Category Archives: Equipment Vendors

Wanda Cinemas Announces 2014 Figures & AAM Tech Deal

Wanda logo

Wanda Cinemas has published its first post-IPO figures for they whole of 2014 and they show overall growth in the number of screens and box office, though the exhibitor’s market share has slipped somewhat.

Win Business Network reports that:

Wanda Cinema’s 2014 box office revenue was 4.21 billion yuan [USD $674 million], an increase of 33.1%, with audiences 102 million patrons, an increase of 30.8%; Up to December 31, 2014, the company has already opened in 182 theaters, with 1,616 screens.

The corresponding data in January 2015 Wanda Cinema is realized grossed 380 million yuan [USD $60.8 million], an increase of 44.1%, with audiences 8,990,000 patrons, an increase of 36.6%, has been opened in 183 theaters, 1,624 screens.

However, Wanda Cinemas’ overall marketshare slipped slightly, after having grown for the previous three years.

In January this year, the State Press and Publication Administration of Radio Film Board has already grossed Chinese film last year had informed: 29.639 billion yuan [USD $4.75 million], an increase of 36.15%. This makes it possible to calculate the Wanda Cinema last year accounted for about 14.2 percent of the market.

Wanda Cinema’s market share data with the previous two years or less. According to the prospectus of the data Wanda Cinema, 2011 to 2013, Wanda Cinema’s market share was 13.61%, 14.49% and 14.52%, both the market first.

It is difficult to compare the figures and total takings with previous years accurately due to tax reforms in the past year that have impacted cinemas’ revenue. This is due to the total box-office deduction of 5% which goes to the “special movie fund”, and then there is a further 3.3% of the tax deduction, and only then do we get the net box office.

Wanda Cinemas continues to benefit financially – and enjoy an advantage over competitors – because of the close ties between Wanda Cinema and Wanda Plaza real-estate. This means that Wanda Cinemas are shielded from rising rents costs that affect other theatres.

However, this sort of arrangement only continue for as long as the real-estate market is strong and Wanda Plaza can afford to play corporate sugar daddy to Wanda Cinemas.

Now that both companies are listed companies there could be questions about this type of arrangement if the fortunes of the two companies start diverting. Though with the majority shares of both companies firmly controlled the Wang family, there is not much other shareholders can do to alter this cosy arrangement.

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CJ@IBC ‘Laser Projection part 1 – Seeing is Believing’

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Peter  Lude’ (now with Real D) dives straight into the deep end of the many questions buzzing about laser ILLUMINATED (his emphasis) projecton, ranging from safety to speckling. He even provides a quick Cliff Notes answers to those questions (see above). He then outlines the afternoon (in two parts)

Lude’ starts by explaining the different laser projector types, starting with spot scanners (rarely used, only for pico projectors in low energy), then line scanner (GLV projectors – currently not available), then LIPs (laser illuminated projectors – which is what we have been seeing here at IBC). This last category is one where the Xenon lamp-based optical architecture is replaced with a full laser based optical architecture, or a laser/phosphor based optical architecture which typically only uses one colour (blue) that gets changed into white light.

Lude’outlines that lasers have the potential of:
- Dramatically improved image quality;
- Substantially lower power consumption (20-30% less than comparable Xenon)
- Lower operating cost  (everything from A/C to lamp replacement);
- Reduced environmental impact;
- Flexible design / boothless theatre.

There are over a dozen laser illuminated projectors that you can buy today, most of them small projectors for conference rooms. There are about 90,000 units sold per year and 1st LIP was launched in 1Q13. Around 10,000 units sold per year would requie FDA variance. Currently all devices that contain lasers are regulated, whether or not they actually emit a laser (like BluRay players). The goal is a new laser notice by January 2015 in terms of regulations to reflect the new IEC Edition 3.

Jan Daem (Barco) comes up to stage to talk about bringing regulaion up to date with technology, but from a European perspective. Begins by talking in technical detail about what a saler is. “Thermal induced retinal damage” measurement makes it sounds scary. Talks about national and Eurpean regulation and legislation. Final situation will be Class1RGX. (This presentation has a feel of engineer white paper. Not much that I can usefully summarise.)

Matt Cowan (ETC) whose title is ‘What do we do with all that Color?’ Will deploying different laser primary selection have an impact on color grading, does BT.2020 reqiure narrow band primaries. He then does “100 years of color science in 1 slide” looking at ‘what we see, what we measure.’ He observes that color spaces changes throughout the workflow. “There’s no colors that cant be defined with X’Y”, even colors that we cannot see,” Cowan affirms. He explains to the audince how we can get any colour by mixing red, green and blue light. “Mathematics provides exact conversions among different color representations.” How does projector handle XYZ color? Through projector calibration, Cowan explains. He then did a primary color comparison, highlighting the differences between Rec.709 and BT.2020. For speckling, multiple wavlengths get close to 2020.

Don Shaw (Christie) starts off by discussing why Christie is building laser projectors. “Not because it is cool or because Barco is doing, it is because that’s where cinemas are going.” Highlights Premium Large format (PLF) that offers customers a differentiated experience (and a significant increase in box office proceeds). 3D movies allow a >30% upcharge. But 3D atttendance is declining in (US) domestic market. Novelty has worn off. “This will happen in international markets unless we fix the problem.” LIPs are that fix, apparently.

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CJ@IBC ‘Immersive Audio – from the big screen to the small screen’

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Julian Pinn (Julian Pinn Ltd.) says the industry in embracing immersive audio at a fast rate, at least if compared to the uptake of digital audio in cinemas in the 1990s. He invites the panel to stage in turn and opens up the session. No powerpoints. Instead Julian promises to be a ‘fair’ moderator and give each speaker his turn. (The balance between Atmos, Auro and DTS is fair, in terms of time, though Skywalker Sound is given the most time.)

“There is a real hunger that people are prepared to pay for a premium cinema experience,” which includes better audio, says Pinn as he kicks off the panelists’ five minute each.

Brian Claypool (Barco BV) says Barco is not known for audio, but once digital cinema projector deployments were well underway they asked cinemas what was next. Atmos and other Barco initiatives (Escape et al) is what the result of that feedback was. “We don’t want to re-invent the wheel, we want to create something tangible of value to exhibitors,”  says Claypool of Auro. “We need to keep the interest of cinema at the forefront of what we do. Not many people have Barco projectors in the home.” [Do I etect tension with Auro in the home?] Stresses importance of unified workflow.

Stuart Bowling (Dolby Laboratories) stresses that “audio is our background and we had different approach” to immersive audio. “5.1 is not enough. Creatively the movie makers we spoke to felt it was holding them back.” He goes on an elaborates, “With digital cinema we had greater bandwidth and uncompressed audio, which gave greater potential. We had to create tool sets, we had to create new ecosystem.” The starting point was with a ProTool plug-in and worked with mixers.

Gerard Loupias (DTS) – Pinn asks if DTS didn’t exit cinemas and why is it getting back in? Loupias says “we want to do immersive audio without restrictions and by ‘restrictions’ we mean costs. This is why DTS is offering an ‘open’ format.” He says if a cinema has 20 screens it cannot afford to make them all immersive because of the cost. Points out that all of them on the panel “love sound”. Says that Auro and Atmos “are the same idea.” Emphasizes that this is aso an issue for broadcast and the home. Says that their tools are available from the likes of Fairlight.

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CJ@IBC ‘Doug Trumbull Keynote – An Odessey of Cinematic Innovation’

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“There is no more appropriate visionar than Doug Trumbull to have as our keynote,” Julian Pinn says as he opens the IBC Big Screen Keynote session, listing Trumbull’s many cinematic achievements, ranging from being responsible for the groundbreaing visual effects for ’2001 a Space Odessey’ and ‘Star Trek the Motion Picture’  to writing and directing ‘Silent Running’ and ‘Back to the Future: the Ride’.

Trumbull begins by thanking the team behind the scenes. (I know that this presentation was particularly bleading edge and that the last 48 hours had been frantic in getting it all together.) He talks about his life-long fascination with science-fiction and how he liked panoramic paintings, but got frustrated that they didn’t move – hence he got into film.

From the beginning it was always the largest of screns that held the greatest fascination for him. “I was disapointed when the giant screen experience went away and they got chopped into multiplexes. 70mm production largely ended,” and this was tough for him, Trumbull admitted. Anyone who has seen a 70mm presentation of ’2001′ can probably understand his sentiment. He then switched his focus to World Fairs and Expos as a substitute for he big screen experience.

The Life and Times of a VFX Wizard

By way of introduction to his body of work and cinematic vision he then screens a short film and history which charts his journey from ’2001′ all the way to his Magi process and Trumbull Studios, with cameos by the likes of Roger Ebert, Steven Spielberg, Richard Donner extolling his virtues. He then switches back to explaning how he arrived at the 70mm Showscan process in the late 70s/early80s, which he had wanted to use for his film ‘Brainstorm’, and how this in turn then led him to Magi in the present day.

“We lost track of something a long time ago when we transitioned from silent films with hand cranked cameras – we called them ‘the flicks’ for the flickering – to 24fps to accomodate the optical soundtracks. We have never insreased it since then,” Trumbul bemoans, even as color and other innovations were added. “Unfortunatelly people are now migrating away from the cinema experience, because the convenience of tablets outweighs the inconvenience of going out to the movies.”

He says that the Hollywood studios think they have the tiger by the tail… so they prefer a commonality of formats that works for cinema and television. But Trumbull sees this as a false economy if it dilutes the cinematic experience. Studios also don’t invest in R&D, prefering to leave that to manufacturers, he observes. This left him in a quandry.

Trumbull Studios

“My wife and I decided we have to do it ourselves, so we had to build the stage, bum every camera and light we could get our hands on and put together this UFOTOG film as cheaply as possibly,” Trumbull explains, bringing us into the present with his latest work. “Instead of the two cameras shooting in sync, they shoot sequentially, [and thus] they achieve 120fps for the same price as 60fps.” It is the same (Threality) rig that Jim Cameron and Peter Jackson use, with Cannon cameras. “This captures 100% of the action that goes on in ront of the camera and 120 frames of unique fields of action,”Trumbull explains.

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CJ@IBC EDCF Global Update

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The EDCF annual IBC gathering is a smorgasbord of information about the latest developments in the digital cinema industry. More speakers than time, so without further ado, Dave Monk kicks it off handing over to the first speaker.

David Hancock (IHS) – “9 1/2 years I’ve been doing this slide,” Hancock said, “and in 12-18 months there won’t be the grey bar any more because analogue will be gone.” There are still a handful of territores where there is analogue (Turkey, Baltic States, Latin America). “Technlogy is now the currency driving cinema,” and that’s what he is focusing on today. Hard drives dominate still, even though some territories like Fance it only accounts for 1/3. But that’s all set to change. Most of the focus for DCP delivery today is on broadband, but that and satellite co-exist.

Ymagis takeovers of dcinex and Smartjog has created one major entity. That’s the biggest change in the last year. “The market is concentrating down to a few players,” such as Deluxe, Unique and Ymagis. “But as an exhibitor, how many suppliers do you want i your site?” Some countries have just one supplier for all sites.

Laser projection – some consumers cite lack of brightness as reason for not going to see 3D. It has not been proven to work, “but what we have now is the first generaton and not what it will be shipped to cinemas.” IHS predicts 100-200 this year and 400-500 in 2015, but mainly smaller projectors. “Laser is inectricably linked to the replacemnt [cycle] of the first generation of digital cinea projector.” Business model is needed for replacement machinery – there is no VPF for laser replacement, Hancock highlights.

Audio – “Recently the sector has re-discovered competition after a decade of lack of competition.” 1,500 screens equipped with Atmos or Auro by the end of 2014. But there is now focus on the home evironment, as well as markets such as automotive (cars). Where does it all lead, ancock asks. Premium cinema, particularly large format, is the answere Hancock notes. “Technology pushes the premium experience,” he observes. 1.,401 PLF screens 1h 2014 with IMAX capturing 45%. Conclusion: may you live in interesting times.

There is a tension between technology and cinema. “The cycle of technology does not match the technology of cinema.” Last observation particularly interesting: “physical decline [DVD etc.] ups cinema in Europe: the value chain increasingly underpinned by cinema.”

John Hurst (Cinecert) – First slide asks ‘Is Ten Years Too Long’ but his topic is the state of [digital cinema] equipment in the field. It looks like cinemas here in Europe are better maintained than cinemas in US in temrs of receiving SMPTE DCPs. You have to keep your software up to daye in your digital cinema server to take advantage of all new features – not just bells-and-whistles ad-ons.

He then calls Rich Philips from Arts Alliance (AAM) up to stage. AAM have spun off most of their digital cinema business, but they still have the digital cinema software technology. The message from Richard is that verisoning is not too bad in Eurpe, but that education is an issue, with most exhibitors clueless that there is another hurdle that needs to be jumped through. “That’s all I have to sya really.”

Chris Witham (Disney) is then called to stage by Hurst. He jams through it in two minutes. “For people to keep coming back to cinemas, we have to offer the best experience possible.” He then discusses Disney’s transition plan to SMPE DCPs with 2015 the target date.

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China’s ‘Last Mile’ Plan for Digital Cinema: Ditch Western Technology

Sun Xiaobin

Is Chen Xing the biggest and most important digital cinema company that you’ve never heard of? Quite likely.

With the conversion of existing cinemas to digital winding up around the world, future focus of manufacturers will be on territories with organic growth, before the the replacement cycle sets in towards the end of this decade.

And no market right now has more focus on it than China, with it strong (though likely unsustainable) growth of 18 new screens per day. This means that there is still a need for thousands of projectors, servers, speakers, screens and more every quarter in China. Even other emerging markets like Russia, Turkey and Indonesia can’t match that level of demand.

Given that China started early with digital cinema installations, it also means that its replacement cycle will start earlier than many other territories as next-generation laser projectors with HDR/HFR (high dynamic range/high frame-rate) come onto the market.

So it should come as a wakeup call to western digital cinema equipment manufacturers when a smart, ambitious and heavily R&D-focused Chinese manufacturer comes along as states that ‘cinema equipment autonomy will be China’s film industry digital revolution “last mile.”‘

Chen Xing Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd. 

Chances are that you have not heard of Sun Xiaobin, or even the company that he heads, Chen Xing Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd., or the Oristar brand under which its products are sold. But all that is likely to change soon.

Mild mannered and sweater-wearing, Mr Sun is nevertheless as laser-focused and as unwaveringly determined as Steve Jobs in his vision; by the time China overtakes the United States as the world’s largest cinema market it will be his company and not Christie, Dolby/Doremi or GDC that is the dominant technology player in the cinema technology space.

In a lengthy Q&A interview in China’s Enterprise Observer titled ‘Leader in Digital Cinema Revolution Last Mile‘ Mr. Sun lays down his precise vision and methodology for how Chen Xing is going about becoming the Mainland’s leading cinema technology company.

It is a vision that goes far beyond just new servers and technology autonomy, but encompasses a holistic view of the cinema technology environment. But servers are the obvious entry point for the company.

We see the enormous capacity of the Chinese film market and the fact that it relies on imports for digital cinema servers. We at Chen Xing Technology think that independently developed digital cinema servers can not only break the technical barriers abroad, but also has a huge market potential.

With 35mm film movies starting to be replaced by the digital cinema trend, starting in 2006, Chen Xing Technology homed in on the needs of the digital transformation of the theater with a systematic analysis and research of digital cinema encoding system, so that we developed sophisticated digital cinema servers and digital cinema auto show management systems.

In 2011 we had developed AQ10 digital cinema server, which finally passed the third grade U.S. FIPS security certification, also passed the certification test of DCI. Chen Xing Technology is unique in this whole industry because it is China’s first to achieve DCI-certified digital cinema servers. Previously, only foreign companies developed a DCI-compliant 2K screenings server. Now, AQ10 is on Disney’s official website as having also become a recognized facility.

Marketed as the Oristar AQ10 digital cinema servers, details about it can be found here. The focus on servers is a smart move as they are likely to be replaced before the digital cinema projectors they are tethered to. This is particularly true if servers are to offer HFR of 60fps or even up to 120fps, with the next Avatar films likely to push such an envelope, since many early servers can’t handle any DCPs encoded above 48fps.

AQ10 digital cinema server

But Chen Xing is thinking way beyond the server to a whole end-to-end technology ecosystem for the theatre.

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Ted Schilowitz and Barco Set To Announce New Secret Project at CinemaCon

Ted Schilowitz

Ted Schilowitz, Barco’s New CinemaVangelist

Ask Ted Schilowitz whether he works in either technology or motion picture production or computer hardware or high resolution imaging or marketing, and the answer you’re most likely to receive is, “Yes”. The technologist was recently tapped by Barco, the cinema technology company, to become their CinemaVangelist and help the firm launch its CinemaBarco suite of products.

That’s not the first non-traditional title Schilowitz has had. He’s also a consultant at Twentieth Century Fox where he holds the title of Futurist. Under the arrangement, which began at the end of last year, Schilowitz works with the studio’s President of Physical Production, Joe Hartwick, and President of Feature Post Production, Ted Gagliano, to identify and figure out what kind of technologies and storytelling tools and strategies a big movie company needs to pay attention to, you know, to make sure they don’t miss something really big.

Schilowitz’s title at Fox is almost tame compared to the ominous one he held at Red Digital Cinema; Leader of the Rebellion. Along with James Jannard, Schilowitz helped co-found one of the leading manufacturers of digital cinematography equipment as the company’s first employee. He remained with Red until September of last year.

With those kinds of credentials, it almost seems pointless to mention his role in founding G-Tech, a manufacturer of media storage devices which was purchased by Hitachi. Nor that he helped develop the video cards for AJA Video Systems in collaboration with a little company called Apple.

You can probably see why it might be difficult for someone with Schilowitz’s resume to provide a direct answer about the definition of his profession. Even so, during a recent phone conversation with Schilowitz as he drove to Las Vegas for CinemaCon, I figured its was at least worth asking him how he landed his most recent title with Barco and exactly what he’d be helping the company with.

The transcript of our conversation is a perfect example of how good Schilowitz is at building excitement around the technology used in modern motion pictures and television. What’s even more amazing is that he can manage to do this without divulging the details of a big new product Barco is announcing at CinemaCon, only managing to further build the suspense over just what it might be.

Celluloid Junkie: Okay, I’ve got to start with title. What’s the deal with the CinemaVangelist title?

Ted Schilowitz: My logic about titles in the modern world of business is that titles mean a lot less than they used to. It’s really what people do versus what they’re called that matters. When I started talking with Barco about what my title should be in this new role there were a bunch of very traditional titles that made me sound very self important. None of that really worked for me. It needs to be more fun. We’re in the entertaimnet business, we’re in the movie business, we’re in the fun business. I want this to be a kind of watershed moment for Barco in terms of the kind of environment that we’re creating and what I’ve been brought in to help spearhead is this new level of showmanship and this realization that technology doesn’t need to be boring, but that technology needs to be integrated with the wonder of storytelling and that’s where things get exciting. So we came up with like five or six different names and then the Barco execs said “We like CinemaVangilist we think that defines your role and it defines Barco and why we’re both very excited.” I’m thrilled to be a part of Barco and Barco is very motivated to have me helping that effort. It’s very bidirectional. It’s essentially evangelizing the art, the science and the fun of cinema, in all its form and functions. It doesn’t really have a hard definition.

CJ: What led you to Barco and what will you be doing for them?

TS: Well, at the same time as I’m doing this crazy gig for Fox, in the background, in secret, I’m working on this very interesting piece of technology and storytelling for Barco, which is an amazing company in so many ways. Not a lot of people know about Barco. They know Barco, they just don’t realize they know Barco, because every time they go to a cinema they see a Barco projector. They have the leading market share out of all the three or four big companies. They are in my opinion best of breed when it comes to this number one in terms of the technology and number one also in terms of servicing their clients and really making sure that they get maximum value out of the technology. So we’ve been working on this secret thing and Fox is involved in it along with one other big movie studio, but I’m not sure I have clearance to talk about them. It’s going to be launching on March 25th.

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Has Auro Abandoned Cinema for the Home?

Auro Technologies surprised the cinema industry by announcing partnerships for bringing its immersive audio format to the home cinema market at the recently concluded CES. With only some 100 systems installed in cinemas around the world it would seem early for a switch of focus to the home. However, underpinning the announcement is a complex control structure and ownership of the technology and brand by Barco, Datasat (formerly DTS Digital Cinema) and Galaxy Studios. The question is what impact the announcement will have on future Auro cinema deployments.

The announcement itself is very straightforward in laying out the plan for conquering not just the home cinema, but also the car and mobile markets:

After the successful introduction of its technology in the digital cinema market, Auro Technologies announces the introduction of the immersive Auro-3D® audio experience into the consumer electronics market…Since the introduction of Auro 9.1 and Auro 10.1 at the AES Convention in Paris and San Francisco in 2006, the cinematic speaker layout Auro 11.1 was successfully launched in 2010 (Tokyo, AES Spatial Audio Convention), thanks to the great contribution of Barco, market leader in professional digital projectors and Auro Technologies’ exclusive partner for digital cinema. Until now, Auro-3D® has only been available to the public in professional cinemas equipped with Auro 11.1 by Barco around the world. Now, together with its official partners, Auro Technologies is pioneering once again and the first now to bring its revolutionary 3D Audio technology to all consumer markets.

Auro Technologies then sent out separate press releases the following days announcing the key partnerships, including the one with Datasat (formerly DTS Digital Cinema), whose sound processor is at the heart of the Auro system:

The deal will see the companies collaborate in the development of a range of processors incorporating the Auro-3D® immersive sound format. The new processors will make Auro-3D® available across price points from entry level to high-end home cinema.

The technology partnership agreement builds upon the Auro-3D® license agreement that the companies signed in September 2013. The previous agreement brought Auro-3D® to high-end home cinema with its integration into the award-winning Datasat RS20i processor being demonstrated at ISE 2014. The new agreement will bring this important immersive sound format within the reach of those with more modest budgets.

The other partnership that merited a press release was with DMS for distribution of the technology in most major markets (except for China). Auro Technologies full list of official partners includes: Audiokinetic, California Audio Technology (CAT), Continental, Datasat Digital Entertainment, Denon & Marantz, McIntosh Laboratory, Steinway Lyngdorf (SL Audio) and StormAudio. Then there is of course Barco, with its exclusive right to use the technology in cinemas and which has been lobbying Hollywood studios and other film producers to release their films (preferably exclusively) in the Auro format.

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Cinemeccanica Brings Laser Projection to Europe

Italian projector manufacturer Cinemeccanica has announced a test bed installation of its Cinecloud™ Lux laser driven projector in Venezia Mestre, Italy. Calling it “Immersive Cinema” the manufacturer does not go easy on the hyperbole for the installation with IMG Cinema Multiplex:

The Multiplex, besides  modern and futuristic design, will be endowed of the most advanced digital technologies for film screening and sound reproduction, it will become the first cinema in the world where people, seeing a movie, will make a unique emotional experience never made before.

There is no word on what film allowed audiences to make this ‘unique emotional experience never made before’, but the opening date of 12 December suggest that it may have been The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. This is also likely because the auditorium has at the same time been fitted with Dolby’s Atmos immersive audio.

Quoted in the press release, “Pier Carlo Ottoni, Sales & Marketing Director of Cinemeccanica says: “ To be the firsts to start the Immersive Cinema age, introducing laser driven projection and multidimensional sound in a unique auditorium, make us proud for the constant capacity to innovate and also because the first cinema of this type will be exactly in Italy”.”

Cinemeccanica is affiliated with Barco’s digital cinema projectors, though Cinemeccanica’s Sales and Marketing Director Pier Carlo Ottoni claimed that, “Our laser source could be installed in any DCI projector. For this first installation in Europe, we inserted the laser into a Cinemeccanica-Barco DPC4K-80. At the moment Cinecloud Lux reaches 50.000 ANSI lumens.”

Given the high cost of laser projector for the foreseeable future, it makes sense that this will initially be paired with immersive audio (though interestingly Cinemeccanica did NOT opt for its Barco partner’s Auro system) in premium venues where bright 3D is required for a large screen – such as Christie’s laser projector installation in Seattle’s Cinerama Theatre. Typically today this high-brightness is achieved by pairing two projectors, which when coupled with lamp and maintenance costs, start to make laser seem more affordable. But for now these will be high end one-off showcase test beds.

Can RealD Rival IMAX In The Premium Large Format (PLF) Market?

With Cinema Europe currently underway in Barcelona, two trends for premium cinema experiences that pull in opposite direction are hot topics for exhibitors gathering in Spain. The first is towards smaller, intimate venues that typically serve fine food and wine, as exemplified by The Electric in London or the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. But it is the super-sizing of cinemas in a bid to compete with IMAX and its ability to charge premium ticket prices that is attracting the most attention right now. And RealD wants to be the centre of that action.

With cinema admissions in most of Europe static or even down and 3D seeing its lowest admission figures yet in the US this week, the hunt is on for how to squeeze more out of the people that still go to the cinema. This is where the success of IMAX comes into play, with exhibitors either partnering the large format (LF) player or launching their own premium experience auditoriums, to be able to charge a premium above that of 3D. The track record of exhibitors that have launched their own IMAX-like screens has been mixed, with social media in particular abuzz with patrons venting their unhappiness about large screen up-charges. This blog called AMC’s ETX ‘an Excuse To charge Extra’ and is no less kind about Regal’s RPX.

With Digital 3D being a key part of the PLF experience, RealD has spotten and opportunity to try to create a branding on behalf of exhibitors. From their press release:

At a special presentation to European cinema exhibitors at CineEurope, RealD Inc. (NYSE: RLD) today introduced “LUXE: A RealD Experience,” a premium large format (PLF) initiative aimed at unifying the exhibition community under a single brand with a goal of becoming synonymous with the ultimate out of home entertainment experience. Minimum standards will assure all “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums feature massive screens, ultra bright 2D and 3D, enveloping audio and luxury seating for a premium movie-going experience. “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums will provide full flexibility with content, allowing exhibitors to show any movie at any time for optimized profitability.

The code words are clearly audible dog whistles for cinema owners. The first sentence effectively says, “you have largely failed with your efforts of creating in-house PLF brands that can take on IMAX.” The second sentence says, “too many of the PLF auditoriums have been poor IMAX-lite causing consumer backlash.” The third sentence is the most critical, because it tells cinemas not to tie themselves in with IMAX’s restrictive licence terms – “you will have to pay a licence fee to RealD, but it will be less than what you would pay IMAX and we also won’t tell you which films to play and for how long.” Not surprisingly the effort has won the backing of the studios, who are keen on premium ticket pricing, but not on IMAX dominating the market. [NB: The first point was made even more strongly in the ScreenDaily interview, where Mayson is quoted as saying, “There are more than 50 PLF brands worldwide. We’re trying to unify those brands on the grounds that it’s easier to create awareness around one experience.”]

Bob Mayson is quoted in the Hollywood Reporter on the technical specifics:

“LUXE comes in response to our exhibitor customers, who are seeing increasing demand for premium cinema offerings but really want a single identifiable brand that will be a guarantee of quality to their customers,“ Robert Mayson, Managing Director of RealD Europe told The Hollywood Reporter. According to Mayson, the technical standards, which include wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screens of at least 16 meters (52.5 feet) in width; 3D sound; auditorium rakes and a screen brightness for 3D projections about twice the current norm, means LUXE will be an elite standard. “We are talking about the top five percent of cinemas, there will be many theaters that won’t have the capacity or the physical dimensions to qualify,” he said.

Note in particular the mention of ’3D audio’. RealD is careful not to pick a winner in the fight between Dolby’s Atmos and Barco’s Auro and would most likely prefer to see an open standard, as called for by NATO and UNIC [pdf]. With Regal recently having announced that it is installing Dolby’s Artmos in its RPX screens, 3D audio will together with a big screen and bright projection be a cornerstone of the PLF experience. Though for exhibitors not willing to install two projectors, whether Sony or DLP, the equation will not truly be completed until the arrival of laser projection.

The next thing to note is the territories where this system will launch. THR identifies this as, “RealD plans to roll out the new LUXE initiative in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. Europe in particular has seen strong growth in the premium segment of the cinema market.” Screen meanwhile lists, “Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Bulgaria, Romania and the Balkans.” The thing to note is that it is the emerging markets that are of particular focus, which is why we get a quote from “Paul Heth, CEO of Karo Film, a leading cinema chain in Russia.” These are the markets that have not attempted a PLF brand on their own and that will build new multiplexes, so that the system does not have to be retrofitted into existing multiplexes. RealD is thus unlikely to try to persuade existing cinema clients in North America and Western Europe to ditch their own in-house PLF brand in favour of LUXE.

While IMAX is built on great technology and offers (depending on the site) a terrific viewer experience, there is nothing about it that cannot be replicated with todays digital technology – unlike the analogue 70mm systems of olden days. What sets it apart from in-house PLF screens is thus one thing: branding. IMAX has done a terrific job of re-positioning its brand from 60 minute documentaries for school groups that put bums on seats Monday through Friday 9am until 5pm, to one where people book tickets weeks in advance to catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster on the opening weekend. This despite the backlash of the ‘IMAX-lite’ entry into the multiplex market a few years back. Vue Xtreme and Regal RPX have simply not been able to match the branding power of IMAX. RealD too has some cleaver technology, including launching the brighter screen this week, but there is nothing inherently unique about circular polarization 3D at the heart of their solution. The truth is that RealD too is about branding. Just like IMAX it charges a licence fee. Just not as much or with terms perceived as equally restrictive. If RealD succeeds with LUXE – and it stands a better chance than in-house PLFs – it is because the company understands IMAX and what makes it a success all too well.