Panavision Projects its Technology

One of Hollywood's great names is jumping into the increasingly crowded 3D projection-tech market. Panavision, best known for its film cameras and lenses, has begun demos of its 3D projection system, offering one feature that no one else does: Its system works for 35mm film and digital projectors. The system will be formally introduced and demonstrated at Cinema Expo in Amsterdam next week. Company expects it to be available in the fourth quarter.

The Panavision 3D system, a distant cousin to Dolby's approach, uses "spectral comb filtering" to dissect the visible light spectrum into narrow bands that are split between the left and right eyes. Each eye perceives full color. Panavision's pitch is that its system offers a uniquely simple migration path. Users can get the 3D add-on for their 35mm projectors, then incur only minimal charges repurposing the system for digital projectors.

It works with a standard white screen, not the silver screen required by RealD and MasterImage. Silver screens are a major cost for exhibitors. For film, it can take the same "over-under" release prints as Technicolor 3D. Glasses are reusable and expected to cost $5-$7 each new.

"Studio reception was, in our view, positive," Panavision prexy-CEO Bill Bevins told reporters Tuesday, adding, "There are studios that have no interest in printing film 3D."

Even in Panavision's state-of-the-art screening room, 3D trailers for Avatar and Despicable Me were noticeably softer on film. Panavision execs did not disclose pricing at Tuesday's demo and said the business model is still to be determined. They expect to sell the systems outright to exhibitors. They have ruled out the per-ticket royalty model favored by RealD, but may charge a per-screening royalty. Rental and lease -- familiar to Panavision from decades of renting equipment to TV and film shoots -- are also possible.

Panavision has made only one prior venture into exhibition tech, selling some 30,000 anamorphic lenses for film projectors in the 1950s and '60s. Some exhibitors still have those lenses. Panavision is positioning its foray into projection and exhibition as a move by an established showbiz brand into new and growing markets. However, it can also be interpreted as an attempt at survival.

While the company, which is heavily in debt, is the dominant world player in film camera manufacturing and rentals, its share of the digital camera market is small. This puts it in a difficult position as film production declines while digital production is on the rise. Panavision's main digital offering, the Genesis camera, developed with Sony Electronics, competes in a crowed field that includes Sony's other digital cameras, not to mention other brands like the Alexa (made and rented by Arri, Panavision's main rival in the film space) and the increasingly popular Red.

In March, Ronald Perelman -- whose MacAndrew & Forbes Holdings also owns Deluxe -- agreed to turn Panavision back to its creditors in a financial restructuring that extends the maturity date of the company's debt. The deal cut the camera company's debt by $140 million while adding an "infusion of new money to fund strategic initiatives and ongoing operations."

"This debt-for-equity exchange provides the foundation for the creation of a long-term sustainable business model that parallels the new direction of the industry and technology," the company said in a statement at the time.

By David S. Cohen and Peter Caranicas, Variety