Embracing Laser: Theatres see the benefit of new projection technologies


Beginning with our April issue, the renowned cinema technology company Barco will have a monthly presence as technology contributor to Film Journal International. The column will alternate between Barco news and general insights into industry technological trends. We begin with a Q&A with Carl Rijsbrack, chief marketing officer for Barco Cinema’s new joint venture, about Barco’s fast-growing laser projection business and why so many exhibitors are jumping on the laser bandwagon.

How is the company doing with worldwide laser projector deployment and what is your perception about overall industry adoption rates?

Barco is leading the global trend of laser projection for cinema, setting a record for all-laser multiplexes, in which an exhibitor outfits every auditorium with either a Barco Flagship Laser or Smart Laser projector. We started off with our Flagship Laser portfolio (for premium screens) at the end of 2014 and complemented it with Smart Laser projectors (for all screens) as of 2015. The market has embraced laser-powered projection as the new norm and we’ve responded with the largest and most comprehensive portfolio of laser projectors in the industry to provide exhibitors with a perfect match for every screen that meets all their needs. As we add more models to our Smart Laser portfolio (we will have 12 in March), we are able to offer laser benefits to all cinema screens for a business case that works. This is what we see coming back in the numbers: With 4,000-plus Smart Laser projectors in the field, we quadrupled the number of our laser projectors in one year up to the point where we now sell more laser projectors than lamp-based projectors. We don’t expect this trend to reverse—rather, the contrary. We expect an acceleration as more and more exhibitors are convinced of going to laser.

Are there any specific negating factors in your view that are holding back faster industry growth?

Not really. Barco laser projectors come with higher image quality, easier operation and 80-percent lower yearly operating expense than the best lamp-based equivalents. Looking at our numbers, we clearly see that the shift to laser-powered projection is shifting into high gear.

How do you differentiate?

When developing visualization solutions, we focus on our customer needs. Exhibitors want to create amazing movie experiences while reducing operating costs, be it for their premium screens or for their mainstream screens. We take time to listen to them and leverage the minds of our 1,000-plus engineers to come back with the right visualization system the cinema industry needs. I leave it up to the readers to compare our image quality, our ease of operation and the savings we generate in energy consumption, HVAC and lamps.

Our SmartCare warranty program is also unique. Thanks to SmartCare, exhibitors don’t need to worry about how their projector’s light source output will evolve over time. By providing superior image quality with guaranteed light output, the program guarantees ten worry-free years of operation. SmartCare also includes 24/7 service support and full parts coverage—talk about delivering real peace of mind.

Is there any recent feedback from exhibitors on laser in general?

There are many great examples. We have proven feedback that our Flagship Laser image quality helps drive profitable growth in our customers’ PLF strategies.

Kinepolis, a long-term Barco customer, opened the first “all-Barco laser” multiplex in Europe in 2016 in the Netherlands. The ten-screen multiplex features one Barco Flagship Laser and nine Smart Laser projectors. “Visitor numbers have been exceeding our expectations since day one, which is fantastic,” says Vicky Vekemans, theatre manager for Kinepolis. Customer satisfaction surveys also clearly show that visitors prefer laser-illuminated projection. With regard to cost savings, laser projection is helping Kinepolis cut energy consumption by 30 percent. The exhibitor has since opened all-laser cinemas in three additional locations.

Our Flagship Laser projectors deliver the ultimate visual experience as a cost-effective PLF solution with the potential to generate significantly higher ticket revenues. It delivers unprecedented image quality, featuring outstanding 2D and 3D brightness, high brightness/contrast, constant light output and superior color performance for a premium viewing experience. Research indicates that moviegoers give the highest image quality scores to Flagship Laser-illuminated screens, are willing to pay higher ticket prices and convey that it will increase their visits to the cinema.

We have multiple examples of customers that tested the yearly cost-savings potential for energy consumption and lamp consumption (i.e., excluding HVAC savings) for our Smart Laser projectors. All test points were in the 60 to 70-percent yearly opex savings ballpark.

Gabriel Morales Becker, digital cinema strategy director for major international circuit Cinépolis, concludes: “The operational efficiencies of Barco Smart Laser projectors—and the elimination of costly lamps and associated maintenance—allow us to upgrade our cinema experience for the lowest possible total cost of ownership.”