Testing Google’s Starline A Promising 3D Video Chat Experience

Testing Google's Starline A Promising 3D Video Chat Experience

Google’s Project Starline: Taking Video Chats to the Next Level

At Code Conference 2023, I tried out Google’s latest version of Project Starline, the company’s stab at making video chats far more engaging by adding depth, like 3D video. It’s a tall order for a population exhausted by years of Zoom chats over small computer screens during pandemic-imposed lockdowns, but I found it far less draining to have more humanity in my distance calls.

In a world where video calls have become the norm, Google is pushing the boundaries of remote communication with its latest innovation, Project Starline. Introduced at Google I/O 2021, Project Starline aims to make video chats more immersive and engaging by adding depth, simulating a 3D effect on a flat screen. With the pandemic forcing people into endless Zoom calls, the need for more genuine and meaningful interactions has never been greater.

The first version of Project Starline, which impressed tech journalist Scott Stein during his hands-on experience last year, required a full booth with tech and sensors. However, the new portable version accomplishes the same level of remote interaction using 3D technology to convey body language cues. Google believes that this level of engagement improves both the conversation experience and the rapport between participants. Andrew Nartker, the general manager of Project Starline, explained that the technology allows individuals to form new relationships and establish trust by providing a sense of presence.

Entering the Project Starline demo room, I was greeted by a hotel room adorned with decorative white frills. Sitting in front of the desk, I faced the modified flatscreen TV-sized Project Starline unit. This new version, equipped with six cameras, tracked not only my body position and movements but also the exact location of my eyes. By presenting slightly different images to each eye, the 3D effect was achieved, reminiscent of the blue-and-red 3D glasses of the past.

Google recognized that while coworkers who were already acquainted could manage with standard video calls, those who hadn’t met in person struggled to connect. Project Starline addresses this challenge by utilizing a TV-sized display that captures participants from the waist up, providing depth that conveys realistic gestures, shifts, and direct eye contact. With a fabric arch at the bottom of the screen guiding the user’s gaze, the Starline setup fosters better bonds over long distances.

According to Nartker, Project Starline captures nonverbal cues, hand gestures, and even subtle leaning movements that are often lost in conventional video calls. These cues are crucial for intuitive and meaningful conversations. During my demonstration, I experienced firsthand the power of 3D engagement. Being able to observe Nartker’s reactions and movements as if we were in the same room allowed for a more authentic and focused conversation. The 3D effect remained intact even with my glasses on, providing a truly immersive experience.

One notable finding by the Starline team is that participants using the system retain more information compared to traditional video calls. Since the human brain remembers experiences using spatial memory, incorporating depth into conversations results in a more vivid recall of the interaction. Nartker explained that this enhanced memory contributes to more thoughtful and productive outcomes in business meetings, underscoring the potential of Starline in bridging the gap between video calls and in-person interactions.

While Google has not disclosed the pricing details for a Starline unit, it is expected to be more cost-effective than expensive travels for executives or team gatherings. The new Starline prototype was introduced at Google I/O 2023 and has been showcased at select venues, including Code Conference, to gather interest and receive feedback from potential partners. Salesforce has already collaborated with Google to refine the Starline system, and discussions at Code Conference centered around exploring the possibilities of eliminating unnecessary travel by using Starline for pivotal meetings and negotiations.

Currently, both participants in a one-on-one Starline call require their own Starline unit, which includes a TV, camera, and speaker. Setting up the system takes a full day, making it challenging for impromptu corporate calls. However, Google aims to make the technology more accessible by shrinking the setup size using AI innovations. The team is actively exploring different form factors and envisioning a future where the same depth effect can be achieved with simpler systems, potentially enabling Starline to be used on laptops with a single webcam.

Project Starline represents Google’s commitment to redefining remote communication and making video chats more meaningful and engaging. By bridging the gap between physical and digital presence, Google is paving the way for more genuine and immersive interactions across distances. As the technology continues to evolve, Project Starline has the potential to revolutionize not only business communication but also personal connections in a world that is increasingly reliant on digital interactions.

Google’s Project Starline prototype