless cars?)
Apple is better at keeping secrets, and even they leak.

Also, it's nice for the people working on it when they no longer have to keep what they do a secret.

Edit: although, in this case, the timing mostly has to do with Google I/O starting today.

Google has plenty of dark fiber. I'm sure they could get something close to land line levels of lag for an office to office connection.

You gotta look at googles history:

GOOG 411 was free slave labor for voice sample Captcha is free OCR training first and now road sign detection and image training AMP so that google can capture the web flow in the name of improving performance

This will be data for AI models specializing in video features of humans:

"AI" generated realistic human expressions which can then be used to do so many things AI gait detection aI partial face reconstruction

These all already have further applications which are harmful and will lead to tie in with Google

And in none of the other cases above has google published their compiled dataset. They "own that"

Google is cancer

Zoom lag is an issue with Zoom, not the network generally. If you actually do wired, p2p on the same side of the same continent you can get rid of most of the lag. Current lag comes from services that aren't p2p and bad networks (e.g. wifi).

Yeah, I honestly hate how much Zoom has won because I've found it's the worst for latency. I have a mumble server running on a pi that blows the doors off Zoom for audio-quality and latency but it's unusable for casual groups because nobody wants to wear a headset and feedback destroys it.

Mumble beats nearly all service‘s in latency and audio quality because these two things are the problems it‘s trying to solve. Did you ever play around with Teamspeak? It‘s a bit worse on the latency side but more mainstream friendly. Personally I run a mumble server as well because it solves our problems but TS may be worth looking into for you.

> Yeah, I honestly hate how much Zoom has won

Zoom has won in the sense that MySpace had won, or perhaps in the sense that Facebook has won.

This too shall pass.

If they wanted to capitalise on remote meetings, I assume they would have shown one in the demo video. Instead they focused on family members reconnecting.

With the amount of data needed, one on one is probably easiest. We saw teams and zoom struggle to support more people in a call last year. It’s also nice to have them be true to size. Mini people might be somewhat uncomfortable.

It's advantageous to announce when you have a good working prototype so that when a competitor (e.g. Apple) announces something similar, the world is less impressed/amazed.

Advantageous even if you don't have a working prototype. See Microsoft vaporware

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