Remember 3D TV? It flopped. Turns out nobody wants to wear silly glasses while watching prime-time sitcoms. Who woulda thunk?
But as I hold a pair of black spectacles up to my eyes, which are actually balancing my iPhone in a little slot like an old Viewmaster, the last thing I’m thinking about is how awkward this feels or stupid I look. Because I’m watching a video of my toddler, shot just a few weeks ago, eating breakfast in his highchair. It’s just another iPhone video shot on just another day. But re-watching it now, his rounded cheeks bubble up from the screen. His hair glistens with a quality of light that’s just not there in reproductions. And a bit of yogurt sticks to his lips, so real, so visceral, that I remember 3D video at its best is second only to real life.
This is Elsewhere. It’s a $50 kit launching today, made up of an iPhone app and a pair of glasses, that promises to turn any 2D video into 3D, giving the feeling of VR to just about any moving content. That includes all the videos on your phone’s Camera Roll, or anything that your phone’s camera can see, like a Netflix movie playing on your TV. Heck, you can even walk around your house with Elsewhere for an uncanny free trip that feels, at times, somehow more 3D than actual reality.
"If you look in mirror it gets even tripper," advises Aza Raskin, who invented the app’s patented 3D tech. "It looks like you can walk through this portal."
Raskin is both the former creative director of Firefox as well as a serial entrepreneur who founded Songza and Massive Health, two companies that sold to Google and Jawbone, respectively. But his wife, Wendellen Li, is the lead "chieftess" behind Elsewhere. Together, the two make what I can only describe as the most totes adorbs pitch team with whom I’ve ever Skyped, with a penchant for completing one another’s sentences:
"The insight came when . . ."
". . . we were in Joshua Tree, [discussing] Mandelbrot’s The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Everything from the distribution of galaxies to rivers are all fractals."
Their cat meows in the background. Raskin alludes to how he developed Elsewhere, using a new method he’d coded to process single-frame videos into stereoscopic pictures that mix in your eyes to appear 3D more realistically than other tricks used today. I assume it involves fractals, but I’m honestly not sure. When I ask?
"I’m just about finishing up a little [explainer] . . ."
". . . we’ve been working on how to convey it in writing for months."
It’s the sort of casual candor that you’ll never hear from a finely tuned Kickstarter campaign, precariously propped up on VC and crowdfunding. That's because Raskin is an entrepreneur with nothing left to prove, and Elsewhere is what Li calls "a project that happened to take the form of a company." It’s self-funded, and on the surface, unconcerned with monetization, subscribers, platforms, or business plans. Still, Elsewhere isn't exactly an art project, for Li. "What YouTube did for video, or Instagram for photographs, Elsewhere is trying to do for VR," she says.
By transforming your existing files with its platform, Elsewhere wants to give you a new perspective on your own digital fingerprint, from GIFs to videos, in mesmerizing, pseudo virtual reality. Shipped to your house in a mysteriously marbled black box without a discernible logo on the front, it feels refreshingly un-Kickstarter. Li compares it to the feeling of early MTV: a gritty and instant dose of a surprising new type of media.
Half personal project and half technical experiment, it doesn't have an ideal user the way VR does with gamers or professionals. Unless, of course, you count the creators. "Someone recorded a video of our first dance, and we were so in the zone, testing 3D, then [I was like] 'oh my god, Aza, look at this!'" Li remembers.
"We were crying," Raskin says. "We’d seen the video from someone else’s eyes."