CNN's Election Night hologram: How it works

Show of hands: How many of you had your minds blown when Anderson Cooper interviewed via "hologram" on CNN last night? I've been pretty hard on CNN about its technical foul-ups in the past, but I've gotta hand it to them on this one — that was a cool trick. Sci-fi technology in living rooms across the nation? Now that's some change I can believe in.

But what exactly is the deal with this taste of Star Wars tech? Did Cooper really see a 3D representation of, or was it all done with mirrors? Follow the Continue link to see how CNN added a taste of the future to its coverage.

Made possible by technology from SportVu and Vizrt, the setup is quite extensive. The person being projected into CNN's studio is shot on location by 35 high-def cameras in a ring. The cameras capture the subject's entire body image and transmit it to the studio, synced with cameras in the studio so the image moves properly. Both infrared as well as visual information are used to ensure the image is properly rendered. Dozens of computers on both sides are needed to process all the data for the system to work.

The result: a full-color 3D representation of a remote correspondent on the studio floor that the host at CNN headquarters can have an apparent face-to-face conversation with. The overall effect puts R2-D2's projector to shame, although it's not quite as polished as the holo-communicator on Deep Space Nine.

But what did Cooper actually see? It seems pretty clear from this video that the host in the studio is watching the monitor "behind" the hologram, and that the system isn't actually projecting a 3D image onto the studio floor. We're still a number of years too early for that, but recent developments in holographic tech might make that a reality by the time President Obama leaves office.