A Few Good Ideas – CinemaCon 2019

By C J Flynn | May 3, 2019 2:18 am PDT

CinemaCon as a tech show is amazing for new good ideas. 4K RGB for the price of 2K laser phosphor… good idea. 10 years of support included in the price of the projector… good idea. Not blaming Netflix for cinema’s fortunes… good idea. Having a day without a long lunch program, but still with a decent buffet to choose from, eat, and get on your way… good idea.

Here are a few good ideas that didn’t get a lot of notice, but were worth seeing more of and hope to see more of in the future.

A few companies hosted industry veterans in their demo rooms for panel discussions to give interactive and unscripted chats, (with Q&A) about particular and relevant industry trends.

Cinionic kicked off their pre-show PR with invitations for 3 of these “seminars”, titled: Cinionic Vision Presentations. Each of them had a Cinionic’ moderator, and two out of three had a Cinionic panelist.

Cinionic Vision
Cinionic Vision

The first dealt with Future Auditorium Design, beginning with a comparison of how a similarly sized xenon lit projector and RGB laser projector eats electrical and air conditioning – with a bit of added nuance. Perhaps it will be turned into a white paper, since to summarize it briefly wouldn’t do it justice.

Mr. Mike Cummings was then introduced from TK Architects who went through a series of slides of various ideas that he has worked on with clients in this new era of boothless and games and in-theater eating and smaller, more communal movie watching. Amazing amount of thought going into vectors that most of us don’t get to think about, quite beyond the nuance of booth-less projection systems.   

Laser savings slide. (image: Barco)
Laser savings slide. (image: Barco)

Their 2nd sit down – the Hollywood Perspective – was informative in a different way. The panel was composed of a man whose career started with stunt work and acting, and which now includes cinematographer, director and producer – Steven Shaw, ASC (American Society of Cinematography), as well as …well, when Fox wasn’t Disney, Hanno Basse was Chief Technology Officer of 20th Century Fox, and Steve Llamb who is VP, Media Technology Standards at Deluxe.

In addition to being regaled with stories of stuntman-to-director-who-interfaces-with-the-bigs from Mr. Shaw – with details of the importance of getting the artist intent across to the screen – we also got fairly deep dive into the problems and solutions of doing that from Mr. Basse and Shaw. Mr. Llamb went through the tribulations of a distributor in the time of hundreds of varieties of DCP for every movie, and how it gets to that point and how it can be alleviated. Mr. Basse explained some points on standards and goals for the future, and to a question responded that we need a DCinema HDR spec, and that is what the DCI Statement on Technology Evolution in Digital Cinema will generate. Again, these should be recorded with white papers taken from the data put forth.  

The Presenting the best image with laser had two competing screen makers onstage, though one is also a PLF experience provider. Mark Ashcroft (Group Chief Executive, Harkness Screens), Travis Reid (COO & President of Cinema Group, RealD) and Ignace Rombaut (VP, Projection, Barco) discussed many intersecting details about how laser brings quality to the screen, how speckle is mitigated and 3D is enhanced.

The point isn’t the information, albeit it was all interesting and valuable. But these served as a break from the typical tension of being given marketing bits from a manufacturer, and the use case bits help bring perspective to the obligations that a manufacturer has to consider when making products.

Power Technology - Digicine
Power Technology – Digicine

Power Technology and DigiCine also put together a group of exceptional industry veterans…that the group was a little larger and that they had a little more time to go into details seemed to help.

Dean Bullock of Cinecert (with long experience at Dolby) joined Mark Collins of Harman International (with long experience at Marcus Theater’s as Director of Projection Technology) and Mark Louis, Senior Director of Presentation at Alamo Drafthouse, and Thomas MacCalla, Consultant and Partner at Convergent in a freewheeling conversation kept on direction by Celluloid Junkie’s own Patrick von Sychowski.

Patrick let them weave their histories around the informally named topic of How to Squeeze a Little More Life Out of Old Things [Not just a reference to us old guys on the panel – Ed.]. He kicked things off by pointing out that it has been 10 years since the digital cinema logjam broke with the release of the movie Avatar.

Thomas MacCalla mentioned that the Series 2 projectors didn’t get released until 3 years later. He said the exact number that are still working in the field was unknown, but indications are between 9,500 to 14,000. Mark Louis said that the Alamo Drafthouse corporate policy required him to update, but he knows that there are some licensees that are using Series One and Two projectors. Thomas was first to make the point that the Series One units were seriously overbuilt, a factor of being the first generation to be productized while manufacturers were still getting a handle on how to interface the security structures with the light engines.

Getting more out of old things - the panel. (photo: CJ Flynn)
Getting more out of old things – the panel. (photo: CJ Flynn)

Mark Louis also pointed out that it wasn’t necessarily that they weren’t working that compelled them to change, but that the equipment had reached End of Support and that they couldn’t risk parts problems in the future. Mark Collins mentioned that there were features like HDMI for Alternative Content, or showing 4K 60p for new releases like Paramount’s upcoming Gemini Man. …that these types of things are what cause the Pain Point of owning older equipment.

Which walked them into the topic of outboard gear to keep things going – upgrading audio processors that include Atmos and the like – a couple of the panelists hadn’t previously realized that they were in the demo room of a vendor of such equipment, most specifically the Power Technology laser system and the purpose-built DigiCine modules that are built especially to handle the processing and security.

Dean Bullock reminisced about ShoWest in years gone by was filled with booths of small companies who presented options to customize and maintain the old film projectors as audio and film handling technology advanced. Dean predicted that it would make sense that these boutique companies will be seen at CinemaCon’s in the future.

Mark Louis also pointed out that this type of equipment was great for donations to the community, mentioning an exceptional project that Alamo was involved with in Austin – Planned community serves homeless population, features Alamo Drafthouse theater.

There was a few moments discussing some of the quirks of the early projectors, in particular, the Gore board retrofit and subtitle vagaries that new upgrades can handle. This is a benefit that both Marks pointed to, that by either upgrading or updating equipment, the bookers don’t have to worry about whether all or only some auditoriums in a facility can play every variation of movie.  

Fortunately, Walter Burgess of Power Technology will have this panel discussion online shortly, for getting the nuance of this entire conversation

Both companies gave a brief pitch about their abilities; Power Techology providing life extension by retrofitting laser systems for xenon bulb replacement so they can produce the 2020 color space while using less electricity and DigiCine providing server- and TMS-agnostic IMBs and the required sleeve unit to upgrade Series 1 and 2 projectors.

We were also surprised to find the InterSociety meeting beginning with a panel of clever people, including the aforementioned Messrs Mark Louis and Mike Cummings among them, as well as experts from studio, production, security and equipment design.

The InterSociety is the group under whose legal auspices the ISDCF group operates and there is no excuse not to be a member. If you have ever benefited from cinema equipment that works together, you have benefited from the Inter-Society. (Subliminal thought: Join Now.) Their full title is The Inter-Society for the Enhancement of Cinema Presentation.

Susie Beiersdorf Ken Mason Award CinemaCon 2019. (photo: CJ Flynn)
Susie Beiersdorf Ken Mason Award CinemaCon 2019. (photo: CJ Flynn)

This year the group gave their annual Ken Mason award to Susie Beiersdorf for her “outstanding long-term contributions leading to the overall improvement of the motion picture experience.” Susie not only has had an outstanding DCinema career with Sony and Christie, but she has been intensely involved with SMPTE and the ISDCF among other support organizations.

As Jack Kline, Chairman, President and CEO of Christie stated in a nice summation: “In addition to her many professional accomplishments, Susie Beiersdorf has always devoted that rarest of commodities—her personal time—to advance technologies and drive initiatives to enhance the motion picture experience.”

Inter-Society meetings technically operate under the Chatham House Rule which prevents attribution to comments, but really they don’t want to worry that press will be repeating what is said, so we won’t go there. But since the membership is composed of manufacturers and exhibitors and distributors and studios, all working to create solutions for the  immediate problems constantly created by this industry of ours, all should be compelled to want to be a part of this group which performs instead of kvetching.

Join here: Inter-Society Become A Member


The Ken Mason Award was given just previous to a post-breakfast seminar named: The Future of Solar and Energy Solutions for Cinemas with experiences from an exhibitor who turned around his energy expenses in one of his complexes near Palm Springs. The extensive details are for another column, but suffice to say that there is exceptional potential, it may not be for everyone, but as the country of Germany has found out to their great benefit, solar power is quite usable and beneficial in northern latitudes. The panel was composed of 3 cinema chain owners, large and small, as well as a Solar & Energy Storage expert who did the installation at the Pickford D’Place, Mr. Ron Harris of Aeterna Energy.

Not only was it good to see this concept being promoted, but a tangent was promoted at another small booth, that of Pureco/Smart Planet Technologies.

As many know, plastic-coated paper cups, popcorn tubs and paper foodservice packaging are often too difficult for recyclers to process through their conventional paper recycling equipment. During the pulping process, the plastic coating breaks apart from the fibers into strong, light, flakes which clog the recycling screens and prevent the sought after fibers from advancing to the next cleaning phase in the pulping process. As a result, recyclers aren’t willing to accept these materials so they often end up in the landfill.

Pulpability Green cinema
Who knew that we would learn the word “Pulpability” at CinemaCon 2019?

And guess what typical popcorn tubs and soda cups are composed of: paper and Polyethylene, which are too difficult for recyclers to deal with.

This company has developed a mineral-enriched resin alternative to Polyethylene that’s made with 51% less plastic and can be used to produce paper cups and foodservice packaging that conventional paper recycling equipment can easily pulp. It’s name is EarthCoating® and it is available for license. The paper products they showed at their booth, made with EarthCoating, look, perform and cost the same as conventional plastic-coated packaging.

Hopefully the companies that we get our products from will give them a good look – so often the “not invented here” instinct combines with the “gee, they want a portion of my hard earned pennies” syndrome to delay adoption. But there are only so many popcorn tubs that can be re-purposed into kids helmets and the time is right for doing more of the right thing.
Smart Planet Technologies has all the right keywords – materials engineering, intellectual property, advanced material innovations, plastic reduction, landfill/ocean waste diversion and increased recycling rates. Their website can be found here: Smart Planet Tech

Speaking of buzzwords, perhaps you’ve noticed that – now that the industry’s technology components are somewhat where we had hoped they would be when the digital cinema conversion started – technical prowess isn’t always mentioned. Rather, we get the de-jour Customer Experience term thrown at us. CompellingCustomer Xperience, Premium Customer eXperience, AdvancedCXperience, experiential CXperience. Caveat Emptor.

Alongside that thought, it is possible that these big sprawling open booths have gone past their stale date. They only benefit the salesperson who just flung a series of clever 50 cent words and acronyms at you. While you try to parse them, or even while they robotically chant them out to you, the booth design allows them to keep scanning for their next big sale. They make one appreciate the smaller booth where someone clever can be interesting and interested while they go through their product with small verbs and big ideas.


So it was in the Qube booth. Their QubeWire software has blossomed into a complete package that serves everyone from the moviemaker through to the studio and distributor and the exhibitor. If that fimmaker-to-exhibitor chain is part of a film festival, the software also fills all the bucket list needs of every partner in that process. Simple and logical pages, easy to navigate, easy to find needed options, easy to go to the next step, and quite secure for each party in the process.

If your movie is sold at the festival, there is a place to put the resulting contract information so that you can’t be exploited. If you create the keys, they are layered in a logical place and manner that can easily be used by tech people or by the casual user. If you have to play a movie from an associate, they now give their DCP creation software away free so that the barrier to entry is as low as possible. 

It seems that they have thought of everything without trapping themselves into corners and they’ve done it with nuance, like using FMLx in the background – when asked about particular potential options or add-ons, the two excellent demo personnel could show where that would logically go. This is a good indicator that they have already gotten them on the roadmap and thought it out, probably from feedback from the festival they’ve helped with and the studio clients who rely upon them. Yes, there are other companies out there with impressive products, but it was nice to see a company which whose booth decorum seems as authentic as their product.

Dolby products at CinemaCon 2019
Dolby products at CinemaCon 2019

All that is said without demeaning companies like Dolby whose casual elegance displays everything without excess flash, letting their continuously refined products speak for themselves until one needs their excellent demo personnel to fill in some detail. In addition to refinements on their 32 channel amplifier and the evolution of the 850 to the 950 Cinema Processor (with built in audio monitor and and expansion slot for a future Atmos option?), they have productized the shown-last-year-in-beta CineAssista sign-language accessibility product. It now works with videos synced to an industry standard DCP track, as well as picking up pictures from a signing dictionary that matches a captions file. This allows trailers and other promos, or even movies that haven’t been ‘signed’ to give a workable representation to the user.

Another company with these features is Riole from Brazil, where there is a law with the requirement to deliver accessible sign language tools beginning in September 2019. The Riole product works with infrared transmission, while the Dolby product transmits on wifi. Some like infrared because it doesn’t carry the potential security and multi-room complications of wifi. Like Dolby Riole offer a complete range of accessibility products including audio products for the blind, partially sighted and hard of hearing. Shown here is the clever powered locking box that charges the equipment and keeps it clean and safe when not being used.

Riole accessibility products at CinemaCon.
Riole accessibility products at CinemaCon.

While Riole seems to come from nowhere, they actually have long had a full range of accessibility and multi-language translation products for conference rooms and other facilities. Information on Vimeo

This harkens back to Dean Bullock’s idea of single booth companies with clever shots at problems. There were many actually, once one gets into the mode of looking at them all. In this case of audio and aesthetics, QDBoss provides modular mix and match fireproof sound panels – taking a moment to study the simplicity and potential was fun.

And finally, the best looking item at CinemaCon was this beautiful wall lighting system from Tivoli. If the term casually elegant weren’t already used a couple of paragraphs earlier, it would be used here. We’ll have to leave it as striking…compelling…premium.

Tivoli sconce
Tivoli sconce

CinemaCon 2019 feels like, yet again, another year in transition for the cinema world. The first booths that many went to showed that miniaturization continues – with attendant higher efficiencies and serviceability – and that while new RGB lasers in the traditional lines are ready or soon to market from Barco/Cinionic and Christie, they have also added features and hewn the mass and energy usage from their 6D offerings.

We’ve been so excited about a future of stable product lines that support immersive audio and 4K RGB lasers, yet here we are with them and we can guess on thing: that there won’t be a large enough flood of changeovers needed by all the large manufacturers to pay off their R&D and messaging costs.

The struggle that centers on “What is High Resolution/Dynamic Range/Better Bits Cinema” and then to promote it, is going to continue to suck a lot of engineering and marketing. Unfortunately it will give a reason to those owners who are satisfied to wait before new investment.

We get the same feeling for the suspected Age of Freedom that the ‘end of the Virtual Print Fee” was supposed to inaugurate. Melissa Cogavin reports in Boxoffice magazine that Event Cinema is On the Rise Again, that 2018 was a fiscal growth year after a few of dithering years. Hopefully that can continue.

2018 proved what Mr. Fithian pointed out at the first CinemaCon, that take any 10 year slice of the exhibition industry and there will always be a rise in income and attendance statistics. We may not be capturing as many youth as possible because they have games and iPads to take their money, but for a mature industry there is still a lot of innovation ahead. And, if we think that our slice of Entertainment Technology is in disarray, the Consumer end of the market is doing everything they can to run a profitless business to capture high market share with more pointless acronyms and marketing bits than the coming political year ahead.   

C J Flynn