Testing the iPhone Hologram Viewer

Published on September 8, 2015

We explore how you can turn a regular smartphone into a working 3D Hologram viewer for around £3 / $5 (or even less!)

This is the story of how you can view 3D Holograms with nothing more than a smartphone and some plastic. I’ll show you how I learned how to create this:

I’ve recently been interested in 3D Goggles for smartphones (such as Google Cardboard) – the results are mixed in quality, but it’s a great introduction to 3D Applications.
But then my eyes were opened when I saw a Youtube video showing how to make a hologram viewer for your smartphone using nothing more than an old CD case:

Very cool! And easy to make. I love the simplicity of the idea – reflecting 4 images onto a 45-degree clear face, to give the illusion that the image is floating inside the pyramid. It’s the same technology that’s been used in stage magic for over a hundred years.
But I wondered, like the 3D Goggles, can you buy ready assembled kits? Well, it turns out that, yes you can:

I found a very inexpensive kit on eBay and ordered it from China. It’s a little sturdier than the CD case hack but essentially does the same thing.
In a couple of weeks it arrived, and I assembled it:

It’s a mixture of well-made and cheaper parts. The pyramid is just flimsy plastic scored and folded, then held in place with adhesive foam pads. But it does the job.
The next step was to try and create a working video to play on it. There are many editor tools that you could use, most prominently Adobe AfterEffects. But for speed, I used a mixture of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Flash; the latter is a good tool for quickly making animations and exporting them to video.

I began in Photoshop using its in-built 3D creator to turn the Beyond logo into a 3D model. Then, I used the model to create a revolving 3D logo and exported it to a video file. (Secretly I yearned for the retro 3D spinning chrome logo GIFs of the early 90s web!)

Next, I created a template in Flash that I could use to drop in the videos and run them all simultaneously. The coloured blocks are the shapes used to create masks for each.

Here you see the videos dropped in. I added in an overlay animation of pulsing rings to give it another dimension and then ran out the whole thing as video.
I edited the final video in Apple iMovie, and added a copyright-free music track. I then uploaded it onto my phone and, with help from Sarah Neville here in the studio, took a video of it in action!
I was happy with this first test – it seems to be quite forgiving in execution. I would have liked to try and make 4 different 3D videos, each viewed from a different facing angle and then see how that looked. That may be a next step.
I’d also like to try to use a tablet to create a bigger, brighter image – but to do that, I’ll need to create my own custom pyramid. But from the video, that looks like it’s the easy part!
So what use would this be for?
It could be used in a larger scale for immersive displays, or to visually describe a 3D object. I can see no reason why you couldn’t also make the video run interactively – for example, the ability to rotate and move the image or, who knows, maybe even a simple 3D holographic game?