Largest UK Cinema Chain Picks Vendors for 3D While Snubbing Third Party Integrators

By Patrick von Sychowski | February 12, 2009 9:34 pm PST

The UK’s largest exhibitor Odeon (formed through the merger with UCI) has selected Real Image‘s Qube server and projectors from NEC to extend the company’s digital cinema and (particularly) digital 3D reach.

From the Qube press release:

Odeon and UCI Cinemas Choose Qube Servers Qube XP-D servers chosen in 111 screen 3D digital cinema rollout in Europe

The Qube XP-D digital cinema server has been chosen by ODEON and UCI Cinemas – Europe’s largest cinema operators – to be a part of their current 111 screen digitization plan across Europe.

Already playing Disney’s “Bolt” in digital 3D in Portugal for several weeks, Qube has recently commenced commercial digital 3D screenings across the UK with “My Bloody Valentine”.Photo: Qube XP-D

The digitization plan of ODEON and UCI Cinemas is in response to the significant number of digital 3D productions scheduled for release from 2009, ensuring that the audiences across Europe can enjoy the latest films in state-of-the-art cinema technology.

Unlike the Qube press release, the NEC press release does not go into details on the numbers, but talks about a ‘multi-million’ contract (but is it in pounds? dollars? euros? rupees?):

NEC Display Solutions has announced that its digital projectors are to be rolled out by ODEON – Europe’s largest cinema group – for a string of forthcoming 3D Hollywood blockbusters. The ODEON Group currently has 200 cinemas and over 1,800 screens across the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal. It is the largest cinema chain in the world outside of North America.

Following extensive two year trials at ODEON Hatfield (Hertfordshire), where NEC projectors were bench-marked for reliability and quality, NEC’s digital NC1600s are to be rolled out to its cinemas. The projectors will enable the cinema giant to screen 3D movies – such as Disney’s Bolt and the forthcoming Monsters Vs Aliens – for a spectacular experience that puts the audience right at the heart of the action.

The NEC projectors and Qube servers will have to play nicely with the existing Christie projectors and Doremi servers that Odeon already has installed as a result of the exhibitor’s participation in the UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network. It will be interesting to see if the cinema chain pushes for a theatre management system (TMS) that works across servers from different manufacturers. The announcement comes not long after rival UK exhibitor Cineworld announced its digital 3D plans, which involved Doremi servers and NEC projectors.

While this is good news for the equipment vendors, it seems like yet another side swipe at third party integrators such as Arts Alliance, that had been equipping both Odeon and Cineworld for the DSN, and in the process managed to convince the exhibitors to go it alone. While it is well known that Odeon et al. have been trying to negotiate their own VPF deal with the Hollywood studios, the recent announcement by Paramount that it will pay VPFs directly to exhibitors (albeit only in North America for now) is likely to have further encouraged them.

UPDATE – February 15, 2009: The systems being installed at Odeon/UCI are comprised of an NEC projector paired with either a Doremi (for some existing installations) or Qube server.  RealD is the 3D system being used, per the announcement of a 500 screen deal back in October of 2007.  (Which goes to show you how long the digital cinema roll out is taking and why some studios with 3D releases are getting a little nervous).  All of the equipment is being installed by Sound Associates and housed in a modified version of the their DigiBase racks.

Patrick von Sychowski
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