LED-ing the Way: Samsung premieres new concept at Lotte Cinema World Tower

Features
Technology

This past spring, Samsung Electronics raised lots of eyebrows across the theatrical exhibition community when it first announced its Cinema LED Screen concept. Several months later, the company proudly debuted the successful installation of the world’s first state-of-the-art Cinema LED Screen. The inaugural DCI-compliant High Dynamic Range (HDR) LED is on display at the “Super S” auditorium at Lotte Cinema World Tower in Seoul, South Korea.

A second South Korean install was subsequently erected at Lotte’s Busan Centum location, in conjunction with the Busan International Film Festival (held during September). The positive momentum continued with a Southeast Asia signing ceremony in Bangkok on Oct. 5.

Heralding its new partnership with Major Cineplex Group, Thailand’s largest cinema company, Samsung inked an agreement with the theatrical exhibitor, which owns and operates a footprint of approximately 110 theatres and 670 movie screens throughout the region.

Pursuant to the alliance, Major Cineplex’s first move is converting a 200-seat auditorium at its Paragon Cineplex in Siam into a new cinema LED venue. Additional premium theatre renovations are planned across Major’s circuit in coming months.

During ShowEast, we met up with several senior members of the Samsung team and they indicated that Los Angeles, California was also on the short list for a near-term LED install. In fact, there may be two screens coming to L.A., with a 4K version expected around year’s end.

The Cinema LED Screens measure 10.3 meters wide (33.8 feet) x 5.4 meters tall. This is currently the maximum size available, but larger options are likely around the corner in 2018, according to the manufacturer. The screens feature peak brightness of HDR-ready 146 fL/500 nit, representing a 10-times multiple compared to levels typically offered by standard projection systems on the market today. 3D projection compatibility is currently under development and is expected to be ready in 2018.

According to Samsung’s Chris Buchanan, director, business development, of the worldwide conglomerate’s Visual Display Division, the Cinema LED provides ultra-sharp 4K resolution (4,096 x 2,160). Other distinguishing characteristics include true black/pristine white, an infinite-to-one contrast ratio, no optical distortion and perfect uniformity.

Samsung estimates that its screens will have a long lifetime. With projections of a useful life of 100,000+ hours, exhibitors will also be pleased to learn that they are likely to require comparatively little maintenance.

Studios and distributors will like the fact that the Cinema LED Screen employs a strict anti-copy encryption protocol designed to prevent unlawful piracy such as streaming or content redistribution.

Reflecting the aforementioned impressive technical screen specs, Samsung is promoting Cinema LED as a completely different HDR viewing experience to the worldwide exhibition space. In addition to immersive visual enhancements, the company has also paired its initial LED Screens with state-of-the-art audio technologies courtesy of JBL by Harman.

This integration includes powerful speakers bordering the screen (including above it), proprietary audio-processing technology and JBL’s Sculpted Surround systems. According to Daniel Saenz, Harman’s Professional Solutions manager for cinema, the organizations have teamed up to productize the LED screens. “We have spent weeks in the initial venues getting the sound just right,” says Saenz. “The JBL Sculpted Surround will cover as much of the auditorium as possible and the shape coverage pattern is designed to fit the geometry of the room,” he adds.

So what does the consumer think? Early adopter Lotte is currently charging a 20 percent ticket price surcharge at their box office, and there has been no apparent pushback from consumers to the higher admission charge. Attendance rates have remained steady since the modest increase was enacted. “With more HDR-ready cinematic content on the horizon in the future, the ROI for cinema owners will come even earlier,” predicts Buchanan.

When asked about the potential worldwide market opportunity for these premium screens over the next few years, Buchanan forecasts that it could be in the 10 percent range, for replacement of traditional screens by 2020. Competition is likely to come from the higher end, including laser projection systems, which have been making inroads, especially when being paired with PLF screen auditoriums.

Says Buchanan, “When cinemas evaluate purchasing a projection system for an auditorium, they also have many other factors to consider: cost of screen, mount, installation, etc. A typical install takes about two weeks, including alignment adjustment and color calibration.

“In the case of LED technology, the cost of a traditional silver screen is eliminated. In addition, our screen technology has a layer that can protect against damage from liquids and objects. In a traditional silver screen, if the screen is damaged it must be replaced completely to ensure a proper viewing experience for the audience.

“We are also talking about transforming the 100-year old business with our new Cinema LED Screen, which provides not only a more visually enticing experience but gives the exhibitors more options to fill theatres during non-peak hours,” he adds.

Another key selling point is the cinema owner’s flexibility to expand service offerings and generate new sources of revenue. The LED display maintains a consistent presentation across a range of dark and ambient lighting conditions regardless of the featured content. This versatility will empower exhibitors to use their Cinema LED auditoriums for concert and sports event viewing, gaming competitions, corporate events and other non-traditional entertainment.

In addition to theatre owners, consumers and the studio/distribution community, Samsung has also been targeting filmmakers to get them equally excited about cinema LED. Some have been invited to screenings, including the Lotte Festival. Apparently, their collective reaction has been very positive once they experience the array of different colors and broader palette to work from firsthand.

As manufacturing prices come down, it will be interesting to track the overall rate of theatre auditorium adoption. With another potential projection system from which to choose, exhibitors will be able to decide whether to go with traditional digital projection systems, laser or LED.