As glasses-free 3D display technologies go, Looking Glass Factory’s screens were already impressive at displaying holographic content — volumetric 3D video that up to a dozen people can view simultaneously from different angles. Today, the company is expanding its support for popular computer-generated content with the release of an Unreal Engine plugin, enabling developers to create photorealistic 3D objects and environments that float within the prism-like displays.
Prior to Unreal support, Looking Glass screens could display volumetric video footage captured by multiple cameras, as well as simpler CG content created in Unity. But Unreal Engine’s best-in-class 3D rendering capabilities have allowed developers to create visuals for sci-fi TV shows, Weather Channel mixed reality experiences, and untold numbers of games, often photorealistic enough to blur the line between reality and CGI.
A car rendered holographically with Unreal Engine could look indistinguishable from the real vehicle, yet be fully rotatable in 3D using the display’s touch controls. Over time, holography is expected to become a critical visualization tool for businesses, as well as a popular way for retailers to attract attention using virtual 3D content. Unlike augmented reality solutions that depend on users to wear glasses and potentially carry around controllers, Looking Glass’s holographic screens are fully self-contained, with no need for glasses, yet their content is guaranteed to be visible to any user.
Looking Glass makes 8.9-inch, 15.6-inch, and 32-inch (8K) holographic displays, all of which support the new plugin. While the smallest development kit can be had for $599, the larger ones start at $3,000, and all of the screens are intended for use by businesses rather than typical consumers. Plugin developers can also use the Leap Motion Controller, enabling touch-free gesture controls as an alternative to physically touching the display or a joypad.
Unreal Engine support for Looking Glass has been in the works for roughly a year, as Geodesic Games showed off a prerelease version of the UE4 SDK in April 2019. At the time, the developer said it built custom lenticular shaders and input systems that enabled Unreal objects to be rendered simultaneously from multiple perspectives and controlled through either touchscreen or controller input. The finished plugin supports Unreal Engine 4.24, requires Visual Studio 2019, and is Windows only. It’s available for download now.