'Beam me up, Ted!' or how augmented reality works

Posted at 05/11/10 3:56 PM

MANILA, Philippines - On May 10, 2 rival networks in the country used "virtual reporters" in their respective coverages of the first fully-automated elections in the country.

ABS-CBN said it used a technology called "virtual presence," while GMA 7 claimed it employed the use of a "hologram."

Joel Lamdani, vice president of Orad Hi-Tech Systems Ltd., explained that virtual presence is a feature of an advanced technology called augmented reality (AR), which involves the integration of computer-generated graphics to real environments.

He said his company, which ABS-CBN tapped for its election coverage, has a patent on one of the technologies for AR, something he claims his company invented.

"[Augmented reality] gives you a lot of capabilities in production. [Those who use such technology] can do a lot of things, many sophisticated things you want to do in a studio," Lamdani told abs-cbnNEWS.com.

In AR, Lamdani said a person or an object is "taken from a totally different location and then brought into the studio in a position." This was made possible by bringing in a broadcast machine computer "with lots of video capability" and a "camera tracking technology" so they'd know how to align the virtual with the real world.

In the case of the Halalan 2010 coverage, ABS-CBN's Jorge Cariño was "brought in" the studio as they give their latest updates on the May 10 polls to make it seem like they're talking to ABS-CBN anchor Ted Failon face to face.

According to Lamdani, AR is being used by many big television stations in China and the United States. In the Philippines, ABS-CBN's Halalan 2010 coverage is the first time that AR is used in news reporting.

Although it may seem new, the AR technology was actually first used in 1998, when Barbara Walters, who was in New York, interviewed someone from Washington. Lamdani added that the AR technology also traces its roots from "Star Trek," a popular science fiction series, which popularized virtual reality imagery through teleportation.

Not a hologram?

GMA 7 has claimed that it used the hologram technology, which involves the use of 3D images and 360-degree cameras.

Anchor Jessica Soho, in a video posted at GMANews.tv, said they used the same technology employed by the Cable News Network (CNN) in its coverage of the 2008 US polls.

"Gumagamit ito [hologram] ng 3D image na pinapadala dito sa studio. Parang andito sila mismo sa studio, pero sa katunayan, nasa ibang lugar sila (This hologram uses a 3D image that is brought here in the studio. It's as if they're really here in the studio, when in fact, they're in another place)," Soho said in the said video.

Lamdani, however, begged to differ. He said that GMA 7 didn't use holograms but something which he called a "chroma key" technology.

"Channel 7 didn't use a hologram. They used chroma key technology," he said, adding: "Hologram is very expensive. You have to cover the person with 360-degree cameras and transport him. [GMA 7] used more of a chroma key because there's no smooth camera movement. It's not exactly what a hologram does."

Chroma key, often referred to as green screen or blue screen, is defined as a "technique for composting 2 images or frames together in which a color from one image is removed, revealing another image behind it." (View full definition here)

The technology is commonly used for weather forecast broadcasts, where the presenter stands in front of a large blue or green background, which appears as a large map. -- By Ma. Rosanna Mina and Karen Flores, abs-cbnNEWS.com. Interview by Isagani de Castro Jr., abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.

abs-cbnNEWS.com is the news online department of ABS-CBN Interactive Inc., a subsidiary of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.