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Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen many kinds of scenarios where we’ve adapted to the situation and its limitations through the use of technology. Whether we’re using video calling platforms to attend online classes or hold work meetings, or catching the latest film releases on streaming services like Netflix, the way we communicate and consume culture and entertainment is undeniably shifting.
ARHT Media approaches this concept from a practical point of view – through holographic technology, people can be at any place, any time, without being restricted by any physical or time-related constraints. ARHT has developed HoloPresence, a technology that connects holographic speakers with real people, giving them an interactive hybrid experience that exists outside of physical limitations.
This technology will also be used at the 46th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) from August 15 to 31. As the event will be a hybrid festival with both in-person and online screenings, innovative technology like HoloPresence can help create interactive online and offline experiences.
TMS spoke with ARHT CEO Larry O’Reilly to learn more about how this holographic technology can change how we consume information.
Expanding holographic technology
Before becoming the CEO of ARHT, O’Reilly spent over 20 years at IMAX as the President of Worldwide Sales. At IMAX, his primary focus was convincing movie studios that the sheer benefits IMAX had to offer would outweigh the cost of the technology.
In late 2017, O’Reilly was hired by ARHT to write a new business plan for the company, and he became CEO the following year. He found a similar goal to achieve with his new company, and he simplified ARHT’s operations to focus on a specific aim. “I saw the opportunity to overcome a business problem – getting people to meetings and events that they are unable to be at," recalls O’Reilly. The company was also able to reduce costs associated with the technology by reducing the size of the displays, developing a standard suite of projects and training technicians all around the world.
“Now we have clients installing our technology to use it on an ongoing basis to reduce their travel expenses, reduce their carbon footprint by not flying as frequently and helping to provide a better work/life balance by having executives spend more nights at home due to reduced travel."
ARHT’s operations revolve around helping people who need to do presentations or train employees and clients, as well as offering a platform for lectures, meetings, entertainment and more. ARHT also has an online mainstage presentation space called the Virtual Global Stage, which O’Reilly says looks like a television-produced show, but costs much less. Allowing several speakers from different areas present as if they’re together, hybrid experiences have never been better.
“Typically we capture a person in one location and beam them live or prerecorded to one or more locations where they can interact with an audience as if they were there in person. Presenters appear life-sized, in high definition, appearing to be 3D without the need for 3D glasses and with no noticeable latency," O’Reilly explains.
ARHT presents its holographic technology through HoloPresence, which is aimed at revolutionizing our lives by connecting holographic versions of people to live events as if they are really there.
This pioneering technology allows for two-way communication, similar to what you’d have with face-to-face communication and interactions. The quality and innovation are pretty impressive, especially to those experiencing a holographic interaction for the first time. “The natural reaction of audience members is to get out their phone and record the holographic speaker because they can’t get over how good it looks and sounds," says O’Reilly.
“The most important thing we do is get people to events who couldn’t be there otherwise. The audience has the sensation that the person is actually there with them and, with the lack of latency, the holographic person can interact with an audience or others on stage with them in a natural, conversational way," he explains.
The realistic look and sound of the holograms are achieved through ARHT’s patented technology. Not only is the hologram beamed over to the audience, but the audience’s reactions are also captured and sent back to the presenter, enabling an actual two-way communication system.
“Typically we capture a person using a 4K prosumer camera on a greenscreen along with their audio using a microphone. This data is then compressed and encrypted and sent over the internet where it is played back life-sized and appearing to be 3D [in] 0.3 seconds or less anywhere on the planet," explains O’Reilly.
Aside from adapting to limitations caused by the pandemic, there are many benefits to this type of communication rather than physically traveling to give a speech or meet with clients. Not only does it reduce travel expenses and time, allowing for more flexibility in balancing personal and work life, but it can cut down on waste and a company’s carbon footprint and make it easier for globally spread groups to work together.
“A recent example was that a company wanted Condoleeza Rice and three of her colleagues for a panel discussion in New York but they were already booked for that date in San Francisco. So we beamed all four of them to New York, where they interacted with an in-person host on stage, as well as each other and the audience as if they were there. When the CEO of our client was asked how much it cost, her answer was, ‘It was priceless!'"
As an organization working toward greater sustainability and eco-friendliness, ARHT says it’s easy to measure the carbon savings of HoloPresence just by looking at reduced flying. With less travel, not only can users better measure carbon emissions, but HoloPresence also significantly lessens the emissions to start with. “Prior to the pandemic, about 30% of our inbound leads said that reducing their carbon footprint was why they wanted to use our services," says O’Reilly.
Recently, HoloPresence has even been used to facilitate speaking during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. The technology managed to ensure the speaker’s safety and spread his words impactfully all around the world.
“We captured Ukrainian President Zelenskiy in Kiev and beamed him into four major European technology conferences in London, Paris, Stockholm and Amsterdam, simultaneously. We had worked with him once before, but this was a very powerful way for his message to be heard while he is in the middle of a war."
In the upcoming HKIFF, HoloPresence will help make the event more interactive and enrich the experience for audience members and cinephiles.
“HKIFF is promoting their brand and their event by beaming in famous Hong Kong filmmakers into other events and conferences to introduce their movies and interact with the media – audiences are loving it!" says O’Reilly.
O’Reilly’s typical day-to-day as a part of a rapidly growing global technology company starts early and finishes late. Fittingly, HoloPresence is an essential part of his own work life to run company operations smoothly.
“The biggest difference compared to my IMAX days is that I spend way less time on planes, most often beaming in as a hologram to meet with clients and prospects," says O’Reilly. “Sometimes it’s important to physically go and meet with people and break bread with them to build a relationship, but once that is done, HoloPresence is an equally effective way to stay in touch."
With 75% of ARHT’s revenue coming from repeat clients in the past year, the value and effort ARHT puts into expanding the potential of global connectivity is apparent. O’Reilly thinks it’s essential to keep the bigger picture in mind. “I think the most important lesson I have learned is to act urgently but always with a long-term perspective," he says.
As much as HoloPresence already helps balance a personal and professional life, O’Reilly offers a tip to find even more balance between these two.
“My biggest tip is to make sure you take holiday time but plan for it well in advance," says O’Reilly. “If you communicate well in advance to your clients and colleagues that you will be away or offline during a certain period, generally they respect this and actually are happy for you."
What’s next for ARHT?
ARHT’s upcoming project with the HKIFF kicks off next week, and the company expects a steady launch of developing technologies they’ve created to roll out over the next year.
“We have just launched a new holographic display which is ideal for all retail applications and has been very well received," says O’Reilly. “We expect to double our revenue this year and again next year, so we are putting all the building blocks in place to do so."