Technically Speaking: CinemaCon 2018 unveils new innovations for cinemas

Features
Technology

The 2018 edition of CinemaCon is fading fast in the rearview mirror, leaving multiple memories, meeting follow-ups, prospective new biz leads and a wad of business cards from industry attendees we’ve met, all while trying to recall what next steps, if any, should be taken.

There was lots of cutting-edge technical innovation on display in the suites and on the tradeshow floor (technically, two floors—in the Augustus and Forum ballrooms—connected by a somewhat confusing escalator ride for those new to CinemaCon or the otherwise uninitiated). The industry’s leading Hollywood studio brass were in attendance, joined by several newer, up-and-coming entrants. Those included Amazon, which again emphasized their appreciation and willingness to respect and abide by theatrical release windows, stressing the importance of collaboration with their worldwide exhibition partners.

Collectively, studios and distributors showed off the best of their upcoming attractions. In many cases, they also invited some of the world’s top onscreen talent to join their senior execs at presentations to address an eager, often-packed house of theatrical exhibitors at sessions held on the Colosseum main stage (which, outside of CinemaCon, hosts entertainment superstars like Elton John, Jerry Seinfeld and Celine Dion, to namedrop a few) and in Caesars Palace ballrooms, over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Tom Cruise graciously accepted the Pioneer Award on Wednesday night—surprisingly the first-ever actor to receive this prestigious honor. Hopefully, he won’t be the last. James Corden proved to be an often-amusing and self-deprecatingly amiable emcee. A brief but excellent musical performance showcased the musical talents of Leslie Odom, Jr., who previously graced the Broadway stage in the role of Aaron Burr in the hugely popular musical Hamilton

Below is a sampling of the many tech-related highlights from the uber-busy week in Vegas…proving what happens there doesn’t always stay there.

Dolby’s array of engineering and technological solutions is helping worldwide cinema owners reduce their all-important TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). This initiative includes a focus on reducing equipment power consumption and heat, while lowering electricity costs. According to Michael Archer, VP of worldwide cinema sales, the company is installing new Atmos immersive-audio screens around the world at an impressive average clip of three per day.

Dolby is providing complete solutions for the exhibitor’s entire complex, a compelling value proposition for theatre owners and operators. Prior to CinemaCon, Dolby announced an upcoming slate of 20 Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos tentpole titles from The Walt Disney Studios, including Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War and Lucasfilm’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. These films were added to the growing slate of titles presented in Dolby Cinema locations across the globe. The company also announced its first Dolby Cinema partnership in Japan, teaming up with Shochiku Multiplex Theatres. It also continued its ongoing expansion in China, inking a recent agreement with Jinyi.

Christie proudly displayed its wide range of illumination technologies, ranging from the lowest TCO Xenon models to state-of-the-art RGB laser projection systems. Boasting an innovative, patented and all-in-one, direct-coupled RGB illumination system, the Christie CP4325-RGB utilizes next-gen, pure red-green-blue direct-emitting laser technology to deliver an authentic, immersive cinematic experience. It offers the advantages of a high-performance laser projector in a compact, “all-in-one” form factor, which eliminates the need for sub-ambient external cooling, while providing rich colors, high contrast ratios and a relatively low overall TCO.

Under Christie’s LightTIME Guarantee, exhibitors can opt for one of three different illumination packages appropriate for their individual screens. Once purchased, the projector ships with two lamps and subsequently the cinema owner will automatically receive additional lamps as the customer requires, based on the illumination package they choose. The company also disclosed that it has installed its Christie Vive Audio™ system in more than 1,000 auditoriums since introduction. At CinemaCon, the company also debuted two new Christie Vive Audio S Series subwoofer models, ideal for cinema LFE (Low Frequency Effects).

Founder/CEO Dr. Man-Nang Chong of GDC Technology highlighted several new corporate innovations during CinemaCon week, including the SR-1000 Standalone Integrated Media Block™. The company’s sixth-generation digital cinema media server, the SR-1000 IMB is designed with a built-in memory, CineCache™, facilitating content playback without a need for local HDD storage. Playback capacity of more than a thousand movies is possible with this state-of-the-art technology. The system seamlessly integrates with Series 1, 2 and 3 projection systems from leading manufacturers, including Barco, NEC and Christie. Its newly designed, web-based UI-interface is both user-friendly and intuitive.

Also during CinemaCon week, GDC debuted its first-ever D2C (Direct to Consumer) initiative, GoGoCinema™. This creative new platform helps moviegoers select the movie, cinema and time of their choice. Consumers choose the film by accessing a user-friendly, socially driven interface. The system has the capability of offering a wider selection of content than any other platform. For content creators, owners and distributors, GoGoCinema’s goal is generating previously untapped revenue streams at every stage of an individual title’s lifecycle, for the collective benefit of all stakeholders. The back-end architecture is also automated, ensuring minimal, if any, human intervention.

A similar initiative was announced at CinemaCon by digital content provider NAGRA: myCinema, an online marketplace and scheduling tool that enables exhibitors to control the scheduling and promotion of live events and alternative content. “Thanks to its AI-based analytics, myCinema identifies the unique fandoms active in a cinema’s local community and recommends targeted content choices,” explained André Kudelski, CEO of NAGRA parent The Kudelski Group. Look for more details on myCinema in our August issue.

NEC Display Solutions introduced its DCI-compliant, RB Laser DLP cinema projector. With 4K resolution, the system displays top-of-the-line image quality, creating an immersive movie experience. High-brightness output of 35,000 lumens facilitates 3D capabilities, at an attractive TCO for the exhibitor. 

Sony hosted a Tuesday morning press briefing with Katsunori Yamanouchi, president of Sony Professional Solutions Americas, and executives Bob Raposo, Kevin O’Connor, Chris Sampson and Oliver Pasch. A highlight was a screening of movie trailers and the Gran Turismo auto-racing videogame on Sony’s new projector-free Crystal LED display system, which boasts more than 1,000,000:1 contrast.Each pixel is only 0.003 mm2 in size, allowing the remaining surface area to be more than 99% black. The viewing angle is nearly 180 degrees, with corner-to-corner image uniformity.

O’Connor, Sony’s director of visual simulation and entertainment, said he expects the system to have DCI compliance this summer and the first public installation to occur within a year. The high-brightness image, he suggested, will be ideal for situations where the auditorium needn’t be completely dark, such as in-theatre food and beverage service or a Super Bowl screening.

At CinemaCon, Sony also showcased its high-contrast, HDR-ready SRX-R800, the first digital cinema projection system combining Sony’s latest-generation native 4K SXRD with a long-lasting laser light source.

Samsung Electronics is also leading the charge on the next evolution of in-theatre technologies with the world’s first DCI-compliant LED theatre display—under the Onyx brand. The self-illuminating screens showcase realistic, engaging, projector-free visuals—providing next-gen picture quality and featuring true black colors, offering a superior cinematic experience to the distorted or grayed-black hues prevalent in some legacy theatre technologies. An infinite contrast ratio maintains visual integrity in darkroom settings. The Onyx LED screen provides peak brightness (146fL, ten times brighter than projection), accurate color presentation and distortion-free uniformity.

The company’s Smart Signage displays enhance self-ticketing kiosks, interactive movie posters and informative concessions area signage. As a total solutions provider to the theatre industry, Samsung continues to explore new ways of further enhancing the customer experience while driving greater overall operational efficiency for operators. 

Subsequent to CinemaCon, Fandango announced an alliance with Instagram, whereby users can utilize a new “Buy Tickets” button available on Fandango’s Instagram profile. This provides movie fans seamless access to showtimes and ticketing at more than 30,000 domestic screens. Additionally, a “Shop” button connects Instagrammers to movie merchandise and ticketing offers, including posters and collectible gifts-with-purchase available to Fandango ticket buyers through shopping on Instagram. The alliance partners plan to roll out upcoming movie-specific Instagram destinations in coming weeks.

Fandango is also integrated into Apple’s Messages platform and Facebook Messenger, facilitating fan group movie outings by providing easy access to Fandango without leaving messaging conversations. The company has also incorporated new digital payment platforms into its ticketing solution, including Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Visa Checkout and MasterPass, enabling debit and credit card purchases plus Split Pay, which makes it easier to share costs across multiple friends.

QSC’s CMS-5000 is a next-gen cinema media server featuring onboard solid-state storage, high-speed DCP ingest, dual HDMI 2.0 ports for alternate content and native support for Q-SYS, the company’s network platform for integrated sound, picture and control. It is capable of JPEG 2000 DCI content playback at 2K 2D up to 60 frames per second, and 4K 3D up to 30 frames per second. CMS-5000 supports DTS:X (64 channels) and Atmos immersive sound formats. In the Q-SYS ecosystem, the CMS-5000 in Q-SYS Designer software appears as a component, providing full-system interconnection, audio channel routing, status monitoring and control.

 

At its booth on the show floor, MediaMation showed off its MX4D Pod, an experiential marketing tool for advertising events, movies and products, as well as promoting VR content and gaming capabilities. Each pod is equipped with two MX4D motion EFX seats. Also, the first of its kind for cinemas/exhibitors worldwide, the MX4D eSports EFX Theatre is a hybrid of the MX4D Motion EFX theatre, which quickly converts into an immersive MX4D eSports arena. Each auditorium is equipped with MediaMation’s MX4D EFX seats, driving additional revenue opportunities and incremental customers for eSports tournaments during off-peak periods at the theatre.

During CinemaCon week, 4D company CJ 4DPLEX announced a major deal with leading circuit Cineworld Group to add 79 Regal Entertainment locations in the U.S. and 20 Cineworld Cinemas and Cinema City theatres across Europe and the Middle East. On the tradeshow floor, the company entertained delegates with its new 4DX virtual-reality attractions: VR interactive racing and a VR snowboarding simulation. The company also announced its 4DX VR Cinema, which will showcase exclusive VR films plus games and trailers. Also on display: the award-winning 4DX with ScreenX, which combines the 4DX motion and special-effects system with the company’s panoramic three-screen visuals. Every year, some 70 to 80 feature films are offered in the 4DX format, and the company is looking to expand the selection beyond the action and thriller genres.

TheaterEars, the iPhone-compatible iOS and Android-based free-to-download-and-use app, allows moviegoers to listen to a 100% synced, dubbed version of their favorite movie’s soundtrack in their native language. Company CEO Dan Mangru announced during CinemaCon that their user base continues to grow rapidly. Disney’s theatrical release of the animated Mexican-themed Coco proved to be an important inflection point in the company’s growth and success. For the time being, TheaterEars is focused solely and exclusively on providing Spanish-language film soundtracks to cinema attendees via their smartphones and earbuds with a simple and quick download on the aforementioned app, although this is just the start of what the company believes is a global opportunity. The majority of Hollywood studios are onboard to provide their dubbed soundtracks, backed by the encryption and patented anti-piracy system developed in-house by the TheaterEars team.

Coverage of the CinemaCon debut of Barco’s new joint venture, Cinionic, appears in a separate article. Additional reporting on Sony and CJ 4DPLEX by Kevin Lally.