Category Archives: Technology

How Smartphones Rule Cinema Ticketing in China

China mobile ticketing WeChat

The boom in China’s box office is mainly attributed to the growth in the number of modern multiplexes catering to a growing middle class. Yet an equally important role has been played by convenience of mobile ticketing, which enables flexibility, impulse buying and seat selection that is valued by the 80, 90 and 00 generations (i.e. born in those decades), who are the main drivers of China’s cinema growth.

Just how big this is and how fast the trend is growing was highlighted in an article by Chinese entertainment consulting firm Entgroup last month:

During this year’s summer profile, market share of online ticketing business accounted for more than 30%. As of the third quarter, the total box office mainland film market beyond 2013 full-year results of 21.7 billion, is expected to reach 30 billion annual box office revenue, and online ticketing service will reach 50%, micro-channel movie tickets will use its unique “ripple communication “vibration entire online ticketing market, and root out the 3-4 line market, in response to consolidation and mergers and acquisitions in the context of the total forest hot market making the message is “no one can integrate me, I do not accept integration. “

Financial website Tiger Sniffing Network (!) profiles the rapidly evolving market and interviews people from three of the leading Mainland mobile ticketing providers: Pull Movies founder Kai, a Cat Movie insiders (interviewed anonymously) and Micro-Channel Movie Tickets founder Lin Ning.

Mobile ticketing in China is considered an O2O (Online-to-Offline) business, which is described by Wikipedia (Chinese) in the following terms:

O2O (Online To Offline) mode, also known as the offline business model refers to the purchase of consumer online marketing online and offline operations driving under the wire. O2O through promotions, discounts, information, service book, etc., the next line of the message store pushed to Internet users, which will convert them to customers under their own line, which is particularly suitable for the goods and services necessary to store the consumer, such as dining, fitness, movies and shows, beauty salons, and department stores such as photography.

In understanding Chinese consumers, particularly 80/90/00, it is important to appreciate the mobile-first, as well as savvy bargain, discount and special deals mentality that underpins consumer behaviour.

Added to this there is a strong element of social networking, using WeChat (messaging), Weibo (Twitter-type ‘micro-blog’) and other social apps, whereby peer influences and decision guided purchasing decisions for both goods and services/experiences.

Mobile Enablers Create Win-Win Situation

The article begins by pointing out that mobile movie ticketing vendors are in a unique position in terms of being enablers, rather than just middle-men between cinemas and their potential audience.

Online seat selection is typical of the O2O industry, where they provide cash flow from online and complete the import line. A mobile phone app will be able to direct the attention of online marketing to generate transformed into the purchasing power of the line at the box office, it is probable that all the movie marketing companies currently can not match the “creativity.” They are closer to the audience than the cinema, so they have amazing box office pulling power to entice the film side more and more to cooperate with them.

There is thus a power that rests with mobile movie ticket companies that is stronger than in most other parts of the world. This change has not come about overnight and the article does a good job of providing a chronology of how ticketing software systems have evolved in China over the past two decades.

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YouTube Now Supports High Frame Rate Playback (Sort Of)

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Back in 2010, as debate raged over whether 4K was really necessary in movie theatres (it depends) and if consumers would ever adopt 4K television sets (they’re starting to), YouTube announced they would begin support of 4K video uploading and playback. The debate wasn’t entirely squelched though until Netflix began streaming content in 4K earlier this year.

YouTube may be squashing yet another film industry debate, this one over the benefits of content created and shown in high frame rate (HFR).

To date, the only feature film to be shot and released in HFR is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. The franchise was both captured and projected at 48 frames per second (fps). There have been only a few filmmakers who have since suggested they wish to shoot HFR at higher speeds, notably James Cameron. This is likely due to the lukewarm reception HFR versions of “The Hobbit” received as well as an uncertainty over the install base of HFR-capable digital projectors.

Though the merits of HFR are still being questioned for theatrical releases thanks to a perceived lack of audience interest, a couple of months ago YouTube announced they would begin support of 48 and 60 fps video. Almost immediately YouTube began testing HFR playback with limited groups, however at the end of October the feature was opened up to all users.

There is a bit of noteworthy fine print on the feature as it is currently offered. For instance, the only way to watch video played back in 60 fps is to view it in HD by selecting the 720p and 11080p from the settings drop down of each video. As well, the only web browser capable of showing 60 fps is Chrome, though support for additional browsers is forthcoming.

Oh, and one last thing… YouTube will be in charge of deciding what videos will be given the 60 fps treatment. For now they want to limit its use to videos that are considered “motion intense”. They may as well have just said, we’re doing this for video game footage. Most PC and console games run at 60 fps and look choppy when played back at the standard 24 fps. Playing back video at a higher frame rate gives viewers the same experience and perspective as the person actually playing the game. I’m sure you’ll agree the sample video shown above looks crisp, clear and with smooth, fluid movement.

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CJ@ECA Conference: New Business Models and New Technology

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Micheal Gubbins of Sampo Media chairs the afternoon panel looking at new business models and new technology for event cinema. He begins with an anecdote about pensioners in his neighbourhood that book up entire opera seasons, go to every performance and all of them dressing up in their best operatic gear. Even the 90-year old gent.

Starting on the far end of the Salim Mukaddam, BBC Worldwide, who works on the music side on thing like the Westlife concert, in addition to Doctor Who and other content. Tom Shaw of Digital Theatre who captured some of the content we saw before the panel started (including flashing Philips lights0. The Matthew Aspray from LANsat/MPS. Thgen award winner Mariusz Spisz of Multikino in Poland (who I  just saw at the SAWA event in Berlin last weeks). And finally the Philips rep – Ronald Maandonks.

Micheal starts off with question to BBC WW about what it is with technology that now makes event cinema possible. Salim begins by stressing BBV WW’s television strength, being the biggest non-Hollywood studio television exporter. “Back in 2009 event cinema was possible and we were looking at things like Met Opera about how we can replicate things for things like the Proms. We split the world with By Experience in US and another company for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.” Aparently the experience with By Experience was good [but what about the other one?] and they continued doing Last Night of the Proms with them.

They then continued the trials with Robbie Williams’ comback concert and Westlife, both of which were record breaking event cinema events. “It’s really about cost of taking it to the market. Prior to 2009 we would never have done it for the cost of taking such a film to cinema,” Salim states. “It is the move to digital that did it for us.”  The point is made about technology becoming’ invisible’ and now it is about the business model and the experience. Salim confrms that “the key for us is live, so if we can go briefly live over satelite makes it a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience,” as well as “cost effective ways of going live across the globe or near-live” rather than going out on DCPs.

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Barco Escape Gets First Real World Test With “Maze Runner”

Maze Runner In Barco Escape

This weekend’s North American debut of Twentieth Century Fox’s “Maze Runner” is enabling Barco to move forward with a new product initiative it first announced at CinemaCon earlier this year.

Barco Escape is an immersive offering being developed by the digital cinema projector manufacturer that wraps three screens around the audience to provide a 270 degree viewing experience. The additional screens are placed to the left and right of the main screen, extending the projection surface and placing images in an audience’s peripheral vision.

The existing visuals of a film shown in the Barco Escape format are not simply extended onto these new screens. Supplemental visual material must be created specifically for the increased projection areas. That is exactly what Barco had to do for the Escape version of “Maze Runner” showing in the following five specially equipped theatres throughout the United States:

  • Cinemark 18 & XD at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in Los Angeles
  • Cinemark Paradise 24 & XD in Davie, Florida
  • Cinemark Legacy Theatre & XD in Plano, Texas
  • Cinemark at Seven Bridges and Imax in Woodridge, Illinois
  • Cinemark’s Redwood Downtown & XD in Redwood City, California

It should be noted that each of these cinemas is owned and operated by Cinemark, a circuit that is predominantly outfitted with Barco projectors. Presumably the exhibitor is assisting the manufacturer with what Barco’s CinemaVangelist Ted Schilowitz refers to as a “technology experiment”.

“We are in probably phase two of something that is not completed yet,” Schilowitz told an audience of press and industry professionals last Wednesday evening before a special screening of the Escape version of “Maze Runner” at the Cinemark 18 in Los Angeles. “You are all getting a sneak peek of something behind the curtain. We have been working with a visual effects team on helping create some of this movie magic.”

Schilowitz was referring to the seven minutes of “Maze Runner” that are projected in the Barco Escape format. This includes the opening scene and an action sequence in the middle of the film. The vfx team will continue to work on “Maze Runner” so that in two or three months an estimated 16 to 18 minutes of the movie will be in the Escape format.

Production of content in the Escape format is one of the biggest hurdles to its adoption. The team working on “Maze Runner” utilized a gaming engine from Crytek a German video game company, to speed up the production of the computer generated visuals. The images were then rendered by supercomputers from Devil & Demon, a company for which Schilowitz serves as president.

Inside a cinema the Barco Escape format requires that an existing theatre be retrofitted not only with two additional screens on the left and right walls, but also with two additional projectors. Unlike the projector that throws the original movie onto the main screen from a projection booth in the back of an auditorium, the two ancillary projectors are mounted to the ceiling inside an auditorium and cast images across the theatre to a screen on the opposite wall.

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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 ‘Life of Pi’ in Christie 6P laser 14 ftL 3D with Dolby Atmos

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The IBC movie night screenings have always been an opportunity to showcase the latest advances in big screen technology, while also giving IBC attendees a bit of blockbuster fun. This year was a technology world first that made a big impression on everyone attending.

Thanks to tremendous support from IBC’s technology, integration and content partners, we were treated to a 3D presentation of an unsurprassed quality. Thanks to the use of Christie’s new 6P laser-illuminated projector, over 40 speakers from QSC, Dolby Atmos immersive audio and a DCP of 20th Century Fox’s multi-Oscar winning ‘Life of Pi’ graded especially for 14 footlamberts (ftL) 3D brightness, projected onto a 1.0 gain matt screen, it showcased something that no public audience had yet seen before, as IBC Big Screen Experience producer Julian Pinn explained on stage.

Two years ago Christie first showa ased its laser projectors at IBC with a secial screening of ‘Hugo’, but that was off a silver screen with an 1.8 gain. Back then there was no immersive audio (either Atmos or Auro), so this presentation raised the bar in several regards. While not new, the film was an excellent choice, not least given that it had won Academy Awards for best Cinematography, Visual Effects and Music.

Watching it I was not so much immediately struck by the brightness but by the colours, details and clarity. It is a cliche to talk about ‘looking through a window’ but that is what it felt like as the camera panned through the Pondicherry zoo over the opening credits. Yes, it was bright as you would expect a sunny day in southern India to be, but the brightness felt natural. But brightness is only something that you consciously appreciate when it is not there – as will be the case with future 3D films I watch in regular cinemas.

The audio was equally impressive, not least because of a terrific mix that was as nuanced in the stormy sea scenes with the ship sinking as the quieter moments that picked out individual sounds of animals. The combines effect was such that almost nobody in the audience (who filled the big RAI Auditorium) got up to leave once the film had started. For a Saturday night in Amsterdam, that is truly impressive.

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CJ@IBC ‘Tri-focal Camera Systems – Will Hybrid 3D prove to be the ultimate 3D?’

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The war between stereoscopic purists who insist on filming with two cameras and those that prefer the control and convenience of 2D-to-3D conversion could soon draw to an end with the best of both worlds in the form of the hybrid Tri-focal camera system, which IBC Big Screen audiences were offered a sneak peak of.

Howard Lukk (formerly with Disney & Pixar, now Director Pannon Entertainment, USA) bounced up to stage to give  brief introduction and why when he was at Disney they got into it. Having worked on the tech side of Hanna Montana/Miley Cyrus they quickly became aware of the problems and limitations of shooting native 3D. “I was awfully jealous of the guys at animation who could render it out in 3D,” he confessed.  “Is there a new paradigm,” he asked, and that is what lead to it.

At the same time Fraunhofer was working on a camera that pointed the way to hybrid 3D, with a prototype Arri with two side cameras. The Gen 3 camera was the one taken out into the real world (Berlin, if you will) and shot the short film that we were about to see.

Johannes Steurer (Principal Engineer, Arri Cine Technik, Germany) next took to the stage to explains how Arri came around to “stereo unaware” solutions with hybrid 3D based on the Alexa camer. Primary camera = established cine style digital camera. Two auxiliary cameras = small leightweight non-intrusive.

Synchronized recording of all three camera streams was critical. Coarse alignment by mechanical adjustment, fine alignment took place by stereo analyzer software (STAN). (Too much technical detail to do it all justice. Hopefully Arri will publish a white paper for those interested). He concluded with a picture of the camera, which at 10 kg wasn’t (yet) significantly more elegant than native 3D cameras.

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CJ@IBC ‘High Dynamic Range imaging – contrasting views?’

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The quest for better-(not-just-more)-pixels is a big theme at this year’s IBC conference – primarily for television but with major implications for film and cinema too. For anyone thinking of buying a 4K/UHD TV, this is the session that tells you to wait until more than just the resolution of the big television sets improves.

Session chair Alberto Morello (RAI, Italy) calls this one of the “most interesting development in the evolution of video.” He singles out (more) pixels, (higher) frame rate and HDR (high dynamic range) as the things that “will give pleasure” to our viewers.

Touradj Ebrahimi (EPFL, Switzerland) goes up to the podium first to present an overview of the topic. He starts off by confessing to being an IBC virgin, but being ‘impressed’. Prof Ebrahimi stresses the importance of being able to measure to quantify improvements such as HDR.

Tests used Dolby Pulsar Display 42″, calling Dolby their “good friend” who “defined past, present and probably future” of high quality innovation. For content they “begged again” and Dolby provided that as well. Test material was shown sequentially and side-by-side in four different grades/mappings (4,000, 1,000, 400 and 100 nit). Appropriately one of the pieces of content was “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, but he wasn’t authorised to show that to us.
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