Technology innovation has been underway for the theatrical experience since the beginning of the cinema, but the pace has quickened! With an investment of over $3B in upgrading to a better and more consistent patron experience, we are able to present the same “perfect print” that, before now, was only available at a high end screening in Hollywood. But there’s more! NATO, the studios, and our partners are hard at work making it even better. Here is a quick run-down of technologies that are coming or have come to your neighborhood cinema.
The Digital Transition: We’re Almost Done!
As of 31 March 2015, 38,719 screens (out of a total of 39,789 screens) in the United States have been converted to digital (15,643 of which are 3D capable), 3,007 screens in Canada have been converted (1,382 of which are 3D), and 93,147 screens internationally have been converted (59,350 of which are 3D). Congratulations, exhibitors, we’re almost done! However, while we’re making great progress in the US and Canada, some international territories still have work to do with their digital conversion.
It appears that a perfect storm of events may bring about the end film around the end of 2015 due to either a worldwide lack of film stock and/or the closing of processing labs. Studios are weighing carefully the cost to make and distribute film vs. the revenue from those limited prints.
Giving Filmmakers New Tools
From 3D to HFR to Immersive Audio, filmmakers are taking advantage of the tools digital cinema affords them.
3D From Jim Cameron’s AVATAR to Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI, 3D has amazed audiences by immersing them in what is happening on the screen (and, sometimes, what comes off out of the screen). While the success or failure of a 3D film is typically dependent on our patron’s interest in seeing that film, exhibitors have an important role to play in determining the quality of that experience.
High Frame Rate (HFR) Regardless of whether you prefer 24, 48, or 60 frames per second, 3D-HFR was a headline grabber from CinemaCon 2012 for the December release of The Hobbit. High Frame Rate movies are also facing a comeback after a recent endorsement by Ang Lee. Most movies today are created in 24 frames per second (fps). However, some filmmakers are experimenting with higher frame rate. For example, the Hobbit series was filmed in 48fps and delivered in 3D at 48fps per eye as well as in 2D at 24fps. Although it has not been widely used, filmmakers are talking about using HFR in the near future, including James Cameron and Ang Lee, who is shooting Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk at 120fps—the highest frame rate yet.
Immersive Audio From Barco’s Auro to Dolby’s Atmos to DTS, immersive/”3D” sound seems to be the next technology coming to the cinema. With memories of the digital sound format battles firmly in mind (and in wallet), NATO has released exhibitor requirements for immersive sound formats to put forward the possibility and desirability of a technical standard for output and playback of immersive sound formats.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) Anyone who attended Disney’s presentation of Inside Out at CinemaCon saw the incredible impact of this technology. HDR allows for an improved contrast ratio that makes the image “pop” on the screen by making blacks much blacker. Some HDR systems also make the peak brightness brighter– from the current 14 foot Lambert (ftL) to 25ftL or 30ftL. Studios have begun distributing films in High Dynamic Range (HDR) in select cinemas with HDR projectors. Disney’s Tomorrowland, and Inside Out were both offered in HDR in Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime locations, and Universal’s Furious 7 debuted using IMAX’s HDR projector technology. Although only a handful of locations are capable of HDR projection, expect more films and more installs in the future.
Lasers are being tested and some are being deployed in test auditoriums. It offers new opportunities for higher brightness and extended colors continuing to advance the theatrical experience.
Quality Control: Give Your Patron the Best Possible Experience
Digital cinema offers the ability to provide the perfect picture at each show, but installing a digital projector is just the first of many steps an exhibitor must take to ensure their patrons have the best possible experience. In order to create a top-notch presentation, an exhibitor must take the time to implement certain quality control measures in each of their auditoriums.
Many factors effect a digital cinema presentation: the distance between the projector and the screen; the reflectivity (gain) of the screen; the light output from the xenon lamp; the patron’s viewing angle toward the screen; etc.
Projection Certain projectors work better in particular theaters. Regardless of the brand you chose or the series you have, you can likely make small adjustments in order to ensure the best possible presentation. Make sure that you service your projector regularly, as misalignments can develop over time and effect light output and convergence.
Screens The type of screen you have in a particular auditorium is as important as the size. Make sure that you match the proper screen type (gain vs. non-gain) and size for the projector you have. Also, over time, screens can become dusty; be sure to clean your screen at regular intervals to help ensure a bright, clear presentation.
Luminance and Light While the digital cinema conversion allows for a perfect presentation, it is very important to have the right light levels on the screen. Filmmakers make fine adjustments with the goal of having the same experience for our patrons. We encourage keeping both 2D and 3D with optimum light levels. We need to assure our studio partners, filmmakers, and our patrons that we are providing the best presentation possible.
Sound Please make sure that the sound levels are properly set. It’s just as important to not be too loud as too low.
Assisted Audio and Visual Devices The good news is, our industry is rolling out assisted audio and visual devices in our cinemas. The bad news is our patrons have not yet heard about these advances in cinema technology, and are not aware that we offer them. As more circuits purchase and install these devices, more patrons will be using them; please be sure to keep your assisted audio and visual devices charged and in proper working order.
Marketing: Let the Patron Know What You Have to Offer
We know what you’re thinking. What does marketing have to do with cinema technologies? First of all, marketing in-theater technologies to the consumer will help them better understand why watching a movie on the big screen in a cinema is far superior to any other movie watching experience. And, secondly, our industry has spent $3 billion dollars to upgrade and innovate our auditoriums; we need to talk about why. The patron should know that these improvements were made with their best interests in mind.
While our industry is quite familiar with the benefits of digital cinema presentation, the cinema patron is not. Many do not know that we have just spent $3 billion to convert our auditoriums from film to digital and most are unaware of what “HFR” means…You need to tell them! Let your patrons know that digital projection enables you to present the best picture quality at each and every show. Describe to them how 3D films can transport you into a whole new world of cinema. Explain to them why surround and immersive sound creates a more engaging experience. Think of it this way: Market your auditoriums like you do your concession stand, as both feature an array of tempting products that make for a more comfortable, engaging, communal moviegoing experience.