PORTL Rebrands As Proto; Adds Mini Version Of Hologram-ish Transparent LCD Display
March 16, 2022 by Dave Haynes
The LA start-up that made a name for itself for using big transparent LCDs and clever lighting to create hologram-ish virtual presence experiences has done a name change to reinforce how it was the first to figure this all out, followed by copycats.
PORTL has re-branded as Proto Inc. – Proto meaning “first.” The company, in PR, says the name change “reflects the fact that the company was the first in the world to build a 2-way, interactive holographic communications platform. Proto was the first to beam patients into a major medical center for education, the first to allow a major CEO to introduce a new product in China without having to actually travel there, the first to present volumetric NFT display, the first to facilitate live interviews on major TV network during the Super Bowl, the first to allow consumers to become a hologram with just a smart phone. Proto is also the first to create a fully self-contained hologram device designed to be in every home and office.”
The company also picked up one of the top innovation awards handed out last week at SXSW (South By Southwest) in Austin, where it debuted a tabletop version of the big display design that’s been used to show live-streamed people at full human scale.
The size of shower stalls, those full-sized units are very much business to business, being used for things like live events. The pitch is that politicians, hired speakers and celebrities can make an appearance at an event without getting on a plane. They just go to a studio with the right set-up and stand in front a chromakey-ready screen. The Proto M (below) is touted as being small enough for homes and offices, and smaller means (let’s assume) substantially lowered costs.
What Proto does is very similar to what’s been done with chiller doors for grocery and c-stores that have transparent LCDs in them. The difference is in tweaking and greatly improving the lighting inside the unit (so visuals pop), and optimizing the lighting, shadows and other variables for capturing the person on camera. I’ve not yet seen this in person, but the demo videos all suggest it looks very much like the person is in that Proto shower stall-like enclosure, when it is just a screen and the person is across the room or across the country.
This approach doesn’t meet the purist technical definition of holograms, which should be truly three-dimensional and have volume. The visual on the transparent LCD is only as thick as the glass the display layer is sandwiched to. But as founder David Nussbaum reasonably explains, he had to call the product something buyers could get their heads around. The holograms of sci-fi movies is something people recognize.
Changing the name is interesting. It’s early enough to do that, and Portl was no doubt being looked up and labeled as Portal all the time. I have seen a handful of Linkedin posts and other material from display manufacturers and start-ups marketing the same thing. That was inevitable.
I’d be very surprised to see a visual quality shootout organized that puts the various products all in a row to see what looks the best, so these will get sold, in many cases, based on awareness, what people come across at trade shows and events … and, as always, on price.
Not convinced about the demand/viability of the tabletop units. It’s a bit reminiscent of dolls in display cases, and I don’t think they’d really up the experience from a Zoom or Facetime video call. Would people go to a studio or invest in a green screen set-up to do all this, or just launch a video call?
Then again, new product design is not cheap, so I doubt this was developed purely to scratch an R&D itch.