How To NOT Do Holograms: Star Trek Picard

Among other, much more important things (like story, characters, dialog, etc.), one of the things that really bugged me about Star Trek Picard is how the show uses holographic interfaces. In short, it’s bad. Like, really bad. I know what they were going for: “This isn’t your daddy’s Star Trek; this is the future now.” (Implicit in the statement is that it isn’t for Daddy, ie the people that actually are Star Trek fans (the average age for Trek conventions is…not as young as anime conventions, to put it gently), but that’s besides the point.)

Now, not everything they do with holograms on the show is bad – just most of it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having Picard’s room on the ship, where they had the “conference” scenes in the first part of the show, be a holographic recreation of his office on Earth (and the fact that it lets the show reuse the set is a bonus). The whole point of the holodecks in the show was that you could do that kind of stuff. Heck, they could have had the whole bridge be a holographic bridge. Probably should have done that, actually, instead of what they did (and they should have kept using Picard’s room for conferences later, instead of the park tables of later episodes). The bridge set was already pretty similar to Voyager’s or DS9’s holodeck sets; I kinda expected them to go that route, at first (especially since they already have a holographic crew…).

No, where they go wrong is everything else. Look at that. Looks cool, right? Well, it’d suck to actually use it. Look how dim it is. Compare that to, say, Mass Effect:

Easy comparison to make.

A proper interface would be easy to see. In STP everything would be hard to see. In ME the interface is bright, easy to see. And it’s got a dark background, while STP has whatever is behind the hologram, every time. Which is usually something not much darker than the hologram itself. How are you supposed to read anything like that? There’s a reason ereaders and phones these days have high-contrast modes.

Also, specific to the interface used for piloting the ship, that interface tracks head movements. But you’ll notice that it’s a lot larger than a human’s field of vision, let alone the useful field of vision. Remember, the useful field of vision for anything like this is only a few degrees, not even five. If what you’re looking at is only a little bigger than that (like a single computer screen), you only have to move your eyeballs, but if it’s as big as Picard’s interface up there, you have to move your head. Not a huge problem…unless it tracks with head movements. This is shown multiple times in the show (including that above scene) – this would be supremely annoying to use. And of course the center part is completely empty of information, despite the fact that that’s exactly where you’d want to put the most important stuff.

A hologram inside a hologram…

Of course, the reason this was done was purely because it “looks cool”. Sure, the interface makes absolutely no sense from an actual human perspective. But you don’t need “tacky” flat screens, no touch screens that need to be on-set. You can just film the actors waving their hands around, poking at the air, and then try to make what they do make sense in post. It’s yet another example of modern Trek (and Hollywood in general) not thinking things through, but merely doing what is cool and easy.