3D Dominates ShoWest

"The last two days were spent at ShoWest, the western gathering of the theater exhibitors and the equipment providers that service them. Not unexpectedly, the hottest topic was 3D digital cinema.

I had a chance to meet with the major players in digital cinema projection and learned quite a bit about their plans for 3D. Christie is now pushing a new two-projector 3D solution, as is IMAX, which signed a deal to use DLP technology. While 3D is popular with the exhibitors because it creates draw and revenue, the low light levels for single-projector 3D is a concern. Exhibitors wanted the two-projector solution, which is why Christie and IMAX reacted.

Xpand, a Slovenian company that offers a wide range of services in Europe, now has reached 100 theaters with a mix of active and passive glasses solutions. At ShoWest, the company announced it had consummated a deal to buy NuVision, a developer of 3D solutions and a manufacturer of active 3D glasses. The deal means manufacturing of glasses can be expanded and capital is available to create compelling 3D entertainment solutions.

Sony’s 3D solution is currently a twin-projector approach, but a single projector solution is in development. One way to do this is by packaging two light engines into a single chassis with a single projection lens. Sony may want to go to this option, as achieving the fast switching speed in the liquid crystal for a single engine solution may be difficult.

Panasonic is not going after the DCI-compliant part of the market, but instead, will focus on the e-cinema part — this means the main projector for art houses or theaters that want to show alternative content-like concerts or sports events. In addition, these e-cinema projectors can be used to run trailers, pre-show content and advertising. There is probably a pretty good market for these projectors.

I also met with GDC, a company that makes cinema servers, but also offers turnkey cinema solutions mostly in Asia using Christie or Barco projectors. I was surprised to learn that almost all cinemas being upgraded in Asia are opting to go with the 3D install.

The ability of Hollywood to make the full transition to digital and eliminate film will take some time. In yesterday’s Display Daily, Matt Brennesholtz noted that he thinks the US will be almost 100% digital by 2012, and with International about 2 years behind, 2014 could mark the earliest that film could be eliminated. I am not so sure that will be the case after listening to some of the speakers at ShoWest.

For example, several studio executives at one of the lunch panel sessions said the elimination of film is at least 10 years off. They agreed that outside of the US, the transition to digital is going slowly, with these areas perhaps two years behind the US.

But there are other factors slowing the transition now. I also attended an interesting session about the return on investment with a digital projection system vs. a film system. As one attendee commented, "Don’t you have any good news for us?" The gist of the analysis is that the cost of equipment and maintenance is going up and the lifetime of the equipment is going down.

In addition, we actually don’t have any DCI-compliant equipment right now - it meets the specifications of the Interop group, which is working with DCI and SMPTE to finalize the implementation of true DCI compliant equipment. This will happen within a year and half and will require significant equipment upgrades, including the servers and projectors. The virtual print fee will cover the cost of these upgrades for exhibitors if they bought through a third party that was part of the virtual print fee program, but if exhibitors buy directly, they are on their own for the new equipment.

The reality is that we are now past the early adopter phase and a chasm must be crossed before more mainstream adoption takes place, noted industry expert Michael Karagosian, in his seminar. He was actually asked if he would equip a new theater with digital or film. His answer was film if he was concerned about managing profits carefully, but digital if he felt flush and ready to take on a little more risk. There have got to be a fair number of conservative exhibitors out there, so I think the transition may be slower than commonly thought.

I was also able to see a long clip from Fly me to the Moon and the full length screening of Voyage to the Center of the Earth. As one insider told me, "Voyage was the best 1950’s 3D live action movie he has ever seen." By this, he meant that while there were some painful scenes and transitions in the movie, overall, it was quite good from a 3D creation point of view. I would agree with that, and when viewed in hindsight in a few years, the quality of this film will be easy to mark as an early work.

Fly me to the Moon is an animated film so the 3D creation is not as challenging - and the story line follows the first lunar landing by the US back in 1969. It is both an educational and entertaining movie (3 flies in space suits hitch a ride to the moon with the astronauts and save the spacecraft along the way). The movie clip was great, but the 3D trailer is a bit jarring.

Complete and comprehensive coverage will be in the next Large Display Report."

By Chris Chinnock, DisplayDaily