Shenanigans! on Microvision

A few years back there was a lot of excitement about the invention of the pico-projector, basically a hand held video projector that uses either a laser or LED as its light source, having the advantage of being very power efficient and able to project sharply onto any surface at any distance. Weirdly, even though such a device would have been at the top of my geeky wish list 20 years ago, I have yet to really try one out probably because about a thousand other tech advances have happened in the intervening period leaving me with a little bit of technological ennui.

So anyway, I finally decided to have a look what’s available out there, and the very first site I hit was for Microvision’s SHOWWX laser pico projector. Awesome I thought, that looks really cool HANG ON A MINUTE…

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Figure 1. (detail from website screenshot)

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture?

Maybe it isn’t immediately obvious, but to my knowledge there is currently no known technology that can project darkness. And yet that is what this “actual photo” of the product in use is illustrating– Note that much of the projected image is actually darker than the rest of the [ambiently lit] door. What this indicates to me is not that Microvision have made a truly incredible breakthrough that most DARPA scientists would give up a gonad to achieve; rather it tells me that the company is happy to promote their products with DIRTY STINKING LIES which are compounded by the explicit claim of authenticity [see bottom left of the image]. It also implies that their web designers don’t even know how to use Photoshop properly, and because I am so lovely I offer here a quick lesson in getting this effect right.

First take your original shot of people pretending to use your mockup product as though it is real:

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Figure 2.

Then take your mocked up corporate bullshit screenshot:

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Figure 3.

Now clean up the target surface with the clone tools, paste the mockup into a new layer, then use the Transform tool position it on the original where you think would be a good spot, only this time don’t just adjust the layer opacity; instead choose the blending mode Screen (it’s called that for a reason).

Et voila! a reasonably accurate representation of what your bullshit product would look like if it actually worked* and was actually being used by your pretend office workers:

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Figure 4.

Sure it may not look as vivid as if you just threw verisimilitude out the window, but then you wouldn’t get pedantic assholes like me calling shenanigans on your ass! Of the six photos cycling on the page, there is at least one other faked shot seen here (see the red color channel) and the only one I would bet isn’t fake is this one.

But seriously, I am not really that upset that this company faked a product shot and called it real… It’s just that this particular mistake happens all the time and I am really sick of seeing it, so if this post can prevent just one pixel monkey from making this mistake again it will have been worth it.

Other places you can see this type of error include in-shot monitor images added to  TV shows in post-production… although it’s not as bad as it once was when chroma-key was employed to awful effect. A quick hint here for photoshoppers is to start with a picture of the TV turned off, then add your image as mentioned above (using the screen blend mode); this way the basic color of the screen and the reflections off it will be retained as they would in real life.

Another common example is the fake red laser sniper dot in cop shows… often it will be seen on a bright white wall or shirt, and the red dot will actually be darker than the surrounding surface**. Again, you cannot make a surface darker by shining more light on it!

UPDATE: An enterprising reader [who really needs to start his own blog] pwns me at Photoshop:

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Figure 5.

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* I do believe the thing works, here is video of a dude demonstrating it (and interestingly he even points out the “can’t project black” issue). The tech is actually pretty sexy, since unlike every other projection technology out there a laser scanning projector uses very little power when the source image is black. It seems the main criticism of this device is the “speckling” that you get from using lasers (if you’ve ever tried to look at a laser dot on a wall you’ve probably noticed the shimmering speckled quality of the light).

** In real life you can see the dot because it is so much brighter than a plain white surface, but on TV white things are often over-exposed already so a laser dot should be virtually invisible (solution: always show laser dots on dark surfaces, because even on a very dark color they will still show up very bright).