The RED HYDROGEN – niche phone for the faithful or breakthrough tech for the masses?

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The RED HYDROGEN 5.7″ retina display smartphone is certainly an interesting concept. Whether you love or hate the company, you can’t deny that they have always strived to innovate and be different from everyone else.

The RED ONE

Back at NAB 2006 Jim Jannard announced that RED would build a 4K digital cinema camera that was eventually named the RED ONE. At the time people were very skeptical that they could actually deliver on their promise, but 16 months later they did. This put a camera that was capable of capturing 4K images in the proprietary Redcode format into the hands of shooters at a very affordable price compared to the digital HD-only offerings from other companies such as Sony.

While RED has released numerous ground breaking products over the years, they have certainly jumped the gun on announcing products that in some cases never ended up shipping. Who remembers the REDRAY 4K cinema laser projector? Or the “3K for $3K” fixed-lens SCARLET camera? That’s not to say the HYDROGEN will follow the same path, but announcing a product and then getting it to market can be two completely different things.

In some ways the HYDROGEN is a bit of a gamble for RED. The cell phone market is one of the most competitive businesses around, although I really don’t think RED are trying to steal massive market share from Apple, Samsung, or anyone else. The HYDROGEN looks to be more of a niche product targeted at filmmakers, especially once the additional modules and accessories become available. This could turn your phone into a mini digital cinema camera (although probably at significant cost), where you could build it up or down depending on what you need it for. This alone is an interesting concept. Electronic products in general are becoming more and more multifunctional. Remember when your cellphone just made and received calls? Things have certainly come a long way in a short period of time and companies need to continually innovate to stay relevant.

Is HYDROGEN just hot air?

I get it that RED need to hype up a product to not only gain interest, but also raise capital by way of taking pre-orders. It’s a smart business move on their part. Despite the fact that they haven’t even shown anything that even resembles a prototype, plenty of people jumped right in and were prepared to hand over their credit card details to secure their place in the queue.

This tells you two things. Firstly, that RED has such a loyal customer base that people are prepared to hand over money for a product they know very little about. Secondly, it tells me that people are willing to take a bet on RED because they do things differently than everyone else, and despite some products in the past never shipping, they think the potential reward far outweighs the risk. To be fair RED have said that you can cancel your order at any time and get a full refund.

Jim Jannard simply had this to say in response to why some RED users blindly ordered HYDROGEN today without even reading the release: “This seems incredible to those unfamiliar with the RED program. Over the past 10 years RED has gone from scam (announcing the impossible) to delivering the impossible… over and over. Our core customers have seen and participated in this process and have stories to tell. Apparently we have earned their ‘blind trust’ because we have not let them down. We understand that those unfamiliar with our history will certainly not get this.”

Innovation or market disruption?

Without anyone having actually seen the HYDROGEN it really is impossible to comment on just how innovative it is. On paper it does seem to have a lot of potential. So let’s have a look at what it offers.

Display

The display options are perhaps the HYDROGEN’s biggest selling point. With a 5.7″ Professional Hydrogen Holographic Display where you don’t need to wear glasses, support for holographic RED Hydrogen 4-View content (H4V), and viewing modes for AR, MR, VR, Holographic, 2D, 3D in Landscape or Portrait there is a lot to like. Jim Jannard claims that the

“Holographic Display is incredible. It is multi-view (4-view) as compared to stereo 3D (2-view). Watching shocked faces light up when people see it is really motivating. There is no good way to describe it until you see it. Hopefully we will get some skeptics eyes on it soon… then they can tell you. Our display is technology you haven’t seen before. It is not lenticular, which is inferior tech in every way, has been tried many times before and failed for good reason. (see Amazon 3D Fire, LG Optimus, etc). Lenticular display dramatically lowers resolution, cannot be turned off for standard 2D content, only works in one direction (usually landscape), has color crosstalk… to name just a few issues. My bet is that other “big” companies will try to re-package lenticular 3D displays with eye-tracking in response to our program. Don’t fall for it.”

Without seeing one, it’s impossible to know how good it is or whether people will like it. Will the novelty factor of 3D and holograms wear off?

Phone

As a phone it’s probably no better than any other Android phone, except that it has a RED badge on it and comes in a cool case. As far as audio goes RED talk about 5.1 virtual surround sound through the headphone jack. To listen to virtual 5.1 the OS will feature a proprietary H30 algorithm that converts stereo sound into expansive multi-dimensional audio.

There is very little information as to what functionality the HYDROGEN actually offers as a phone. The smartphone market is very competitive and there are a gazillion patents out there. Could we see the HYDROGEN potentially tied up in patent law suits? Apple and Samsung have been suing each other for years.

Phone batteries have also been problematic over the years. Case in point: the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 had to have a massive recall, after it was found that a manufacturing defect in the phone’s batteries had caused some of them to generate excessive heat, resulting in fires. This was said to have cost Samsung $3bn US. RED could ill afford to have something like this to happen to the HYDROGEN.

Trying to convince a non-filmmaker who has never heard of RED before to part with over a $1,000 US for a phone is going to be a huge task.

Modularity and RED camera control


For owners of RED cameras the HYDROGEN makes a lot of sense. The ability to not only use it to control your existing RED camera, but to upgrade it through modules in the future is the selling point here.

I speculated on the site last week that I thought RED may be announcing a modular camera system with cellphone functionality. Part of my article showed patents for exactly what the HYDROGEN may be possible of in the future.

According to RED the HYDROGEN ONE is the foundation of a future multi-dimensional media system. The HYDROGEN system incorporates a new high speed data bus to enable future modular component systems to be added. These will include future attachments for shooting higher quality motion and stills images as well as HYDROGEN format holographic images.

For controlling other RED cameras such as the Scarlet, EPIC and Weapon the HYDROGEN will not only work as a user interface, but also as a monitor. It’s unclear at this stage whether this will require additional modules to be added.

H4V- what is it?

To view holographic RED Hydrogen 4-View content you need to have a device that supports RED’s new H4V format. This is fine if you are viewing holographic material on the HYDROGEN, but what about if you want to view it somewhere else? For H4V to be successful it needs to be supported on other devices and on platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo. This will be no easy task, as there are no other devices currently capable of showing H4V material.

The hidden costs

The trouble with RED is that you are buying into an ecosystem where you need to purchase a lot of additional accessories and modules to get your product to work. It will be interesting to see just how much extra you will need to spend on top of the original purchase price of the HYDROGEN to make it a worthwhile investment.

Will they be able to ship on time and in mass numbers?

The hardest thing when coming up with a with a product that could be potentially bought by consumers and not just filmmakers is being able to deliver that product in large numbers. Let’s face it, RED doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to delivering on time or in any amount of volume. Despite saying that the HYDROGEN will start shipping in Q1 of 2018, RED have openly said that “Orders placed today will ship from my own personal first production batch. I can also assure you that after this initial release we will NOT be able to fill all orders on time due to display production limitations. We will NOT guarantee these prices at the time of release. Taxes and shipping not included in the price.”

RED HYDROGEN

RED loves to announce products way before they ship, and with the 10th anniversary of the iPhone coming up and the imminent announcement of a new model, RED are probably hoping to steal a bit of Apple’s thunder. The success of the HYDROGEN will come down to whether RED can actually get it to market in significant numbers. RED owners have gotten accustomed to waiting patiently for products to be released, but the average consumer is not so patient. I really do hope RED succeeds with the HYDROGEN. I’m all for innovation and companies thinking outside of the box. Am I skeptical? Yes, but I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I will leave the last word to Jim Jannard: “Today we saw the full range from “complete trust” to “hard skepticism”. I have seen this before… many times actually. Makes me smile.”

Did you pre-order a HYDROGEN? What do you think of RED’s move into smartphones? Let us know in the comments section below.

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