The next big thing coming from Red Digital Cinema is not what you expected from the camera company — or, then again, maybe it is. Red’s newest offering is Hydrogen, a $1,200 Android phone with a 5.7-inch “holographic display.”
The company has started taking prepayments for the phone, which it said will ship early in 2018, in both aluminum ($1,195) and titanium ($1,595) editions.
The device will be able to control and monitor signals from the Red Scarlet, Epic and Weapon camera systems, but Red’s messaging centers on something called “Red Hydrogen 4-View content,” or H4V.
“Hydrogen One is the foundation of a future multi-dimensional media system,” the company said in a PDF announcing the product. “The Hydrogen System incorporates a new high-speed data bus to enable a comprehensive and ever-expanding modular component system, which will include future attachments for shooting higher quality motion and still images as well as Hydrogen format holographic images.”
In a post at reduser.net, Red honcho Jim Jannard offered scant embellishment. He promised that the phone’s display will be superior to more commonly available lenticular screens, and that it will offer four views of content rather than two (stereo) views. He said the phone will have internal storage and a MicroSD card slot. Most importantly (this is Red we’re talking about), he confirmed that the phone will have forward- and rear-facing cameras.
“These cameras will not produce cinema-quality images,” Jannard wrote. “No cell phone does. What we will have is a modular system that adds image quality well beyond any other camera short of our professional cameras.”
More details may be sussed out in a recent patent application credited to Red leaders Jannard and Jarred Land, as well as Stephen Pizzo and Hector Ortega, the co-founders of Element Technica, which became part of Red in 2013. Still pending, the patent covers a number of layered design elements related to a cell phone housing that can accommodate a front plate with display, interchangeable screw-on rear plates, and electronics (including an image sensor) sandwiched in between, with the ability to mount different lenses and lighting fixtures (for instance, multiple LED lights around the lens or around the phone’s body) on the device itself.
If you’re surprised to see Red apparently attempting to break into the high end of the consumer electronics market, don’t be. The company gave it a shot back in 2013, when it shipped the Redray 4K playback system. Redray was supposed to be part of a 4K ecosystem that would also include a Red-made laser projector and 4K content distribution network for getting content from creators to consumers. The idea didn’t catch fire beyond the Red faithful, and the projector never made it to market.
Red’s power play with Hydrogen may be a similar attempt to create an ecosystem for creating and distributing three-dimensional — or “holographic” — content as well as AR and VR material that doesn’t require special headwear to experience. It’s hard to tell how successful that bid may be until Red gets Hydrogen samples in the hands of early users who can evaluate the visual experience — and until we learn what goes into developing H4V content, and whether Red can whip up enough of an audience to make it worthwhile.
And if none of that happens, it could still be a great cell phone. As DP Dominic DeSantis mentioned in a post at reduser.net: at least it has a headphone jack.