Election Night '08 News Marked by Holograms and Computer Graphics
Outside of that whole Presidential race thing, last night was also notable for a batch of new technologies being introduced by most of the major news organizations. While there's no need to launch a mission to save Alderaan, we did get a healthy dose of a holographic and computer graphics innovation from the cadre of political pundits and reporters at the networks and cable news channels.
First up, let's take a look at CNN and its bizarre 3-D holographic interviews. In case you were caught up in the excitement of last night and missed CNN's debut of its hologram technology, check out the video after the break. Using a mix of a special green screen, loads of cameras, and heavy computing power, CNN was able to beam people's 'live' bodies from a tent in Chicago directly into the New York studios.
Remember the holograms in 'Star Wars?' That's the easiest way to describe what this technology looks like, but how does it work? 35 high-definition cameras (built onto a ring surrounding the person being 'beamed') in Chicago were synced to the ones in New York, so as the cameras followed their free-wheeling paths around CNN's election center (in New York), the cameras in Chicago made the same movements. The 'footage' was beamed live to New York, allowing Wolf Blitzer to effectively interact (or at least look at and talk to) with 3D holograms.
As expected, the blogosphere reacted immediately -- the general consensus was that although the technology was pretty cool in a gee-whiz new gadget kinda way, the holograms verged on being creepy and unnecessary. The whole point of sending a reporter to a scene is to give the news a truly current, live, in-the-trenches feel, and the holograms, at least in last night's context, felt more like CNN just showing off new technology. Political Machine rightly likened the special effect to 'Star Trek,' while the folks over at Wonkette could have done without it entirely (the post's headline -- "Hey Everybody, Look at The Horrible Thing CNN Did" -- says it all). We've got to say that Wolf Blitzer interviewing hologram versions of will.i.am and reporter Jennifer Yelin wasn't nearly as cool as watching Luke Skywalker and company receive a secret message from Princess Leia in 'Star Wars.' Plus, unlike in the movies, Blitzer couldn't actually see the holograms he appeared to be talking to!
While other networks didn't mix live and hologram reporters in quite the same way, NBC, FOX News and other news organizations employed a bit of virtual studio magic of their own, placing their live reporters into interactive, multi-screened and interestingly columned (of the Greek type) settings and backgrounds. NBC's political analyst Chuck Todd never looked so credible as with loads of stats and graphics backing up his points, though the 'interactive set' looked awfully similar to the classic '90s puzzle game 'Myst.'
It seems the standard bearer for map-making and number crunching has been CNN for the last few election cycles. From the primaries onward, CNNs 'Magic Wall' has been putting the constantly shifting electoral college map into a graphically pleasing, sensible display. The Magic Wall is the brainchild of Jeff Han, founder and chief scientist of Perceptive Pixel, the start-up company that builds what he calls the Multi-Touch Collaboration Wall. "Multi-touch is a whole new way of working with the computer where you can actually use more than one finger at a time. That means both hands, that means all ten fingers, that might mean multiple users in front of a screen," Han told CNN. "Never have you been able to manipulate this many objects, with this many degrees of freedom, at the same time."
We agree. This is one example of top tech that was clearly useful for diving into the nitty gritty details on election night.