On Saturday, May 19 RED opened its studio doors in Hollywood to give people a sneak peek of Hydrogen One, a smartphone packed with future-thinking tech including a holographic display that can show 3D images without the use of special glasses. Walking in, our initial intrigue was set on seeing how the display looked, but we quickly realized Hydrogen One is intended to be more than just a smartphone. Or as company founder Jim Jannard stated during a short speech, "Hydrogen One is the beginning of a very long program."
Tech and platform demos were stationed across the studio floor for features that RED will be rolling out and continuing to develop when the phone is released. Stops included the Hydrogen One, A3D Spatial Surround Audio, a 3D live viewing station, 3D "Facetime", 3D selfies, 3D stills, a Hydrogen One Network and the RED Leia Loft Gaming Central.
Did they have working models of the phone? Yes. Dozens. Participants would sit inside a three-sided black booth and view a pre-made video on the Aluminum version. Video clips included both 2D and 3D images, with sound, of movies like Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and a slew of others. While it would be easy for us to share our thoughts, review, praise or criticism of the display, we're not going to do that here. It was a working prototype so we are going to wait for launch to do a full review on its display.
What we will say is that RED is delivering what it promised. The Hydrogen One displays 4-View H4V format images and everyone is going to have a different first-time experience with it. One thing of note is that RED maxed out the viewing angle. We spun it in every direction. Turned it from landscape to portrait mode. Moved it parallel with our eyes. Looked at it upside down. Shook it. Brought it up close. Stretched it arm's length away. The phone didn't miss a beat.
The 3D "Facetime" station ran over wifi with no lag and users could send video effects like a swarm of hearts to each other other mid-conversation. The camera on the Hydrogen One also had its 3D selfies and 3D stills working. Another station live-streamed 3D video from a tripod to another Hydrogen One for viewing. So if you were wondering how you'll be able to view 3D content you're creating on set, RED has already figured out a solution.
In terms of build, weight and look, nearly everything MKBHD mentioned in his hands-on video was spot on. Holding the Aluminum version it is slightly heavier than the iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9, but that's expected with all the technology it's harnessing. The phone is slim though, fitting easily inside a pocket and wasn't noticeable sitting down. The side grips won us over quickly giving extra confidence when handling the device. A downside of the iPhone X is its rounded edges as the device can easily slip out of your hands without a case. We can't see ourselves needing or wanting to put a case on the Hydrogen One.
We asked about battery life, H4V file size, still photo file size, what modular components they're developing and when they might be available, but none of our questions were answered. On the other hand, Jim Jannard did have a Titanium version in his pocket and it looked very cool.
A3D Spatial Surround Audio
The audio capabilities of the Hydrogen One are utterly exciting. It's going to make Apple, Samsung and other players rethink how they approach sound in their devices. At the demo station an audio file was played through a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 II noise-cancelling headphones and it was remarkable. It was like sitting in a Dolby Atmos mix. You could hear low end, high end, different EQ, all the panning, the directional changes, depth, movement, distinction in similar sounds... Better yet, the audio file wasn't tailored for A3D Spatial Surround but rather "public domain" stereo sounds that were converted using RED's H30 algorithm that turns audio in a multi-dimensional experience. RED also said that the experience will be the same on earbuds, but since none were available, we will have to wait and see (or hear).
They did have another listening station without headphones and the experience with all the crowd noise around us was just as fruitful. While turning the device in any direction you didn't lose much sound clarity. With an iPhone, we tend to cup our hand behind the speaker so the sound bounces towards us in noisy environments. With the Hydrogen One we didn't need to do that.
Hydrogen One Network
One the more interesting parts of the demo journey was learning about the launch of the Hydrogen One Network. Through an app, Hydrogen One users will be able to download movies, shows and other H4V viewable content to stream on their devices. You could look at it as RED's version of iTunes. Though not fully confirmed, a desktop version may be in the works. Again, compression, file size, and pricing questions could not be answered.
If anyone from RED is reading, our one suggestion for the Hydrogen One Network would be to create a "Stock Video" and "Stock Photo" section for filmmakers and photographers. So let's say someone like Phil Holland shoots some amazing aerial footage of the New York skyline and we want to use it as B-roll in a project. A stock store could allow us to purchase said content from the Hydrogen One Network.
RED Leia Loft Gaming Central
Previously announced in September 2017, Leia, a spin-off of HP's labs, is partnering with RED to create interactive gaming content for the Hydrogen One. Developers can "join the revolution" and get early access to tools by visiting the link here. While gaming is not our bread and butter at NFS, it's good to see RED paying attention to the space.
If you're wondering why there are no photos of the Hydrogen One display in action, we were asked not to take any. We could have snapped a few pictures of the experience, but it wouldn't translate in a 2D photo. It really is something you have to witness for yourself. You can do that June 2-3 at the AT&T Shape event in Los Angeles by registering here. RED is planning on shipping pre-orders in July with a full launch in August on AT&T and Verizon networks. RED did not confirm if Hydrogen One will be at Cine Gear Expo so your guess is as good as ours.
We'll write a full review when the phone launches so we can share all the proper specs and thoughts on the final display. Jim Jannard closed by saying, "We have big aspirations to do something important. To do something people didn't even know to ask for. That's what drives us." If that's the case, RED is delivering.