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I saw the Red Hydrogen One phone with my own eyes

No notch -- just holograms. Kinda.

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A Red Hydrogen One phone prototype was shown off Saturday at Red Studios. This one has a cinema camera module attached.

Patrick Holland/CNET

"There is no way to describe or show the 4 view (4V) display other than seeing it in person. There's just no way," says Red founder and CEO Jim Jannard to a crowd gathered at Red Studios in Hollywood on Saturday. "We want everybody's first experience with Hydrogen One to be like yours: In person."

Most people aren't familiar with the company Red or its cameras, but if you've watched The Hobbit, Straight Outta Compton or pretty much any Netflix original show, then you've seen what the company's high-end cinema cameras are capable of.

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Here is one of three titanium Red Hydrogen One phone prototypes in existence.

Patrick Holland/CNET

When the company announced last year that it was launching a phone, many people were left scratching their heads. This wasn't Apple, Samsung, Google or any of the other big phone makers announcing a new product. This was a niche camera company -- albeit one that started as an outsider and grew to become a dominant force in film and TV production.

Red Hydrogen One gets holographic

I go into a black booth with sound-proofing on the walls and sit on a stool. I am handed a prototype of the Red Hydrogen One phone which is chunky and big. An iPhone 8 Plus in an Otterbox case is smaller.

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Red CEO Jim Jannard prohibited people from photographing the display. When he showed me his titanium version, he turned the display off and asked if I wanted a picture of the front.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The sides of the aluminum body are scalloped, mimicking the lens mount lock on the company's cinema cameras. Despite the size, it's comfortable to hold.

A loop of photos and videos shot with the Red Hydrogen One plays on the display. There are also clips from movies that have been adapted into Red's 4V format, such as Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Avatar and the Pixar animated film Brave.

My reaction? I was impressed and couldn't believe how well the effect worked. It's part hologram and part 3D. It's not that the image hovers over the screen, like R2-D2 projecting Princess Leia in the original Star Wars film. It's more that there were layers of depth to the image. It's as if the screen was a proscenium theater and some parts of the image were up front and close and other parts of the image were farther away.

The overall effect was immersive. No matter how much I moved the phone, the 3D effect was there. It worked in both portrait and landscape.

The highlight reel ended with the arrow split scene from Brave. Merida releases the arrow from the bow and it flew right at me -- almost like it was coming off the screen.

If we look at the 3D device spectrum, the Amazon Fire phone would be on the bad end. The Hydrogen One phone would be on the good end. And the Nintendo 3DS is somewhere in between.

Skype, Facetime and hologram chat

I go to another booth for a different demo of the Hydrogen One. This time I video chat with another person. There are two front-facing cameras to create the 4V look. She shows up on my screen and there's depth to her face and head. Her image doesn't project magically over the screen. But no matter what angle I tilt the device, I see that depth.

I think to myself, "OK, this has some real potential." Video chat over Skype or Facetime is a powerful tool for connecting with someone far away. But a hologram could take that to another level.

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Red held an event at its studios showing off working prototypes of its Red Hydrogen One phone. Here I had a 4V portrait taken with one.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Leia, Lucid and the Hydrogen network

The event also showed a glimpse into a much larger world Red is creating to support the Hydrogen One phone and its content.

Last fall, it was revealed that the company Leia was the force behind Red's 4V display technology. But Leia will also be integral in helping game developers transform games to take advantage of that display.

Lucid demoed how VR180 content -- normally viewed on a VR headset -- could be watched on the Hydrogen One. They are partnering with Red on an unnamed 8K camera that captures 3D video. The Hydrogen One is used as the camera's viewfinder, allowing you to view content in 3D as you record it. I should note that Lucid plans to bring its 3D Fusion Technology to other dual camera phones later this year.

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And then there's the Hydrogen Network. It's exactly what it sounds like: A service to share and view movies, shows and original content made or adapted for Hydrogen One phone's 4V display.

The future lies with AT&T and Verizon

The biggest obstacle Red faces isn't necessarily finishing the Hydrogen One or getting support from carriers. Last week, both AT&T and Verizon announced that they would be carrying the phone. What Red and Jannard need to figure out is how to show people the phone's 4V display. Otherwise, why would anyone drop $1,200 on an unproven phone? Or $1,600 for an unproven titanium version?

Throughout the preview event, we were told not to take pictures of the phone's screen because 2D photos can't show off the magic of a 4V display. I couldn't agree more. But Jannard may have a solution.

"We have little carbon-fiber display kits for AT&T and Verizon. It's like a little carbon-fiber theater. They are going to put them in the windows. When you walk up, you see 4-View content without glasses," said Jannard. "It's been 10 years since we had a 'Hey dude, check out my phone' experience. This is a 'Hey dude, check out my phone' experience."

Read: Red Hydrogen phone: Everything we know so far

Read: The 'holographic' Red Hydrogen phone has been delayed -- and improved

First published May 19, 11:38 p.m. PT

Update, May 22 at 5 a.m.: Adds information about Red's new 8K 3D camera.

Update, May 30 at 11 a.m.  Adding video and additional information.

Update, June 28 at 5 a.m.  Adds information about Lucid's 3D software