Sheldon Cooper’s Holographic Laptop

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on June 22, 2012). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

So I noticed something that amused me while watching Big Bang Theory the other night — apparently Sheldon has a holographic display on his laptop.

Obviously, some evidence in the form of screenshots is in order (all from Season 4, Episode 15, “The Benefactor Factor”, though I noticed this in Episode 14, “The Thespian Catalyst”, as well).

First up, a shot of Sheldon videoconferencing with Amy. This is mostly to set the scene, there’s nothing much to see here.

Big Bang Theory: Sheldon videoconferencing with Amy
Sheldon videoconferencing with Amy.

Next, a POV shot of what Sheldon sees while sitting directly in front of the computer.

Big Bang Theory: Sheldon's POV while videoconferencing with Amy
Sheldon’s POV while videoconferencing with Amy

Finally, here’s the shot that caught my eye — a shot over Sheldon’s shoulder.

Big Bang Theory: Looking over Sheldon's shoulder during the videoconference
Looking over Sheldon’s shoulder during the videoconference

Compare those last two shots. In the first shot, from Sheldon’s POV, we see Amy from directly ahead. She’s looking directly into the camera, as would be expected. However, in the second shot, she’s turned slightly to her right, giving us a slight profile shot (and while it doesn’t really translate in still shots, this isn’t because she was shaking her head or momentarily turned her head for some reason — she holds her head in this position through the entire shot).

The final impression is that as the camera switched from Sheldon’s POV to the over-the-shoulder shot, the perspective changed in our view of Amy, so that we see her from the same angle as if the two characters were speaking face-to-face rather than over video chat…but the only way that could happen would be if Sheldon’s computer had a holographic display!

With our normal, flat, non-holographic computer screens, of course, even when moving to the side of a computer screen, we would still see the other party looking straight into the camera…so we’d see the image something like this:

Big Bang Theory: What real-world laptops would display
What real-world laptops would display

Of course, in the visual language of television, that looks odd. We expect characters to look at each other, and we know that Sheldon and Amy are looking at each other, so the technically correct shot seems a little odd, as Amy is still looking directly out of the screen, apparently at the viewer instead of at Sheldon. The solution, then, is to have her turned slightly to her right when filming those sequences so it still appears that she’s looking directly at Sheldon, even though it gives the somewhat amusing impression that Sheldon has a laptop far more advanced than any currently on the market (as does Amy, as she’d have to have a laptop that can both film and broadcast 3D video chat streams) — but then, would we really expect anything less from Sheldon Cooper? ;)

I have no idea how often this technique is used on other shows, as this is one of the few times I’ve noticed it. In fact, the only other time I can think of that I noticed this technique being used was in Star Trek (TNG comes to mind, though I can be relatively sure that it was also done this way in DS9, VOY, and ENT). However, in the Star Trek universe, it’s known (at least to the more geeky technobabble obsessed fans) that the main display screen on the bridge of the Enterprise is a holographic display, and it’s not that far-fetched to believe that the smaller displays might be as well, so the conceit was never as jarring when I noticed it there.

So…there’s my ridiculously over-analyzed geek moment of the day.

4 thoughts on “Sheldon Cooper’s Holographic Laptop”

  1. What a random post to get back to the blog after 6 months! hehe Still good to see you around again. :)

    • Because the entire perspective shifts. In the first, head-on shot, her head blocks the light fixture on the wall behind her; in the second shot, the full light fixture is visible (and there are other similar indicators: the chair to the left of her face, the curtains behind her). Her simply turning her head wouldn’t shift the perspective of the shot like that.

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