Panavision Officially Enters 3D Market

By J. Sperling Reich | June 17, 2010 1:45 pm PDT

Earlier this week Panavision took their first public steps into the 3D motion picture exhibition market by announcing a new system that will work with all projectors, film or digital, and all screens, white or silver. While we had already reported that Panavision was working on such a solution, this was their first official statement about the product. The company, primarily known for high end motion picture camera systems, will demonstrate the system next week at Cine Expo in Amsterdam on a screen 56 feet wide (17 meters).

Last Tuesday Panavision invited the press to their offices in Woodland Hills to see the 3D system in action. We were greeted by John Galt, Panavision’s Senior Vice President of Advanced Digital Imaging, Eric Rodli, Senior Vice President of Panavision and Bill Bevins, President and CEO of Panavision. They explained all the technical specifications about the system as well as some of the business details pertaining to its marketing.

First let’s quickly review some of tech bullets all of which are the same as they were back in March when we first saw a demo:

  • The system uses spectral comb filtering, not polarization, to separate the visible light spectrum into ten band of even and odd wavelengths of light. One set of bands is presented to the left eye, the other set to the right eye.
  • Dichroic passive glasses allow the viewer to view distinct images in each eye. Though the image reaching each eye is actually different, the viewer’s brain puts the images together providing the sensation of seeing a full color spectrum.
  • No ghost busting, color correction or image processing is required.
  • Film-based 3D uses an over/under method. Each frame of film contains two images, stacked on top of one another, two perforations high. The system will use the same film prints made for Technicolor’s 3D system.  A specially designed split lens mounted on the front of the projector combines the images on screen.
  • Digital 3D being shown on a DLP projector employs a split filter wheel placed before the integrator and in front of the lamp house that rotates at 4320 RPM to provide 144 flashes per second. For Sony’s SXRD projectors a specially designed split lens will be used to separate two stacked images from the 4K chip.
  • The system will work with any digital projector on the market today.

Unlike systems that use polarization, the glasses are not reusable. Despite the less expensive material required to make glasses for polarization 3D systems, Galt explained, “The problem with polarization is that you have to maintain the polarization from the projector, to the screen back to the eyeball so it requires a metallic screen.” Because there is no polarization a white screen can be used, Panavision’s system is more comparable to Dolby’s 3D system.

The glasses for Panavision’s system has special lenses and will cost between USD $5 to $7 a pair. The company will provide a washer for the glasses which can clean 1,200 pairs per hour. Panavision feels that in territories such as Europe, the reusable glasses will be readily accepted, especially at low prices, since they cut down on ecological waist such as plastic wrappers, cardboard boxes and even freight.

Another competitive advantage Panavision sees is that the same system can be used with both film and digital, thus providing a “migration path” for exhibitors who might want to start out with film-based 3D. “You can start with film and migrate to digital without changing your operating procedures,” said Rodli. “The same glasses will work fine. It will make it seamless to the audience and we’re going to make it very attractive to the exhibitor to make that migration. It’s a fairly trivial and low cost transition.”

Speaking of cost, Panavision said they were still finalizing on the business model and are working with exhibitors and studios to discuss the best way, and best price, to bring the system to market. “We realize there is a competitive marketplace there so as good as the technology is, we have to find an economic model that will work for everyone,” Rodli stated. “We think we can.”

Whatever model Panavision adopts, whether it’s outright sale of the system or a lease agreement, it will definitely include an ongoing royalty payment. On the other hand, it may cost nothing to initially install the system.

Panavision uses a special split lens for film-based 3D
Panavision uses a special split lens for film-based 3D

“There are a lot of things that go into the negotation – the size of the screen, the number of screens involved, the term of the contract – so there is no one size fits all for this,” said Bevins when talking about pricing. “Leasing is in our DNA. We are not yet at a point where we’re absolutely clear what the business model is. Whether we will pay the upfront installation cost, pass it through, bill it up front. In fact that’s a negotiation we’ll have with everybody and that up front installation cost will be handled differently in each instance.”

While the idea of leasing 3D motion picture technology may seem like an odd model, it’s not such a foreign concept to Panavision. Keep in mind this is the same company that manufacturers multi-million dollar 35mm film cameras and rents them to individual productions. Indeed, Bevins reports that Panavision will continue to broaden their offerings in the industry.

“We think of ourselves as a very high end supplier of equipment for the motion picture industry,” he said. “As far as Panavision is concerned we will continue to be very opportunistic if we see a place anywhere in our base business to be of service.”

Panavision’s 3D system will be available to theatre owners worldwide sometime this fall.

J. Sperling Reich