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Looking Glass Portrait: Photo frame that turns iPhone portraits into 3D holograms

The desktop glasses-free stereoscopic viewer wants to be a "memory machine."

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The Looking Glass Portrait shows 3D photos that look projected under the display.

Looking Glass Factory

The latest iPhones can take remarkably impressive 3D photos and scans, especially with the rear lidar sensor. But, of course, iPhones don't have 3D screens. The $349 Looking Glass Portrait is a 7.9-inch desktop photo frame-sized display with a built-in Raspberry Pi 4 computer that aims to be a 3D viewer for those photos, and a holographic mini monitor for interactive programs and 3D cameras. It sounds like a wild idea, and I want to try one out on my desk right now (I don't have one, yet).

The Looking Glass Portrait isn't that crazy an idea. Sony just made its own 3D glasses-free (aka, autostereoscopic) holographic display, but it costs a whopping $5,000. The Looking Glass Portrait costs under $400. And In a way, we've already been down this road before. The light field display is like a far more advanced Nintendo 3DS: Images can be viewed at a range of up 100 angles, and video clips played back at up to 60fps, but you have to stay in a certain range to see what's there. I saw previous pro-level Looking Glass displays years ago, and was instantly impressed by how weirdly the images seemed to really be there, almost real. The feeling, looking at the displays, can be uncanny. It feels like a little glass tank in which the images float like ghosts or captured holograms.

The Looking Glass Portrait can work on its own, storing up to 1,000 3D scans or photos, or can be paired with a Mac or PC. The display has its own PC and Mac software that converts your photos into Looking Glass-ready 3D images, and loads them onto the display. Like previous Looking Glass displays, which were aimed for professional or industrial use, it also works with a plug-in hand-tracking Leap Motion controller to reach into the display and control or move things, too. 

The 7.9-inch 4:3 display has a 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution, and in previous experiences with Looking Glass frames, the images are a little lower-res than normal photos. But the tradeoff of 3D depth and multiple viewing angles, and the way images feel projected into the glass, creates a weird glowing surrealism, too. Looking Glass' software already works with Unreal engine, Unity, Autodesk Maya and Blender.

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The display connects with a hand-tracking Leap Motion controller and could control things on-screen (like, say, a 3D phantom hand).

Looking Glass Factory

Looking Glass Factory CEO Shawn Frayne sees these displays as being stepping stones to holographic communicators. Depth-sensing cameras like iPhone's TrueDepth camera, RealSense camera, or the Microsoft Azure Kinect could record 3D videos that can be shown on the Looking Glass Portrait, or sent to someone else with the display. The cameras could also be used to puppet Animoji-like characters on the displays.

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The display works with a stand and Microsoft's Azure Kinect depth-sensing camera to record and display 3D videos. 

Looking Glass Factory

No one's wearing holographic AR smart glasses yet, but this desktop 3D viewer could be another way to get one step closer to a Star Wars-like hologram popping up on your desk for a chat. The display's available to order now ($199 for early orders), but it won't ship until mid-2021, according to Looking Glass Factory's preorder site.