Inside Dolby Cinema: AMC Burbank offers a Prime presentation


This past April at CinemaCon, Dolby Labs surprised the industry by demonstrating their all-encompassing new format, Dolby Cinema. Dolby Cinema is an optimized combination of Dolby Atmos immersive sound with improved image using a laser-powered projector specially developed by Dolby with projector manufacturer Christie incorporating Dolby Vision, Dolby’s High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging technology. In addition, Dolby Cinema incorporates the auditorium itself into the design to put the patrons in the best possible environment for the ultimate cinema experience.

Shortly following Dolby’s announcement, AMC Theatres and Dolby announced plans to add Dolby Cinema to its own branded premium large format initiative, AMC Prime. AMC and Dolby announced that initial installations would begin immediately, with plans to install up to 100 AMC Prime locations with Dolby Cinema by 2024.

On Oct. 5, Dolby and AMC held an afternoon demonstration of their latest installation at the AMC Burbank 16 to give Los Angeles industry media an update on AMC’s progress. Hosting the event was Doug Darrow, Dolby’s senior VP for cinema, and John McDonald, AMC’s executive VP for facilities and construction.

Entering the auditorium, one is struck immediately by how different it seems from most conventional rooms. Drawing patrons into the auditorium is Dolby Cinema’s signature entrance, a 40-foot curved walkway with the left side wall entirely illuminated with a large glowing image. At first glance, the image appears to be rear-projected, but it is actually from five edge-blended projectors cleverly mounted overhead in the walkway’s ceiling. The audiovisual walkway’s side-wall image itself is subtle but elegant and intended to be themed consistent with the feature showing.

Once inside the auditorium and settled into one of AMC’s comfortable reclining seats, one is struck immediately by the design of the auditorium’s walls and the cool-looking high-tech red ambient lighting that makes you feel as if you were inside an expensive European sports car. The design of the auditorium and lighting is intended to allow the Dolby Cinema projector to reveal its reportedly 1,000,000-to-1 contrast ratio. The walls have been designed to provide the acoustical characteristics to bring out the best in Dolby Atmos, and are visually subdued with non-reflective matte-gray and black fabrics that prevent stray light from reflecting back and potentially degrading the image.

According to McDonald, AMC has already completed eight AMC Prime installations with Dolby Cinema, and four more are currently under construction. McDonald went on to explain AMC’s decision to incorporate Dolby Cinema, believing it to be the best possible way to show movies, and revealed that AMC plans to have approximately 50 AMC Prime installations with Dolby Cinema in operation by 2017.

Stuart Bowling, Dolby’s director of creative relations, went on to introduce the select clips, explaining the aspects of their sound and picture. This particular auditorium had been equipped with a 48-channel surround system, a 60-foot screen with five channels behind, and an industrial-grade subwoofer system to match.

Dolby showed their new Dolby Cinema trailer, which in a very few seconds using a split-screen was able to effectively educate and demonstrate the impact of High Dynamic Range content. On the left was a conventional image with approximately 2,000-to-1 contrast, while the right side was Dolby Cinema, approaching a 1,000,000-to-1 ratio. With a peak brightness of 31 foot-Lamberts in the white area, the blacks remained a solid black, revealing the subtle shadow details that are normally lost in conventional projection.

Dolby went on to show clips from several recent features released in Dolby Cinema, Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out and Disney’s Tomorrowland, demonstrating the ability of Dolby Cinema to show the expanded color range, known in the industry as REC2020. The Dolby Cinema projector, being laser-illuminated, can reproduce colors that are typically outside the spectrum of conventional Xenon-illuminated projectors, adding excitement and emotion to animated content, where filmmakers can push and manipulate colors to new limits.

The Dolby Cinema demo is spectacular for what you see, but also what you don’t see as well. The visual walkway eases patrons into the auditorium. During the feature, you see the bright areas sparkle with highlights while the blacks remain deep and rich with shadow detail and, depending on the particular feature being presented, you may see colors you may have never encountered. But you don’t see visually irritating lighting or signs that will degrade the picture quality and ultimately the enjoyment of the movie.

AMC Prime, incorporating Dolby Cinema, represents the state-of-the-art in cinematic presentation. Although launched just this year, the development of Dolby Cinema pulls together years of Dolby’s technological accomplishments into one branded format representing the best image, sound and auditorium design that today’s science can produce. As this format continues to grow and expand, we are all going to be enjoying more colorful, brighter and even darker cinema experiences in the coming years.