The mysterious Project Starline with stands for video chats from Google was announced as part of the Google I/O 2021 conference. A year later, the company is still developing the idea, announcing expanded corporate testing with third parties. Google claims it is also working to make Project Starline more accessible.
While for video chat at home, only a tiny camera above the laptop screen is enough, Project Starline implements the idea of 3D video chat in a sitting booth measuring 2×2 meters. The goal is to create the impression that another person is in the room with you.
As for what Project Starline really is, Google’s research paper goes into a lot of detail. The video booth display houses 14 cameras and 16 infrared projectors that work to create, capture and track a photorealistic 3D avatar of the user in real-time. Four microphones and two speakers don’t just reproduce speech — spatial sound and dynamic beamforming make speech sound like it’s coming from the avatar’s mouth.
Sending a 3D avatar over a video chat connection allows Google to correct the eye line, which is always a problem in regular video chat. Where a webcam above the display makes eye contact impossible when looking at the screen, a 3D avatar can bridge the gap between the center of the camera and the center of the display, providing mutual eye contact. Google processes all this data on a powerful workstation with two Xeon processors with four NVIDIA GPUs (two Quadro RTX 6000 and two Titan RTX).
The display is a 65-inch autostereoscopic lenticular panel with 8K resolution and a refresh rate of 60 Hz, which generates a life-size 3D representation of the avatar without glasses. Google engineers even created a small barrier between the structure and the display to hide its lower part. So instead of the avatar cutting off when the user’s gaze falls to the bottom of the screen, its physical overlap tricks the brain into thinking that the rest of the avatar exists behind the barrier.
Project Starline undoubtedly expands the already huge market of equipment for corporate meetings, but has several limitations. Equipment for corporate meetings is usually focused on a large group, and Starline works only with one person face-to-face.