Belgian exhibitor Kinepolis is to continue its pioneering role within the cinema industry, by equipping four of its screens with Barco’s new range of 6P laser-illuminated projectors (LIP), called Barco Laser3D. The exhibitor has chosen four flagship sites in Belgium (Antwerp and Brussels), Spain (Madrid) and France (Lomme) for the installations which should take place at the end of the year. The deal also includes Barco’s new concepts of Escape and iD. Barco has also received an order from Santikos Theatres in USA for the Laser3D, as well as the first order from leading US circuit, and Barco customer for projectors and audio, Cinemark. In China, three exhibitors have also placed orders for the Laser3D: Guangzhou JinYi Media Corporation (JinYi), Sichuan Pacific Cinema and Henan Oscar. The US and Chinese orders will be installed during the second quarter of 2014, and the European orders in the last quarter of 2014. Barco released and demo’ed the 6P laser-illuminated projector at the recent Cinemacon in Las Vegas, where laser was one of the major themes. The 6P projector is capable of showing 4K content at 60 fps and 3D movies in 4K resolution at 60,000 lumens. It offers up to 30,000 hours of illumination at 80 per cent of the original light level.
Also at Cinemacon, Barco unveiled CinemaBarco, a modular experiential range of technologies for the cinema lobby and screens. Barco’s iD (Interactive Dimension) is a concept developed with interactivity company Audience Entertainment, and will be used during the pre-show. The audience uses hand gestures to control action on the screen. This technology was demo’ed some years ago at a screen advertising conference, and has been picked up by Barco which is now an investor in the company. The system is priced at around $10,000. On a different tack, the Escape system uses a tri-screen (two screens either side of the main screen) and is aimed at creating a more immersive watching experience. Lobby promotions are also a part of this concept, using a large video screen, and an interactive wall.
Imax, an early developer of laser through an investment in Laser Light Engines (LLE), is also turning to laser projection, announcing it will deploy 63 laser projection systems in some of its key sites in China, N America and Middle East over the next two years, the first two this year. The Imax projector has been developed by Barco and Kodak, and is for screens 80 feet or wider at an estimated development cost to date of $40m. According to the Giant Screen Association, there are more than 90 Giant screens that are wider than 80 feet (24m). The majority of Imax’s projectors (43) are going into mainland China, all but three in Wanda’s screens. Nine are agreed for USA and one has recently been sold to Qatar. The company is targeting high footfall sites as a way of paying for the purchase and installation costs. At a conference last year, LLE stated that laser projectors would add between $10-$15 per lumen to the cost of an existing projector. That would price a projector at around $500,000 for a 60,000 lumens model.
Kinepolis has long been a pioneer in digital cinema. Long before DCI published their specification that was the launch pad for the conversion of screens to digital projection that is now near an end, Kinepolis had installed e-cinema projection units in its screens and was experimenting with digital projection and alternative content. Now, Kinepolis is maintaining that pioneering spirit by being one of the first exhibitors to install laser-illuminated projectors (LIPS) in four screens, and the first in Europe.
Laser projection is the latest in a line of technology advancements in cinemas, but one that could have a profound impact on the quality of screenings, and also the underlying economics of the business. The use of lasers in cinema projectors achieves very high light levels, a need driven by 3D, but also removes the need for lamps. It can lower electricity consumption and also removes the need for heat evacuation systems. There are two different strategies on offer for laser projection. The projectors being installed by Kinepolis, and offered by Barco and Christie, use six primary (6P) lasers (two Red, two Green and two Blue) and are for use with larger screens. For example, the laser destined for JinYi will be installed in the world’s largest commercial screen, a 35m new build Mudu JinYi, and will use a dual laser projection system. The size of the screen would normally warrant four current projectors (DP4K-32B for Barco). The 6P projectors are the most powerful on offer (the demo versions of last year were 3P models) and will offer greater light levels in very large screens, a boon for the audience. A complaint of audiences has been that 3D screenings are too dark, as the glasses cut out 70-90 per cent of light, and this new technology effectively solves that. These models are very expensive, in comparative terms, priced at anything upwards of $200K. The savings on lamps over time will be considerable but the actual ROI depends on the overall lifetime of the machine. Christie achieved the first pre-ordered sale of a laser-illuminated projector, to Seattle’s Cinerama, although this is not yet installed and is scheduled to be a 3P projector. Christie is aiming for production of LIPs from 2015. Laser Light Engines is thought to be developing laser technology for Sony 4K projectors.
At the other end of the scale, and following a different strategy altogether, is NEC’s 11OOL, which is a lower priced laser illuminated projector targeting screens less than 11m at a contrast ratio of 1600:1. The overall cost is EUR 45,000 in EMEA and expected to be $50,000 in North America. The laser is made to last 20,000 hours (currently warrantied at 10,000 hours but that should rise to 15,000 hours in the coming months) and will represent a cost saving over its lifetime for exhibitors, according to NEC. The system is cheaper than the others on offer as it uses a single laser: the Blue is powered by laser, and the Red and Greens by phosphor (hybrid). The projector is available from May 2014. The strategy here is aiming at small screens, including those that are left to convert around the world, as well as other smaller venues and new builds. The machine will also be on offer for when the replacement cycle of existing projectors begins in earnest.
As for Imax, given the size of its screens and the importance of the cinema going experience, it makes perfect sense to be a laser pioneer and the use of laser should significantly reduce its ongoing costs once the projectors are installed.