What does a hologram-obsessed entrepreneur do for a second act after setting up a virtual Ronald Reagan in the Reagan Memorial Library, or beaming Jimmy Kimmel all the way from Hollywood to the Country Music Awards in Nashville?
If that entrepreneur is David Nussbaum, the founder of PORTL Hologram, the next logical step is to build a machine that can bring the joy of hologram-based communication to the masses.
That’s the goal thanks to a new $3 million round that Nussbaum’s company raised from famed venture investor Tim Draper, former Electronic Arts executive Doug Barry and longtime awards-show producer Joe Lewis.
Barry is not only backing the company, he’s also coming on board as its first chief operating officer.
Much of this interest can be traced back to the hologram performance given posthumously by Tupac Shakur back at Coachella about eight years ago.
Nussbaum turned the excitement generated by that event into a business. He bought the patents that powered Tupac’s beyond-the-grave performance, and used the technology to beam Julian Assange out of the Ecuadoran embassy he had been holed up in during his years in London and making dead stars live (and tour) again.
Those visual feats were basically just an updated version of the Pepper’s Ghost technique that stage illusionists and moviemakers have been using since it was invented by John Pepper in the 19th century.
The PORTL is a significant upgrade, according to Nussbaum.
The projector can transmit images any time of the day or night, and using PORTL’s capture studio-in-a-box means that anyone with $60,000 to spend and a white background can beam themselves into any portal anywhere in the world.
The company has sold a hundred devices and already delivered several dozen to shopping malls, airports and movie theater lobbies. “We’ve manufactured and delivered several dozen,” Nussbaum said.
Part of the selling point, beyond just the gimmick of the hologram’s next-level verisimilitude, is its interactivity. Through the studio rig and PORTL hardware, users can hear what people standing around the PORTL are saying and then respond.
For its next trick, PORTL is looking to build a miniaturized version of its system that would be about the size of a desktop computer and could be used to both record and distribute the holograms to anyone with a PORTL device.
“The minis will have all of the features to capture your content and rotoscope you out of our background and have the studio effects that is important in displaying your realistic volumetric like effect and they will beam you to any other device,” Nussbaum said.
To build out the business, the PORTL minis will have more than just communications capabilities, but recorded entertainment as well, Nussbaum said.
“The minis will be bundled with content like Peloton and Mirror bundled with very specific types of content. We are in conversations with a number of extremely well-known content creators where we would bundle a portal but will also have dedicated and exclusive content… [and] bundle that for $39 to $49 per month.”
It’s a vision that Nussbaum admits is far more expansive than his intentions — and the person he has to thank for the more ambitious vision of the business is none other than Draper.
“When I started this I thought it was going to be a novelty company,” he said. “When the pandemic hit he knew we needed to do much more than that.”