Holographic gameplay on the go — A first look at the RED Hydrogen One phone

Gaming on-the-go is becoming more and more popular, and thankfully, mobile phones are rising to the task. I got to spend some quality time with a prototype of the RED Hydrogen One phone, an impressive phone with an equally impressive $1,200 price tag. You may not be familiar with RED Digital Cinema, but you’re undoubtedly familiar with what they’ve filmed: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, to name a few. The camera company, which has been responsible for capturing some of Hollywood’s most stunning movies, is taking a swing at the mobile market with the RED Hydrogen One, more than just a phone, it’s being billed as a pocket sized holographic media machine, and they’re bringing the gaming community along.

If the word ‘hologram’ conjures up images of Princess Leia, and leaves the words ‘help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi’ echoing through your mind, you’re not alone. Most people waiting to see the phone themselves had similar comments and expectations. The bad news is that the Hydrogen won’t create a perfect rendering of Carrie Fisher hovering inches above the screen, the good news is that what it does provide is something quite spectacular.

The holographic 3D display looks something like a high-def image from the Nintendo 3DS in the same way that the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake looks like the original; that is to say that despite a similar feeling, the Hydrogen One’s display is light years ahead of the 3DS. The Hydrogen One does not use eye tracking like the 3DS does, it actually projects beams of light above the screen, making it possible for multiple people to view the 3D display, providing a slightly wider area of viewing, and creating a beautiful, glasses-free, 3D picture that springs from the Hydrogen’s 5.7” QHD holographic display.

The major focus for the Hydrogen One phone is movies, which will be easily accessible through the 4-View app on the Hydrogen Network. RED has already created a process to allow for easy conversion of any 3D movie into a holographic movie, and also included media channels so they can be easily accessed through the phone itself. Watching clips on the phone was a delightful experience, and I did not experience the usual eye strain or inability to focus which I often experience when using the 3D features of the 3DS. While this, combined with the Hydrogen’s incredibly impressive sound system, which they call multidimensional surround sound, will undoubtedly make for some incredible on-the-go movie watching experiences, my real interest in the the Hydrogen is found not in movies, but in games.

Porting a game is never easy, but much like it has done for movie makers, RED is taking steps to streamline the process, allowing game developers to both create and port games to the Hydrogen One. Games can be created for the Hydrogen One natively through android, or they can be imported by using a special Unity plug-in. I was able to play one demo game, where you use the 3D touch to guide a fish through a level while collecting coins, but what really got me excited was the dungeon tour demo.

The dungeon tour was a dungeon map which the team found and imported to the phone via Hydrogen One’s Unity plugin. You don’t actually play this demo; you simply sit back and take in the three dimensional dungeon, complete with walls, vines, and stunning rays of light, as the camera pans back and forth. I couldn’t help but be excited about playing a game where even an empty map, originally intended for the two dimensional frame of a computer screen, could feel so rich and alive.

Daniel Geisler, a software engineer, walked me through the Unity tools, showing me a scene of an Indiana Jones-ish character standing on a cliff, preparing to cross a bridge in a dense forest. The tool is surprisingly user friendly, and consists of a virtual camera, which dictates what the player will see, a point of focus, which can be changed with a simple click, and the level of 3D. Geisler adjusted the 3D slider and, before my very eyes, the background went from slightly out of focus palm leaves to green blurs, as the figure himself moved closer to my eyes and came into sharper focus. Letting the short scene play out, I watched as the character advanced across the bridge, the camera following him from behind his right shoulder, the trees coming into better focus as the figure grew closer.

“It’s easy to change on the fly,” Geisler added, clicking on the tree in the background without pausing the game, as the focus seamlessly melted away from the character to the tree. The camera never stopped moving, the display never lost resolution, and the experience as a viewer was never degraded. It was a tantalizing look into what could be a surprisingly easy-to-access 3D gaming experience for creators and consumers alike, and I can’t wait to see more. Currently, only native Android and Unity development is supported, but a plugin for Unreal Engine is in the works. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of indie games, so it’s exciting to see RED providing a relatively easy to use tool to both allow and encourage indie developers to port their games onto this new platform. I guess it makes sense, as the Hydrogen One is being advertised as a tool for doers, makers and content creators.

Both AT&T and Verizon will be carrying the Hydrogen One upon launch in the United States, with Claro and Telcel carrying it in Latin America. While there isn’t a solid release date, we can expect it to hit markets late summer 2018. You can learn more at the Hydrogen One at the official website, or by following @RED_Cinema on Twitter.

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