CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin's virtual visit to the network's New York studio from a trailer outside President-elect Barack Obama headquarters in Chicago may not have been a hologram, as dozens of bloggers have spent the last 48 hours pointing out, but it was a tantalizing glimpse of the future.
On Tuesday night, during CNN's election coverage, host Wolf Blitzer warned viewers that "I want you to watch what we're about to do, because you've never seen anything like this on television."
On cue, Yellin appeared to materialize in the New York studio, in a fashion similar to the fabled Star Trek transporters. In this case, of course, Yellin was not recreated atom by atom; instead, 35 high-definition cameras were used to capture her image. Twenty cameras in Chicago crunched the image data and transmitted it to the New York studio, where additional computers synced camera movements there with the shots of Yellin in Chicago. Further processing power was used to mesh Yellin's image with the feed from one of two New York cameras.
Not a Hologram -- This Time
Although CNN dubbed the image of Yellin a "hologram," it really wasn't. But experts suggest it may not be long before a host like Blitzer could in fact see a holographic image in the studio.
According to researchers at the University of Arizona, it may only be another decade before it will be possible to purchase holographic television sets that will bring life-sized, 3-D scenes into the home, or make it possible to watch a holograph of Monday Night Football on a tabletop.
In a recent interview with CNN, Dr. Nasser Peyghambarian, chairman of photonics and lasers at the university's optical sciences department, told the network that scientists have succeeded in creating a 3-D display that can be erased and rewritten within minutes.
In order to be commercially viable, such a display would have to have a refresh rate measured in fractions of a second, but Peyghambarian is confident the technical issues will be resolved.
"It took us a while to make that first breakthrough," he told CNN, "but as soon as you have the first element of it working, the rest often comes more rapidly. What we are doing now is trying to make the model better."
A 3-D Race
University of Arizona researchers find themselves in a 3-D race with Japan, which is aggressively working on holographic television. Japan's Communications Ministry has reportedly committed to making holographic television available by 2020.
The possibility of holographic television becoming commonplace will raise a host of questions about whether viewers can believe what they see. Some, no doubt, will remember the movie Capricorn 1 (starring O.J. Simpson), which portrayed the NASA moon landings as a product of Hollywood special effects.
For an industry that has struggled recently with credibility issues, the introduction of a new technology that threatens to eliminate any practical distinction between real and imaginary could be problematic. But perhaps viewers won't mind if the "Best Political Team on Television" consists of six or eight holographs that offer opinions while only appearing to take up space.