• Before making a single edit, Tropedia EXPECTS our site policy and manual of style to be followed. Failure to do so may result in deletion of contributions and blocks of users who refuse to learn to do so. Our policies can be reviewed here.
  • All images MUST now have proper attribution, those who neglect to assign at least the "fair use" licensing to an image may have it deleted. All new pages should use the preloadable templates feature on the edit page to add the appropriate basic page markup. Pages that don't do this will be subject to deletion, with or without explanation.
  • All new trope pages will be made with the "Trope Workshop" found on the "Troper Tools" menu and worked on until they have at least three examples. The Trope workshop specific templates can then be removed and it will be regarded as a regular trope page after being moved to the Main namespace. THIS SHOULD BE WORKING NOW, REPORT ANY ISSUES TO Janna2000, SelfCloak or RRabbit42. DON'T MAKE PAGES MANUALLY UNLESS A TEMPLATE IS BROKEN, AND REPORT IT THAT IS THE CASE. PAGES WILL BE DELETED OTHERWISE IF THEY ARE MISSING BASIC MARKUP.


WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic
File:Holoterm 6169.png

And when the power fails, the whole thing goes dark.

So you're in the future but everything looks pretty much the same. No Crystal Spires and Togas, no jetpacks, not even Space Clothes to make fun of. But just to get the point across that this is the future, walking up to a random soda machine or computer won't reveal any kind of button or screen, instead a Holographic Terminal will pop up right in front of your nose and suspended in midair!

Similar to the Viewer-Friendly Interface, yet very much an Unusual User Interface, the Holographic Terminal is just that, a combination keyboard and screen made of transparent Hard Light that can be used to control computers, machines, or access other Phlebotinum derived devices and abilities. It's somehow solid enough to stop your hand going through it (but presumably not so much to stop a gunshot or sword, but at least it won't explode in your face) and can tell what you're pushing much like a regular touch screen. Whatever it displays is usually visible from "behind" as well (so be sure not to read personal mail in public). Normally it might appear near an emitter of some kind, maybe even inside actual pieces of transparent plastic or in the empty space between metallic frames. However they're increasingly turning into the SFX equivalent of Internet pop ups: Appearing without the need for an emitter or any kind of prompting by The Smart Guy who'll use it. For much the same reason they're more common in VR environments and themed worlds.

If the situation calls for tension and drama, expect them to appear in a semi circle around a character displaying various important looking bars and graphs, the techie in question will usually spout some Techno Babble while randomly typing and "flipping switches" on different terminals. Basically the futuristic, floating, glowy equivalent of an officious clipboard and pen.

If they look especially complex, it evokes a sci-fi version of Instant Runes, and is usually included as a CG effect added in later. For extra oomph, it can be paired with Matrix Raining Code either in the terminal or around the character. To make it seem even more aesthetically pleasing, may take the form of a Design Student's Orgasm.

Contrast with Zeerust, Steampunk, Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future, and Used Future. See also: Hard Light and Hologram. See also Hologram Projection Imperfection.

It doesn't yet float, but the transparent screen part could be Truth in Television in the near future. See here. Also, if Enhanced Reality goggles ever get here, readout menus would probably appear to the user this way.

Examples of Holographic Terminal include:


  • A series of Yellowbook commercials in the late '00s (such as this one) featured these.

Anime & Manga

  • Practically abused to its logical extreme in Macross Frontier: cellphones, toys and advertisements all have projected holographic displays that move around outside the physical boundary of the device emitting them. Military equipment seems "serious" and physical, while commercial electronics indulge in all sorts of holographic fancy. A particularly egregious example is a cellphone-to-cellphone file transfer system that consists of actually tossing a small holographic file from one phone to another.
  • Washu in Tenchi Muyo!! loved using these in everyday life, such as making custom baby-food.
  • Martian Successor Nadesico used these everywhere. Everywhere. It also had a lot of fun with the trope by, for example, distorting the video screens in 3-D for comedic effect when the on-screen character was yelling — and that's just scratching the surface of the many-and-varied hologram gags the series worked in. In the movie, there's a scene where a problem with a space station computer causes flocks of holographic video screens to chase the occupants of the station around. They don't seem to realize that the projections are insubstantial and harmless...
    • Kiddy Grade utilises "nanomist monitors" in a similar fashion, which shouldn't be surprising given Keiji Gotoh was character designer and animator on the one before moving on the become director of the other.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS has these everywhere on Midchilda. It seems most mages can have them pop up wherever they need them.
    • It should be noted that this includes invisible floating keyboards.
  • Variation in Dennou Coil. Here, the main characters almost constantly wear advanced augmented reality goggles that superimpose computer-generated imagery over the real world. Such glasses are also able to sense the user's movements, so free-floating virtual terminals are one of the most common ways to interact with the simulation system. Such displays, like everything else in the "dennou-world", are invisible and intangible to anyone that doesn't wear dennou-glasses. They should logically be intangible to the wearer too, since glasses don't cover your hands, yet everyone is perfectly comfortable typing on a Hard Light keyboard suspended in midair.
  • A lampshade hanging in Zone of the Enders: Dolores, i: James asks Dolores (the robot's AI) for "full control" of the orbital frame, saying he doesn't need her help to pilot it. Dolores complies and floods the cockpit with Holographic Terminals of every onboard system. Overwhelmed, he agrees to let her help with micromanaging the systems while he does the piloting and they share strategic thinking.
  • Wolf's Rain had controls like this, used at least in the first episode to release an artificial being from her lab tank.
  • Lain's Cyberpunk computer had this, after she had upgraded it considerably.
  • The facilities in Neon Genesis Evangelion had this, to a limited extent. And boy did they like to announce countdowns of doom.
  • The computers of the Ptolemaios (both I and II) in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 take this to a whole new level, as the holographic terminals can appear anywhere on the ship. As a less extreme example, the terminals utilised by the rest of the world are pretty much like this too, except they only can be generated at specific locations near hardware of some sort.
  • Moretsu Pirates uses holographic computers starting with Marika using one in episode 1.
  • Guilty Crown, being set in 2039, has these. Usually they are flat, floating screens set up as command centers, but they also come in the more circular set-up as well. They've also been integrated into cellphones with a screen that can be switched on and off.


  • All over the place in Starstruck, which got in on the act early, seeing as it came out in comics form in the early '80's.
  • Transmetropolitan had this — sort of. One of the wide, wide variety of genetic enhancements people had was the "phone trait", which was essentially an implanted cell phone. To dial a number, you just imagined punching numbers on a keypad under your right hand. The keypad is visible to you, but not to anyone else, since it's just inside your head, technically.
    • Numerous other bits of technology seem to play this more straight, with holographic computer bits being a common background element in The City
  • Salaak, the Green Lantern Mission Control, does his job using a semicircle of terminals he creates with his ring. This is convenient, as his workstation is wherever he happens to be.


  • The grandfather of this trope occurs in the original The Day the Earth Stood Still movie. Since it's a movie from the 1950's, it doesn't have hologram special effects, but Klaatu does manipulate his computer by waving at it from a distance. (Also a conceptual predecessor to Microsoft's Kinect.)
  • The displays in Minority Report, although they're technically not floating so much as projected inside glass panels.
    • This is actually not a difficult thing to do. The whole Minority Report computer setup could probably be created at home for a few hundred bucks — whether it would be comfortable to use is another matter.
      • Microsoft would like you to know that it has one, Project NATAL Kinect. It looks a bit like the Babylon 5 ship below.
  • The gate-keeper operators for Zion in the second Matrix movie (the ones who clear the ship for entry in the beginning), although technically they're in their own mini-Matrix (so to speak), so it's not 'real' hologram technology. Note that these people organize who lands where in Zion as opposed to just being door-openers, something that might be easier to organize inside a construct - besides, they're sure as hell not going to let a program do it.
  • Many controls in Final Fantasy the Spirits Within were comprised purely of energy.
  • The Babylon 5 sequel movie Legend of the Rangers depicted a unique interface for the Cool Starship's weapons systems: the gunnery officer floated in zero-gravity inside a holographic representation of nearby space — and punched, kicked and swatted at images of the enemy to shoot them. When the ship was in a firing frenzy, she rather looked like she was having a seizure, which makes one wonder why the staff had chosen to sacrifice both practicality and coolness in designing the ship this way.
  • The BBC play The Flip Side of Dominic Hyde features a holographic TV set, seen at one point projecting the image of a string quartet. When the title character goes back in time to 'our' present (1980) there's a scene where he mistakes a real string quartet for a holographic image and tries to walk straight through them.
  • In the 2008 film Iron Man, Tony Stark uses a super-cool holographic CAD interface to design the second, more advanced version of his Powered Armor. It's such a cool interface that Stark can reach into the holographic interface (where, e.g., he is designing the power gauntlets for the suit) and actually interact with his design (e.g., manipulate the fingers of the holographic gauntlet he's designing).
    • Supposedly, Robert Downey, Jr.. improvised the "reach-in-and-fiddle-with-it" interface, which the director liked so well that he had the FX team design the visuals around it.
    • In the sequel, he's using even more advanced systems to the point where basically everything is holographic and manipulable. At one point he picks up a program window, scrunches it up, and throws it into the Recycle Bin.
  • The more recent James Bond movies have the holographic wall interfaces, or at least a very translucent touchscreen.
  • The holograph star-map in Wing Commander — which, come to think of it, would be very practical for a 3D display.
  • Most of Ecoban's terminals in Sky Blue are like this. The Diggers use more mundane interfaces.
  • In Paycheck, the protagonist is a reverse engineer. He buys a new hologram-projecting TV, plugs it into his lab computer. The TV's specs then appear on the transparent wall behind him, revealing that it is a transparent screen like in Minority Report. He then manipulates the specs with hand gestures. Pretty much a 2-D version of Stark's gear. Rule of Cool certainly applies, as well as Viewer-Friendly Interface, but it doesn't look implausible for the most part--except the standing-there-waving-your-arms-around-for-hours-on-end part.
    • And when he finishes that project he decides to ditch the screen for the holo-TV, so it's just a floating projection.


  • The Conjoiners in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series can see holographic displays, except that they're created in their mind by their cybernetic implants. One character discovers this after being assimilated and finding out why some people were waving their hands in the air and staring at things that were not there.
  • The 3rd World Products series uses "fields" for pretty much everything.
  • The RCN series uses holographic displays and keyboards. The argument is that "the volume within a warship was too short to dedicate any of it to uses that could be accomplished by holograms." Daniel realizes he's a bit disturbed on an instinctive level when he meets an RCN civilian official who types on a physical keyboard.
  • In the most recent of Larry Niven's Known Space novels (everything from "Ringworld Throne" to present), all computer terminals are one of these.

Live Action TV

  • BBC Space Opera Blakes Seven, which first aired in 1978, had a very early example in the viewscreen of the Liberator. Budget prohibited anything more elaborate, presumably.
  • One of the most breathtakingly cool displays of the Holographic Terminal is the piloting interface for the Companion's ships and Shuttles in Earth: Final Conflict. A series of gestures replaces the complex switch flipping of modern fighter craft cockpits, and gives the pilot complete control over every aspect of the ship.
  • Notably avoided on post-Original Series Star Trek. On a few occasions, the production staff have tried using holographic free-floating main viewers, but they don't last. The reason: the main viewer is one of the franchise's most common visual elements, and it just felt wrong to replace it with a blank wall. The view screens in the post-TNG era do project in 3-D, however. Whenever a two-way communication is up on the viewer, and the shot angle changes, the view of the other party changes, too. The control panels used in the post-TNG era are actually advanced touch-screens.
    • The Arch used to adjust the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation (later series had them just removing a camouflaged panel and fiddling with the controls physically)(though the arch was just revealing the hidden area just inside the holodeck door).
    • Holographic viewers did appear in a few early Next Generation episodes (such as "The Last Outpost") but rarely show up both because of the cost of the effects and the reasons mentioned above.
  • The Doctor Who serial The Caves of Androzani featured one of these. The hologram in question wasn't CGI, however, but pre-filmed footage. Director Graeme Harper used this limitation to an interesting advantage by having one of the characters get up and walk around the hologram, the effect being added in later.
  • Used in CSI: Miami. It's also a Magical Database, and they don't even have the Twenty Minutes Into the Future Hand Wave to fall back on, as on-screen dates show episodes usually occurring on the week of their transmission. To be fair, the tech they use is loosely based on experimental products, and could arguably be considered visual shorthand.
    • Take a closer look at the background; it's a black room with yellow stripes making a grid on the wall. Shout-Out anyone?
    • And in CSI New York as well. Ugh.
    • The laser keyboard in the Real Life section below popped up in one episode, being used by a secretary who wanted to stealth-blog about her employers. She had it connected to a PDA, and just turned it off when it wasn't in use or when someone came by.
  • In Stargate Atlantis, a lot of Ancients technology (including the Puddle Jumpers) use this. They still have hand controls but a lot of the mapping and directional functions are part of a holo-screen that pops up for the user.
    • It should be noted that the Puddle Jumpers also respond to telepathic commands — as long as you have the Ancient gene.
    • Stargate Universe shows that even the uber-old Destiny has holographics without any kind of visible emitters.
  • Eureka uses this technology, actually reaching out and grabbing the windows and moving them. Actually reaching out and grabbing on and crumbling it up before tossing it into the real trashcan.
  • Oddly, since the later (continuity-wise) Battlestar Galactica lacks them, Caprica has these in spades. The later absence is likely due to the technology backlash that resulted from the First Cylon War.
  • The Visitors in the 2009 remake of V use interfaces that can be made to appear and disappear with a wave of a hand.

Video Games

  • In the intentionally technobabble-gimmicked Tron level of Kingdom Hearts II they're used by Tron, particularly in his special attack.
  • A few of these show up in Metroid Prime; for the most part, Samus activates them with her suit's scanner instead of trying to touch them.
    • The map stations in Metroid Prime 2, on the other hand, are a straight example, touch control and everything.
  • In the Halo game series, Covenant and Forerunner control panels are made of light - blue and purple for the Covenant, and aquamarine and orange for the Forerunners. They usually have visible emitters.
  • In Mass Effect, an omni-tool is a glowing orange gauntlet or glove which seems to be made of Hard Light. It only appears around a character's hand when it's needed, and it seems to be solid enough to act as a keypad.
    • There's also full-fledged holographic terminals and keyboards on the Normandy, and all Prothean and geth computer interfaces use holographic keyboards.
    • Explained in the sequel. Apparently users wear haptic feedback gloves when interacting with holographic displays which both detect the coordinates of the users digits in relation to the holograms and provide resistance for buttons and such. Of course, these are difficult to clean and maintain, so heavy users get the feedback sensors implanted under their skin. Neato.
      • There are some holographic interfaces that don't work with haptic interfaces, however--see, for example, door "locks". At one point in Mass Effect 2, Shepard hits one with his or her elbow to open a door, indicating that some are just plain holograms (evidently they work by detecting a disruption in the light or something).
    • Upgraded with the forcefield-based Omni-Blade in Mass Effect 3, which you can stab people with all cool style.
    • A developer interview reveals that they've based all of this on the film Final Fantasy the Spirits Within that they constantly look back at for reference.
    • Pretty much the only computers without holographic interfaces are datapads, which actually have a physical keyboard.
  • In Syndicate and Syndicate Wars, you are depicted controlling your agents from holographic displays aboard an airship.
  • While it was controlled by a pretty much normal keyboard and mouse, the opening sequence of the legendary action platformer game Another World (Out of This World in some countries) featured a computer whose monitor consisted of a volumetric display, and had cubic windows floating in its confines.
  • Practically all of the interfaces in Xenosaga are holographic, including those on PDAs - they pop out of the PDA on demand and magically accept physical interaction.
  • Tales of Vesperia has these from time to time when Rita needs to hack into or otherwise control a blastia.
  • Every single item in Dead Space; even the weapons/power tools have a holographic display which says how much ammo they have left. The projections are not exactly solid, though, since you can move through them at any time. There's also a marked lack of actual, physical screens, buttons and switches in the setting; anytime the power goes out, it's likely the whole interface just disappears (as seen on the Ishimura bridge in Dead Space Downfall).
    • Attention should be drawn to the rather notable diagetic menus. Barring the game's pause menu, everything else is projected as a real holographic object for Isaac to interact with in the game world. As such, you don't get to pause to check your inventory mid-combat, or the like.
      • Also amazingly justified in the game world: your inventory is a backpack of sorts, but rather than rooting through it to find what you're looking for, you use the holo-display to select what you want and your suit system makes it available to you. Extremely useful for the engineer on the go.
  • The Turraken laboratory scanner in Startopia has a holographic display with Matrix Raining Code when something is being analyzed.
  • The game Borderlands features this in spades, as vending machines, entry gates, and even the pause menus and inventory screens are represented as floating holograms. If you look closely, you can see the inventory/pause screens moving around a bit, and this is explained by the storage deck the Claptrap gives you at the very start, which then "boots up," showing you your health, ammo, and other HUD paraphernalia.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Orions Arm has "Ghost interfaces" but by the 107th century AT they're very retro. Having long been replaced by Direct Neural Interfaces and "Wraith" screens that use Utility Fog to effectively act as Hard Light.
  • Used for just about everything in Land Games.

Western Animation

  • Code Lyoko has them in Lyoko; normal consoles in the physical world, though.
  • Kiva installed a few in the back seat of the Megas XLR to help Coop by monitoring its systems, perhaps as a pun on "backseat driving"?
    • In the pilot episode, Kiva used the same technology to pilot her own robot. She gets bonus points for actually taking advantage of their nature and moving them around as needed, rather than treating the controls as a solid construct.
  • In Chaotic, before a match (and after every battle) begins, players assemble their battle teams via a holographic console. Logical considering Chaotic is a VR simulation. Interestingly, it averts the two way translucency by not letting opponents see each other's card selections. From one side, you get creatures, mugics, and locations, but from the other it looks like a floating plexiglass pane.
  • In Aqua Teen Hunger Force Master Shake agrees to something or internet and the entire house gets flooded with holographic displays of internet advertising from the WWWYZZERDD. To the point where they can no longer function due to the enormous amounts of ads floating constantly over their heads.

Real Life

  • Real-world semi-example: A laser keyboard has been developed that will work on any surface. Emphasis on surface.
    • While this is undeniably cool technology, you wouldn't want to type on it for long periods of time, since it provides no tactile feedback or "recoil" for your fingers the way a real keyboard does. You're just tapping on a table, and you have to keep your eyes on it to keep your fingers in the right position. Can't beat it for portability, though.
      • The iPhone is showing this isn't quite as bad as one thought, if done really well.
      • People also don't attempt two-handed full-speed touch-typing on iPhones, either - although it's just about possible on an iPad (indeed, the first draft of the current--and rather controversial--38-page Constitution of Hungary was drafted on an iPad). As well, the visual display also happens to be in the exact same location as the input can't help but SEE where to guide your fingers.
  • There are demonstration technologies to produce the actual floating in the air holographic displays. The difficulty is in the display: the actual interactivity (sensing the hands position and moving the graphics accordingly) is a solved problem, as such systems already exist in the form of infrared sensors.
    • And even the displays seem to be a matter of time: prototypes and actual products that can create mid-air displays already exist. They're just not cheap or mobile enough... yet.
      • Note that of the two examples provided, only the first one seems to fulfill the "ideal" of a traditional sci-fi hologram, that is, a full-3D image projected in a volume. The second one, the Heliodisplay, is a scam, requiring a cloud of water vapour or some other denser-than-air medium on which to project a 2D image. Like a cinema without a screen, at ten times the price for one tenth of the clarity.
    • Of course anyone who's actually tried controlling a computer by waving their hands in the air has very quickly discovered that it gets old quickly, and gets painfully tiring shortly after that. While the displays may only be a matter of time, the interface is likely Awesome but Impractical.
  • In real life, electronics companies work very hard to reduce reflections off of TVs and monitors, so the viewer will only see the important information. Obviously, a transparent "screen" goes in utterly the opposite direction.
    • Quite the opposite in fact. If light passes through the display there would not be any reflection, therefore, the display would be readable in any lighting condition.
      • Actually, since it's transparent, all light traveling from the back would be seen through the front, making any fine detail dissolved into fuzz. It would only be reasonably view-able in either VERY low light conditions, or when displayed over a plain, black or white, surface. It would be difficult to use in most lighting conditions. Non reflective screens are only useful because the back of said screen blocks off light.
  • It's no holography, of course, but LCD displays are technically transparent, there has been work on transparent OLED displays, and there's always the option to simply aim a projector at a screen made out of certain transparent materials. The coolest example is probably the Emulator, a huge touchscreen with a projector mounted on the floor, that comes with a Minority Report style DJ control software.