Germany's Fraunhofer and Kinoton Collaborate on D-Cinema Testing Site

With 60 years of technology experience, Germany’s Kinoton has outfitted some of the most prestigious cinematographic venues around the globe, from Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to Kinepolis Bruxelles in Belgium and Melbourne’s Australian Center for the Moving Image. This past summer, the Germering-based expert equipment manufacturer added yet another prestige project to its impressive list.

At first, Erlangen, Germany doesn’t sound as glamorous as Hollywood, California, or quite as exotic as Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Once the location is identified as the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, however, not just technology experts begin conjuring visions of high-tech superpower engineering.

Established in 1985, the Erlangen Fraunhofer IIS is the biggest of the 80 research units of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, the largest organization for applied research in Europe. Operating with an €1.4 billion annual research budget (US$1.8 billion, two-thirds of which comes from industry contracts and publicly financed research projects), the Gesellschaft employs some 14,000 people at 40 different locations across Germany. Tasked with the development of micro-electronic systems and devices along with associated integrated circuits and software, Fraunhofer IIS received worldwide attention and acclaim for its development of the MP3 und MPEG AAC audio-coding techniques.

Closer to our industry, Fraunhofer IIS is the coordinating center of the Institute’s five-divisions-strong Digital Cinema Alliance, established to provide “innovative solutions for an all-digital cinema chain.” As stated on their website, “The scope of activities ranges from camera and storage technology to innovative audio systems, post-production tools, projection and transmission techniques, and finally system solutions for digital archiving.”

Partnering with Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) and the American Society of Cinematographers, with SMPTE, IDCF, CST, British Film Council, Nordic Project, Germany’s Federal Film Board (FFA) and most of the European film archives as “scientific and technical consultants,” Fraunhofer IIS is actively contributing to d-cinema standardization, including JPEG2000 for digital cinema.

For Kinoton, the Institute’s work encompasses “all processes bound to determine the future of the cinema.” No wonder the company is proud to have contributed to what has since been termed the “Kino der Zukunft. As the Fraunhofer IIS “develops, tests and configures the entire workflow of digital film production,” explains Kinoton’s managing director, Renate Zoller, it made good sense to include “a digital ‘Cinema of the Future’ as part of the new extension building of the institute.” With 70 cool-blue seats, the steeply raked auditorium now serves several purposes at once. Though primarily a “testing room for different d-cinema technologies and scenarios” alongside “associated processes of the digital workflow,” Zoller says the space is also meant to introduce “new technologies and systems to expert visitors and [be] a function room for lectures or presentations.”

Kinoton followed the “very demanding project,” in Zoller’s words, from its “conception and implementation planning, which began with discussions as early as May 2006, to the finished installation” premiering on July 31, 2008. Since the venue also functions as a platform for the continued development of d-cinema, working with Fraunhofer was a top priority, concurs Harald Bergbauer, Kinoton’s German sales director, who accompanied the entire project. “It was very important for us to create an environment that is based upon the day-to-day realities of operations. We wanted to enable the engineers to facilitate development and usage within that same context, so their research could be executed effectively and efficiently.”

As part of its €400,000 package, Kinoton also supplied the entire stage and sound technology with multi-format, automatic all-around masking and decoration materials, all audio and video racks with corresponding patch fields and miking throughout. There is even an advanced video control system that would make Eagle Eye proud. According to the installation profile provided by Kinoton, two high-resolution color video cameras with professional day/night function were installed to transmit video pictures of both the auditorium and the stage. Combined with an audio recording system (analog and digital) that includes a level meter, two video screens and active monitor speakers in the projection room and backstage area, “the image and sound quality can easily be supervised.”

Undisputed highlights among such high points are two Kinoton DCP 30 Digital Cinema Projectors (with DLP Cinema components supplied by Barco, a Texas Instruments DLP Cinema licensee). “Amongst other purposes,” Zoller explains, “our projectors are used for the impartial evaluation of d-cinema servers.” One was installed at the cinema and the other in the newly furnished post-production studio, so that “an overall projection standard is guaranteed at the Fraunhofer IIS,” Zoller assures.

“The DCP 30s are equally suitable for presenting alternative content and have already been outfitted with Dolby 3D systems. Given the special design of the DCP projector range, the 3D color wheel can be fully integrated into the projector casing that reliably protects the system against dirt and misalignment.” In addition, “the projectors are ready to be combined with other digital 3D systems as well.”

Another advantage of the Kinoton design is the projectors’ lamp modules. “Given the flexible modular design, all common standard xenon lamps as well as special xenon lamps can be used,” Zoller attests. Moreover, in combination with one of Kinoton’s own KEX electronic rectifiers, “the chosen lamp modules offer a high light efficiency and uniform illumination.” The latter is further augmented by using a Harkness matte white “Preview MP” screen coating. This mini perforated screen was “chosen especially for the given projection conditions,” in order to allow perfectly moving pictures to be “undisturbed by bothersome perforation holes even when viewed from the front row.”

In front of the screen, a second holding device was installed, so that alternate screen surfaces with different reflection characteristics can be mounted for testing purposes. Should additional stage area be needed, a heavy-duty rail system assures that the entire screen, framing and speaker system can be moved into the back. “The stage is a very complex construction,” Zoller somewhat understates. “The Fraunhofer IIS set highest importance on first-rate picture and sound quality, as well as requiring maximum flexibility and the possibility to easily modify the technical equipment at any time.”

One of the special challenges, Bergbauer recalls, was “to coordinate all the technological expectations and specifications that the different departments at Fraunhofer provided together with the necessary flexibility for multi-functional use of the facility in such a way that the entire system nonetheless remains easy to use. Oftentimes the hoped-for positive effects of using technical processes and systems lag behind,” he has observed. “The more varied the functions, the more complex the structures are laid out and the more intricate the organizational structure and operations are, the more obvious these problems can become.”

Therefore, he feels that, given all the technological marvel and mechanics, “the planning and project-specification phase was the most important component. Working together early on and keeping an open and constructive dialogue with the Fraunhofer group throughout were instrumental in creating a fully integrated system. Despite its highly complicated technology, we were able to accommodate practical needs as well.”

The sound in the cinema auditorium “turned out to be a very demanding task” as well, Zoller adds. “The film sound should be as spectacular as possible, of course. On the other hand, optimum speech intelligibility was necessary for lectures and presentations.”

Kinoton provided a high-quality digital 5.1 Dolby surround system with three-way front speakers installed behind the main screen, 12 laterally mounted effects speakers, and a 6,000-watt subwoofer (all cinema speakers from Alcons Audio). Designated CRMS (Cinema Ribbon Monitor System), this reference system “with very well-matched components” is known “to offer a highly precise sound reproduction” as it reduces sound-pressure level loss towards the back rows, “providing an almost uniform sound quality and loudness” across all seats. Seven double power amplifiers, all in all providing about 14,000 watts, feed the film sound system.

A second set-up was custom-designed for optimum voice reproduction and equipped with high-quality wireless microphones. For voice reproduction, two directional broadband speakers by Barth Acoustic Systems “feature a high backward and lateral attenuation over the complete transmission range.” Additionally, the three-dimensional IOSONO sound system was installed. Engineered by the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT, it “realistically reproduces different sound sources” by means of many small speakers.

The cinema sound system allows the feeding of “non-cinema” sources and sounds emanating from the in-house sound studio. For cross-linking and circuit-entering of the signals, an electronic cross bar and a fully configurable monitor management system was deployed. Two programmable and remote-controlled four-channel equalizers take care of the room equalization of the sound system.

Last but far from least, special ceiling and wall paneling provides well-balanced room acoustics for optimum sound quality and speech intelligibility throughout.

Whether talking or exploding, all these digital sound bites and their corresponding picture bytes have to be moved around. More than nine connection and cable looms “provide for the flexible data transfer between auditorium, projection booth, backstage area and sound studio,” according to Kinoton. The company designed the entire cable layout plan and all control patch fields for audio and video to complement the specified equipment. “Due to their modular design, retrofitting and changes are possible at any time,” Kinoton assures.

By Andreas Fuchs, Film Journal International