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Hologram Projection Imperfection
Holograms are cool, right? But they never seem to work right for whatever reason. Fizzing, popping, static, wobbly image....you'll be lucky if you get proper colour! Would have thought they'd check these things at the factory, wouldn't you? But no, it seems like every last one of them has some sort of glitch. It's a wonder people put up with the things.

Related to Rule of Perception: A hologram has to look unreal, so the audience can see that it's a hologram; it's a visual equivalent of the Radio Voice. Also related to Holodeck Malfunction, and may suggest The Tape Knew You Would Say That if the protagonists are unaware they're talking to a hologram. Subtrope of Projected Man. However, it must be distinct enough that it's not simply mistaken for poorly implemented special effects. A poorly matched lighting or color for the surrounding environment on a Projected Man would not be inform the audience that he was a hologram, the assumption would be that it's an incompetent Chroma Key shot.

Many holograms falling under this trope are completely blue, perhaps a result of the famous A New Hope example below.

Note: To prevent us simply listing every hologram in fiction, be wary of adding too many examples of holograms that suffer minor blips during start-up or shut-down. Ensure that the example is intense enough to look like a real malfunction or interference of some kind.


Aversions - Holograms that work perfectly:

One circumstance where this trope is commonly averted is when a Projected Man or other hologram is a regular fixture on the show, and for budgetary reasons it's easier to film them as actually physically present, with only very, very, occasional glitches on special occasions to remind viewers what they are.

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    Anime and Manga 
  • The holograms in Yu-Gi-Oh! are so realistic the animators sometimes forget they don't have a physical presence. This is because of the rare curcumstance in that the audience is supposed to forget they are real—just like their fictional consumers.

    Film 
  • In G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, there are instances when what looks like in-person conversations really are comunications using holograms.
  • Played with in Superman II, in which Lex Luthor escapes prison by sticking a hologram of himself in his cell. The hologram itself is flawless, and the guard is tipped off only when he steps in front of the projector.
  • Man of Steel, on the other hand, Jor-El's hologram is indistinguishable from reality except when a physical object interferes with it. Apparently Kryptonian technology is capable of either that or pinart but nothing in between.
  • The Empire Strikes Back
    • When the commander of the Imperial Walkers talks to a hologram of Darth Vader, the hologram works fine.
    • Likewise, when Darth Vader talks to the Emperor, the Emperor's hologram works O.K. (there's some minor flickering but it's not blatant).
  • The holographic security recording in the prologue of Serenity is flawless, except for a bit of odd lighting — it only becomes clear that it's a hologram when the Operative walks through it. The Miranda Recording later in the film is also unusually luminescent but otherwise free of artifacts.
  • The sequel to the film adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs had the antagonist, Chester V, utilize his own holograms programmed to travel and run errands for him (as well as provide him company, facilitating his villainy). Unless touched, the holograms looked exactly like their maker. Chester actually uses it to overwhelm Flint by creating multiple holograms to tauntingly throw him off, until Flint uses one of his own inventions, "Party-In-a-Box" to create an explosion of paint and stickers that removes the holograms but completely stains the real Chester.
  • Sort of used in the fourth sequel of Mission: Impossible here. Although not actually a hologram, the projection screen is sophisticated enough to create a false 3d image of the corridor in front of the real corridor of one of the guarded rooms of the Moscow Kremlin building capable of fooling the guard patrolling the area despite Ethan and Benji being right behind the other side of the screen. The machine even had recognition sensors to track the movement of the persons eyes so that the illusion of the empty hallway could be maintained even while the guard was moving and watching the screen from different visual perspectives. The illusion only gets broken when more that one of the guards occupy the area, confusing the machine into projecting the image from multiple viewpoints back and forth.

    Literature 
  • Most of the time in Animorphs, except for a couple of occasions.
  • Conspicuously averted in The Naked Sun. Elijah was surprised to find out he was talking to a hologram because the Earth holograms did have Hologram Projection Imperfection. (The planet he was on was still settled by humans; This wasn't an alien technology thing.)
  • Holograms in Dream Park are so realistic that Gamers who allow themselves to step out-of-character still can't guess when real actors and animatronic models are switched out for holographic ones. The one time a holo's response is delayed by a couple of seconds, the Game Master chews out his technicians for the lapse.
  • In contrast to Imperial holograms (see below), Tau holography in the Ciaphas Cain series is always portrayed as lifelike and in perfect focus at all times. This is, naturally, rather unsettling to anyone used to the fuzzier, more "analog" Imperial systems.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Quantum Leap: Al.
  • Red Dwarf: Rimmer is one of the few fully-functional holograms in fiction, and even the Trope Namer for Hard Light. Shame about the man himself!
    • Ironically, an early idea was that he would be monochrome to make his status clearer, but it had to be shelved in favour of the metallic H on his forehead because real-world technology and/or a BBC science fiction serial's budget couldn't make him look that unconvincing.note  It was used in the early Red Dwarf Smegazine comic strips.
    • The novel continuity actually kept the aversion and turned it into a plot point; apparently holograms are so perfect that it caused a bit of an Uncanny Valley effect. Fantastic Racism ensued, played for Black Comedy when a much younger Rimmer accompanies his parents to throw rocks through holograms on a civil rights protest march.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: For a little while Starfleet experimented with holographic communicators, where it looked like the other character was actually in the same room with Sisko et al. (because the actors were). It was quietly dropped after a couple episodes. Note that it played the trope slightly straight; the person being projected would usually be oddly lit, to show they weren't really there.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: The holodeck. Even when it malfunctioned, as it so often did, it usually looked real, without scan lines or flickers.
    • On those occasions when the holodeck did have visual artifacting, it was because the entire simulation matrix was breaking down (and badly needed a reset) or someone was meddling with the system without understanding what they were doing (but was trying to learn).
  • Star Trek: Voyager: The Doctor almost always worked perfectly, even while using his mobile emitter. (Although the mobile emitter is much more advanced than the regular system, being from the future.)
  • In C Ontinuum, the only malfunction of the holographic therapist is that he can walk through walls.

    Video Games 
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, holograms are almost perfect when they're working properly, which becomes a plot point when it turns out Eliza Cassan is a holographic projection made by an AI.
  • In Halo 4, the War Games are officially holodeck simulations, and yet the graphics and the graphics are identical to the campaign and Spartan Ops.
    • Halo: Reach intoduced a Hologram armor ability, it sends a holographic copy of the player where you send it. There are no visual errors on the decoy unless it is shot or hit. If this ability is used properly, it can become quite annoying.

    Visual Novels 
  • Averted pretty hard in Ever17 with the character Sora. It's a point of pride for the company whose technology it is, as well as the character, who is extremely self-conscious about what few limitations it does have, in order to maintain the illusion of reality. It's also a major plot point and the subject of a reveal, despite the fact visitors are told about it up front.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dragon Jake Long. Similar to the tactic used by Lex Luther from the Superman sequel mentioned above, one of Jake's enemies, a dragon who once belonged to the Dragon Council but made a Face-Heel Turn to aid the Dark Dragon, used this as part of her powers common to all dragons by creating a magical doppleganger capable of fooling the guards while she escaped out of her prison cell, until the spell was broken by Jake's former new animal companion, Bananas (who also joined and became Chang's new companion out of cowardice).

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In one episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, a hologram of Asuka appears out of her Humongous Mecha, and it flickers when it slaps Shinji, who evidently feels it.
  • A Certain Scientific Railgun's Beach Episode has a room presented to most of the cast as the latest technology to have photoshoots in. While it works out in the beginning (Beach, Poolside, Pleasure Boat), the room suddenly turns on the cast as it cycles thru several undesirable scenes for the swimsuit wearing characters (Snowy mountain, desert, boat in the middle of a storm, & the surface of the moon). Fortunately, the system is stopped at a scene (Campsite) that allows the girls to take a break without being uncomfortable.

    Film 
  • In the Ghost in the Shell movie the brain holograms are monochromatic.
  • There's a hologram of Sinestro communicating in the Green Lantern movie, which is in perfect color, but it has a couple of jumps, and breaks. The implication was, though, that because Abin Sur's ship had been badly damaged, and the alien himself was badly wounded, the escape pod's functions were all working on getting him to safety and keeping him alive, so the hologram had limited transmit/receive power comparatively speaking.
  • In I, Robot, the hologram is shown to be 2D, can only respond to a limited range of questions, and has some visual static.
    • It is, however, meant to fool the audience at first, as it looks perfect until the camera moves to the side.
  • The Last Starfighter. During Zur's transmission into the Starfighter base, his holographic head glitches several times.
  • Minority Report has a good example of not-great hologram tech, though it may be justified, being set Twenty Minutes In The Future instead of a far-future Space Opera.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. As the protagonists are walking up to Dr Totenkopf's office a Tesla-type generator creates a Huge Holographic Head image of Totenkopf that explains his motives and warns them to get out or die. Both the image and voice are distorted when powering up, highlighting the more primitive 1930's zeerust technology of the film.
  • Likewise in The Whisperer in Darkness (2011), made in the retraux style of a 1930's Universal Horror film. Those in the brain cylinders communicate with outsiders via a hologram which pops and fizzes excessively.
  • Screamers. The protagonists have to report a cease fire proposed by the enemy forces. A pair of doors slide open and their superior walks through and starts talking to them — all appears normal until he suddenly starts to fizz and sputter and the protagonists complain about the unreliability of holographic projection from Earth. The scene hints at The Reveal that the Projected Man is actually dead.
  • Star Wars.
    • A New Hope. Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan Kenobi (stored in R2-D2) starts with a burst of static.
    • Return of the Jedi. When Luke's message to Jabba (stored in R2-D2) plays, it starts off with a burst of static and ends with one too.
    • Possibly justified. Lucas, et al, decided that since the signal had been bouncing halfway across the galaxy it'd be unbelievable for it not to have picked up some interference along the way. Though that doesn't explain why the recordings R2 carried, made by people standing right in front of him, suffered the same problem.
    • A greater puzzle, why does Artoo (an astromech droid, basically a self-mobile starship repairman and navigator) have a hologram projector, while Threepio (a protocol droid, and thus a professional translator and messenger) does not?
      • Perhaps he's supposed to be a rolling black box. Something goes wrong during a flight he can be ejected and picked up later to tell the story. In addition, being able to beam back images of damaged systems could help his overseers out. Still doesn't explain why he has a projector, but maybe it comes as some kind of package deal, the R2s are a kind of jack of all trades droid after all.
    • Holograms in the prequel trilogy frequently cut out as well, even though it's supposed to be the "more civilized age" of the galaxy.
    • Most of the above are significantly blue-shifted, if not monochrome, and often have scan lines.
  • The Time Machine also has a justified example, because the AI in question has been sitting around for many years — long enough that the heroes were lucky it played at all.
  • Total Recall (1990).
    • While Lori is practicing with a hologram designed to teach proper tennis serves, the hologram blurs a couple of times. Watch it here.
      • It is a loop video of a person going through the motions, the blurs are when the image resets to the start of the loop.
    • The wrist device that creates a hologram decoy of its wearer.
      • When Quaid tests it while on Earth his image breaks up into static.
      • When Quaid uses it on Mars to trick Cohaagen's troops, his image flickers after the trick is revealed.
      • Likewise, when Melina uses it her hologram breaks up when Cohaagen's troops fire into it. Watch it here.
  • In WALL•E, the Earth is covered with holographic billboards which fizzle and static frequently. Justified, since they haven't been maintained for centuries.
  • In Escape from L.A., the hologram of Snake appears flawless until after half an army tries to shoot the hell out of it. Then a guy walks forward and passes his hand through it, making it ripple.

    Literature 
  • Holos are always like this in Ciaphas Cain, requiring Percussive Maintenance to work properly.
  • In Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox, Holly uses an old holographic communication device to talk to Julius. It works out to her advantage as it hides the fact that she's de-aged, and her tears. Subverted in that the hologram shows all this accurately and Holly writes it all off as this trope, which Julius is willing to buy. (She also blames the old technology malfunctioning on it displaying her location, around the world from where she's supposed to be, "inaccurately".)
  • The Chee holograms in Animorphs are normally an aversion, but when the Yeerks screw with the ship that powers them, the holgrams begin to fizzle, fade and fail.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Doctor Who episode "The Almost People". Though there is a lot of interference anyway (the hologram only really gets through because the plot wants it to).
  • Used in an episode of Torchwood, then Lampshaded.
  • The Lois and Clark episode "Top Copy" used a hologram which somehow convinced people that Clark and Superman were side-by-side despite the fact that it was flickering. The glitches were Justified in that it was only built by a farmer's wife... but then that just raises other questions.
  • The Middleman communicates with an alien representative via hologram in "The Clotharian Contamination Protocol," and the image is blue and staticky. What makes this more amusing is that at one point, when the alien representative quotes a certain movie's catchphrase containing a swear word, the Censor Box covering his mouth is also blue and staticky.
  • In Stargate SG-1, Asgard holograms look incredibly realistic most of the time, but occasionally wobble or fritz just enough to let us know it's a hologram.
    • It is, however, used once to "prove" that an Asgard shown by a CEO attempting to reveal the secret was a hologram. The reporter interviewing Sam tells her she doesn't believe it, as she has seen the alien with her own eyes. The alien is, in fact, a mindless clone (as opposed to the clones with minds that all the Asgard are).
  • SELMA from Time Trax; despite being a 22nd century, self aware, supercomputer her holographic "visual mode" suffered this trope. In one episode she managed to make herself appear perfectly for a brief time but implied it was too much of a strain on her power systems to maintain this for long.
    • CINDI is a poor man's version of SELMA, and its projection is even worse.
  • The hologram of Slartibartfast in the TV version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a fuzzy, white monochrome image.
  • Plot point in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight". A recording of a holographic meeting between the leadership of the dominion is identified as such (i.e. not being a recording of a real meeting) because of minor defects that are invisible to the eye. It is not elaborate what those defects were but one can assume that holographic animation even in the 24th century can't withstand a thorough investigation.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. Used in the teaser of "Revulsion". An alien is shown removing the corpses of his dead crewmembers. Suddenly he starts to fitz, showing he's a hologram and setting the plot in motion, as he realises his program is breaking down and so makes the Distress Call that brings in Voyager.

    Video Games 
  • Knights of the Old Republic mostly averts this trope as the holos look rather good. The audio, however, is a little tinny in the case of Dodanna and Vandar. Amusingly, if you turn down the graphics settings, the holograms will look physical.
    • The Old Republic, not surprisingly, has a pretty similar high-quality hologram effect. There is an odd bit of Special Effects Failure, though; rather than the holograms' "scan lines" lining up with the projector, it lines up with the player's screen, always exactly horizontal.
  • In the Mega Man X series the Dr. Light holograms flicker and have a blue hue. Quite odd seeing as the hologram projector used in Mega Man 2's final boss works perfectly.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas Dead Money add-on, the holograms scattered around the Sierra Madre are a uniform color, rather fuzzy and have prominent lines all over their figures. Oh yeah, and they shoot lasers. Granted this is two hundred year old equipment, though the Cloud was supposed to protect most of the Old World artefacts in the area. And lasers are cool. The fact that they can change colors suggests someone just wasn't willing to put in the work (humorously, Old World Blues has log entries which pretty much give this exact excuse; the designers were programmers, not artists).
  • Mass Effect also has an example with Vigil. The hologram doesn't even really show up you just get this weird jumble. Justified since the VI in question has been sitting around for tens of thousands of years, you're lucky it was still functional to begin with and in fact it shuts down soon after your group talks to it. Also, the game designers are trying to hide the Protheans' appearance and The Reveal in the second game that the Collectors are modified Protheans.
    • In Mass Effect 2, the holograms of Shepard and The Illusive Man are wavery and have horizontal lines going through them like they are on a screen instead of a 3-D projection.
    • Mass Effect 3 has anyone Shepard talks to via the Normandy's holographic communications equipment appear blue. Anderson's in particular are also shot through with static, although that isn't surprising, seeing as he's transmitting from a planet embroiled in an alien invasion.
      • Both of these examples might be justified as a property of quantum entanglement comms rather than more typical systems; the QEC has a much tighter restriction on bandwidth, requiring the transmission be heavily compressed.
    • The Decoy power in Mass Effect 3 creates, as the name implies, a holographic duplicate of the user to act as a decoy and draw fire. It is distinguishable from the original, being slightly blurred and bluish in color, but it's not clear if this is what it really looks like, or an effect that the player's HUD adds in to make it stand out.
  • In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, when a hologram appears, not only is the picture glitchy, but the first thing the hologram "says" is always "ffffffffffff... ffffffff..."
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War: Holograms are frequently imperfect, with horizontal strobing blue lines, higher end holograms are better quality.
    • Deus Ex: Human Revolution can be mistaken for normal people, except at close range. Possibly as a side effect of the game having better graphics.
      • In-universe, this can probably be justified by the agencies from the first game trying to cut corners on budgets, especially when they've got much more important computer projects to spend money on.
  • The holograms in Emperor: Battle for Dune have a distinctive fritzing effect where the red, blue and green channels of the hologram briefly fail to line up, just as happened with some earlier colour films and TV.

    Western Animation 
  • Arthur has one in Meet Binky, due to Arthur mistaking a CPU case for a trash can.
  • Danny Phantom: Vlad Masters has some AI programmed holograms of Maddie Fenton, all designed to be madly in love with him. But they display the usual translucency and dither problems of fictional holograms, as well as being a bit....temperamental.
  • The Fairly OddParents: They've done riffs on Star Wars, so those holograms are the trope played straight. But when Jimmy Neutron shows up for the Jimmy/Timmy Power Hour, Jimmy is convinced the fairies are just really good holograms.
  • Played with in Futurama: Although it is presumed that hologram movies in the year 3000 are suitably higher quality, they started out rather like a silent film, with grainy, black and white video and no audio other than a soundtrack. For some reason they were also made on Laserdiscs.
  • Played with in Superman: The Animated Series: Lobo is given a hologram plate of Superman which works more or less perfectly until he crushes it. Later, he shows someone the taped-together plate, which now projects a fragmented image of Superman.
  • Absolutely relentless in The Clone Wars, where every hologram communication is the same shade of blue, has the same scan lines, and the same static, even if it's just being sent across the street.


High-Class GlassSublime RhymeHooks and Crooks
Hollywood DarknessRule of PerceptionKung-Foley
Holding Back the PhlebotinumApplied PhlebotinumHulking Out
HologramSpeculative Fiction TropesHolographic Terminal

alternative title(s): Beta Holograms; Holograms Are Always Beta; Holograms Have Bad Reception; Bad Hologram Reception; Flickering Holograms; Holograms Always Flicker; Flawed Holographic Projection
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