Bringing Life-Size Human Holograms to Live Audiences Over 5G

BUCHAREST, Romania—As thousands of rock fans gathered in Bucharest for a Vita de Vie music concert at the Romexpo and others prepared to watch online, they had no clue they were about to witness a spectacular world-first. The four guitarists, a drummer and a keyboardist were preparing to perform in perfect sync on stage. What if I told you only three of the four guitarists were actually standing on that stage, and that one of the guitarists was in fact a life-size ultra-realistic hologram standing in a studio a couple of miles down the road?

Let me explain how this was made possible. The short answer is the power of Vodafone Romania's 5G network. The longer answer involves an exciting combination of Dejero’s state-of-the-art mobile transmitters and receivers, Musion 3D’s Eyeliner display, a leader in ultra-realistic, life-sized, interactive 3D holographic video shows and effects, and last but not least Vodafone Romania’s rock-solid 5G network.

The hologram technology was created using projection or high-pitch LED to give the illusion to the audience through reflection, light, shadow, movement and contrast.

At Vodafone Romania, we have been spearheading the rollout of 5G worldwide, launching and extending our first 5G network subscriptions across the country throughout 2019. When Luca Mihail, a talented 11-year old guitarist with severe stage fright, was asked to join rock band Vita de Vie in front of hundreds of rock fans during their performance, the production team called on us to help out. We had to find a way Luca could still perform without the intimidation of a live audience. So, with the help of Dejero and Musion 3D, Luca was placed, over our 5G network, on the stage holographically while he played in a private studio two kilometres away.

We relied on a Dejero EnGo mobile transmitter equipped with Smart Blending Technology for uninterrupted transmission of Luca’s hologram over the 5G network. The signals were synced to both the venue and a return video and audio feed to Luca in the nearby studio. Dejero also assisted the production team with its renowned technical support during project conception, setup and live production.

The image capture room utilized Musion 3D’s patented Holicom Film technique that included a monitor for Luca to see the audience without feeling the pressure of actually being there live, on stage. Musion 3D designed the stage with considerations about how the illusion would look to those in the audience and those streaming the event live on television and social media.

5G offers a significant improvement in performance, especially in cases where cellular networks become congested. In this case, the 5G technology guaranteed the high quality of image and audio transmission that was needed to deliver this spectacular display, something that would not have been possible before. This project involved moving a large amount of data across our 5G network between the two locations—where Luca was located and the live concert. Latency became the driving concern as without absolute synchronization between the audio and video channels, the effect would fall flat. Even the slightest delay would cause a ripple effect between hearing the audio and seeing the visual representation of Luca on the stage. There was essentially no room for error.

Our collaborative effort didn't miss a beat, creating the perfect synchronization of image and sound that is required to enable the audience to suspend their disbelief. Any glitch and the illusion is shattered. It was a tall order and we succeeded. All in all, this event allowed us to demonstrate that next-gen 5G networks with higher uplink speeds can support more demanding, high-bandwidth content.

A stunning world-first project that one journalist compared to “Armstrong’s first step on the moon”, the event gathered thousands of fans, was live-streamed on Facebook and became Vodafone’s 2019 flagship television commercial in Romania—with over 2 million YouTube views to date. The project was also nominated for three awards at the 2019 International Broadcast Convention (IBC), winning an IABM BaM award in the Project, Collaboration or Event category, and a CSI Magazine award for “best 5G project or innovation.”

Although holograms have appeared on stage at live events in the past, the cost, technical restraints and setup time previously involved have rarely made it justifiable. Now, with the use of 5G combined with holographic technology, we will see it taking center stage not just in the field of live concerts and entertainment, but also in TV production, keynote speeches and other industries around the world.

Catalin Buliga is a seasoned senior technology leader with 30 years of experience in the Fixed and Mobile Communications Industry, out of which 14 years have been spent with Vodafone and 7 years with Liberty Global. Passionate on how technology developments can improve people’s life, he headed up the launch of the Vodafone Supernet 5G network in Romania in July 2019.