Volumetric video specialists 8i have announced their latest series B funding round has netted them a further $27 while also unveiling Holo, a mixed reality video app, powered by Google’s Tango technology.

We first reported on 8i back in 2015, when they unveiled their 360 volumetric video capture system, capable of capturing imagery and data from different viewpoints and stitching them back together in realtime, allowing the video to be viewed from different angles.

Now, in addition to the company’s previous 2015 series A funding round, 8i have announced it’s to receive a further $27M in funds from a series of high profile investors including Baidu, Verizon and Time Warner.

Up to now, 8i’s focus has very much been on virtual reality, with an early version of their ‘3D Video’ player launching for the Oculus Rift, even before the consumer version had reached market. However, the company’s latest direction embraces the recent wave of consumer devices to include Google’s ‘Tango’ depth sensing and capture technology. It’s called Holo, and it purports to “bring holograms to consumers” via pre-recorded volumetric video and augmented reality. 8i is making extensive use of the word “hologram” in the colloquial sense, though technically speaking their work does not involve holograms in the optical sense.

The Lenovo Phab Pro 2
The Lenovo Phab Pro 2

“As consumers are augmenting, mixing and creating new content on their smartphones on a massive scale, mobile presents an unparalleled opportunity for distribution of holograms,” said 8i CEO Steve Raymond. “We’re thrilled to have the strategic expertise and backing of leaders in media, technology, and communications as we bring audiences new ways to create and engage with content. With this global round, we look forward to partnering with our investors from the US, China, Europe, and Australia as we bring our technology to consumers worldwide.”

The app, which allows users with Google Tango-enabled phones—such as the recently released Lenovo Phab 2 Pro—is in beta right now with a release set for some time this year. It allows users to capture video of their real world and drop pre-recorded volumetric video ‘avatars’ (captured by 8i) into the scene which then pan and rotate in real time, matching the camera’s movement.

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8iStudiosVolCapRig_JonHamm
Actor John Hamm, being captured at 8i’s volumetric video studio

But while Holo looks like enormous fun, what of 8i’s plans for virtual reality? 8i CEO Steve Raymond says, “Our investment into mobile AR in no way diminishes our excitement for the many use cases that are emerging for our holograms in high end VR. What we are seeing are different kind of content creators embracing different forms of content for different consumption platforms.”

Holo is the first, low-cost entry step for content creation using their volumetric assets, but the company has already produced more ambitious projects with higher fidelity visuals, such as Buzz Aldrin’s Cycling Pathways to Mars (below), a “volumetric VR experience powered by 8i holographic technology and designed for HMD’s that enable 6-degrees of freedom,” which is due to premiere at SXSW next month.

8i-buzz-aldrin

“With VR and AR, we’re seeing the very beginning of a new generation of immersive media,” said Scott Levine of Time Warner Investments. “8i makes holographic human content a reality in this new era with its breakthrough volumetric capture technology, while lowering the barrier for creators. We’re excited to back this world-class team as they continue to push the boundaries of data compression and depth acquisition, and bring holograms to the mainstream with Holo on smartphones.”

We’re not sure what to make of Holo itself having not tried it just yet, but with the VR industry still in an embryonic state compared with more established media platforms, 8i’s multi-pronged approach to introducing its immersive technologies to a mass market audience with something fun and accessible is probably a smart move.

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  • Graham J ⭐️

    I don’t see adding “holograms” to videos taking off and holding a phone up to see the virtual world isn’t exactly immersive but it’s good that this type of thing is being developed. Clearly AR will eventually be common, so getting in position for that now is wise for 8i.

    On another note, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that gave Microsoft some rope on the whole “hologram” terminology but can we please not have that be the term for anything overlaid in AR? kthx

    • OgreTactics

      Through-screen AR is indeed only useful for tools like measurement, quick direction/information, 3D scanning/tracking/capturing and object like furniture overlay testing.

      And then there’s Virtual AR…

  • Mathieu Meunier

    I don’t really see this being used daily or even at all. It all seems like what clipart was for Word and what was the web when anyone could program a page with notepad.

    But I agree with Graham here, it’s good that there are tries and test to see what could be the future and to pave the road for the future.

  • Ian Shook

    If the recorded data can me tweaked to make eye contact with the viewer, turn it’s head a bit, etc, then this would be really cool for many VR/AR applications. Having a person for example walk you through the ins and outs of a car, how to install something, an in-game character talking to you, etc. I see potential if they can position it right. It’s either this or a game character doing it all. I’d prefer a human recording. And I just thought about this: Record animals for virtual zoos.

    • OgreTactics

      This is a prerecorded volumetric “video”. You are asking for semantic or contextual-based recorded loops which would be inefficient (although amazing). However I’m sure we will soon have realistic enough base photogrammetric model (the same capture method but high-def and for a fixed model) that we’ll be able to animate efficiently in real-time with skin/fat physics models, and a semantic-motion/face captured gesture library for realism.

  • This article’s so full of buzzword bullshit, I have no idea exactly what this is. lol

    • OgreTactics

      Videogrammetric 3D reconstruction of real-life captured models for tracked AR overlay.

      In human terms, this means 1. 3D volumetric videos of real people 2. Put accurately in you real-world environment with an AR camera on your smartphone 3. Which has absolutely no-point but to make you realise that without Tango/RealSense, your VR headset ain’t shit.

      • Uhhhh, yeah ….

        • OgreTactics

          It’s real-life people (or object) captured in 3D ie. converted in 3D objects made of voxels (volumetric pixels). And it’s pretty well done.

  • OgreTactics

    Tango. Yay Tango… And so, beside that horrible impractical Lenovo Phat, where the heck is Tango? If there was that much sense at Samsung they would not just release the slated-to-be disappointing Galaxy S8, but some sort of same form-fact but beefed-up Galaxy X with AR/VR development/experimentation/adoption in it’s sight, thus a supersampling-ready 4K screen and Tango, and a position-tracking pocket webcam coupled with cheap led arrays on the GearVR2

    But that would make too much fucking sense, why make way more profit with mid-term competitive advantage and marketing incentive over other brands when you can save profit by not making shit on the short term?

    We’ll see.