Laser Focus: Tracking the next phase of cinema projection

Features
Technology

Exhibitors around the globe are looking to step up their visual presentations, especially for 3D blockbusters which demand high light output. One obvious solution is laser technology. The players in this realm include NEC, which specializes in laser projectors for mid-sized and smaller screens; Cinemeccanica, whose 6P LUX laser retrofit system has been embraced by China’s Jinyi Cinemas and France’s iconic Louvre, among other clients; and China Film Group and Appotronics Corp. whose ALPD® system is expected to be in 3,000 Chinese sites by the end of the year. This report focuses on the progress of laser pioneers Christie and Barco, including comments from their exhibitor clients.

CHRISTIE

Christie has shipped more than 100 RGB laser projectors and hundreds of laser modules to premium-large-format (PLF) cinemas and amusement and theme parks around the world. Publicly announced cinema sites as of April 19, 2016, are listed below.

Dual, customized Christie 6P, 4K laser projectors also play a crucial role in the Dolby Vision aspect of Dolby Cinema, combined with Dolby’s proprietary high dynamic range (HDR) technology. According to Dolby, “Since its launch in April 2015, more than 200 Dolby Cinema sites have been installed or committed to across the globe, with 26 Dolby Cinema sites currently in operation” as of June 23, 2016. The majority of committed sites are evenly split between AMC Theatres and Wanda Cinema.

North America

Seattle Cinerama, Seattle WA (Vulcan Industries/Paul Allen)–2013

Moody Gardens, Galveston, TX–2015

Dolby Theatre*, Hollywood, CA–2015

El Capitan, Hollywood, CA (Disney)–2015

ArcLight Cinerama, Hollywood, CA–2015

Universal CityWalk, Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA–17 auditoriums by November 2016

Twenty-two Dolby Cinema at AMC locations* (50 total sites by end of 2016, 100 total by end of 2017)

Europe/Middle East/Africa

Cinesa La Maquinista*, Barcelona, Spain–2014

Odeon Multicines, Girona, Spain–2015

JT Eindhoven*, Eindhoven, Netherlands–2015

JT Hilversum*, Hilversum, Netherlands–2015

Cineplexx Linz*, Linz, Austria–2015

Cineplexx Salzburg Airport*, Salzburg, Austria–2016

VOX Cinemas Deira City Centre, Dubai, UAE–2016

Odeon Multicines Sambil Outlet, Madrid, Spain–2016 

Asia-Pacific

Shanghai Film Art Center, Shanghai, China (Shanghai Film Group)–2015

Tongzhou Wanda Plaza Cinema, Beijing, China–2015

CGV Starium, Seoul, Korea–2015

SphereX CGV Youngdeungpo, Seoul, Korea–2015

CGV Centum City – Busan, Korea–2016

SM Cinema Seaside City, Cebu, Philippines–2015

SM Megamall, Manila, Philippines–2016 (to be completed by 4Q, 2016)

SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines–2016 (to be completed by 4Q, 2016)

SM City North EDSA, Manila, Philippines–2016 (to be completed by 4Q, 2016)

Jackie Chan Cinema’s Beijing Wukesong*, Beijing, China–2016

Xi’an Oscar CityOn International Cinema, Xi’an, China–2016

Zhenjiang Suning Cinema, Zhenjiang, China–2016

Shanghai Fengxian Suning Cinema, Shanghai, China–2016

Four Dolby Cinema sites at Wanda Cinemas* (Dalian, Changchun, Chongqing and Jinan)–2016 (100 total sites in the next five years)

* Dolby Vision systems

Joe Miraglia, VP of operations at ArcLight Cinemas, says, “Before each show [at the Cinerama in Hollywood] we greet the guests with a welcome and brief information on the film they are about to experience, which sometimes includes technical information on our laser projection system.” He notes that “light levels have significantly improved in 3D. The Christie 6P projectors along with the Dolby 3D technology provide for a more seamless 3D viewing experience and excellent 2D presentation.”

As for customers’ reactions, “During the run of Star Wars, the guests raved that the presentation immersed them into the story. Whether they realized it was due to the Christie 6P and Dolby 3D systems or not, the bright image and smooth 3D presentation on a wall-to wall, wraparound screen truly immersed the audience into the film.”

Ryan Noonan, director of corporate communications at AMC Theatres, says,“The Dolby Vision laser projection system delivers high dynamic range with enhanced color technology that produces incredible blacks and a contrast ratio that far exceeds other image technology on the market today. The result is a richer, more detailed viewing experience that delivers strikingly vivid and realistic images that make audiences feel like they are in the movie’s world.”

He continues,“Dolby Cinema at AMC is among our highest-rated presentation experiences, based on guest feedback and survey results. We’ve seen the site presentation numbers go up after making the change from AMC Prime to Dolby Cinema at AMC.”

BARCO

During CineEurope in June, Barco announced that more than 40 exhibitors had selected their flagship laser projectors. Of the 125 units shipped to date, 55 are in the Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) region, 41 are in the Americas, and 29 in the Asia-Pacific region. (This figure excludes the laser technology Barco supplies for customized programs.)

With over 15 all-laser multiplexes secured, a growing number of exhibitors are transforming their multiplex into an all-laser venue powered by Barco’s flagship laser and laser phosphor projection. All-laser multiplexes will become the standard for new-built theaters by 2018, Barco says. The first all-laser projector-powered multiplexes include all Santikos Entertainment multiplexes—such as the recently opened Casa Blanca Theater in San Antonio, Texas; JinYi Cinemas in Guangzhou, China, and Regal L.A. LIVE: A Barco Innovation Center in Los Angeles.

Reel Cinemas The Dubai Mall is taking things one step further by turning their 22-screen multiplex into an all-flagship laser cinema, making it the largest cinema complex in the world powered exclusively by Barco’s flagship laser projectors. “The image quality is truly amazing, bringing the action on the big screen to life like never before,” says Maitha Al Dossari, chief executive officer of Emaar Entertainment LLC, the owners of Reel Cinemas.

A relatively new client, Kirstjan Congo, CEO of Forum Cinemas, endorses the move to laser at his Coca-Cola Plaza in Tallinn, Estonia: “Our audience is really enthusiastic about the unsurpassed image quality… The price to view a movie in our top-class theatre is slightly higher, yet everyone seems to happily pay a bit more to enjoy this exceptional movie experience.” A survey of moviegoers at Coca-Cola Plaza asked whether laser projection would make them go more often to the movies, and a resounding 77% answered yes.

Art Seago, president of Santikos Entertainment, declares, “We are excited that Barco has grown its laser projection product line, which now allows us to reap the rewards of stunning image quality and low TCO across our entire circuit. They offer an ideal combination of image quality and economic value, enabling us to simplify operations and eliminate maintenance costs associated with lamp-based projectors.”

Barco’s laser light engines also play a key role in IMAX’s new laser projection system. Current installations include the AMC Metreon in San Francisco and AMC Universal Citywalk in Los Angeles; AMC Lincoln Square in New York should be installed later this year.

Thanks to Dave Paolini at Christie and Alison Maxson at Barco for their input for this report.