French digital cinema services group Ymagis, which split into two distinct business areas earlier this year under the labels Éclair and CinemaNext, has launched a revolutionary new mastering and exhibition process known as EclairColor into the market. The system, which requires mastering and distribution in the relevant format creates a form of HDR without the need for a range for new and expensive projection equipment. Currently, Dolby Cinema and Imax offer HDR to cinemas, within a closed system, and Barco have a projector billed as HDR.
The EclairColor system is a software upgrade, rather than a hardware-based system, and while the current demos are based on Sony 4K projectors, the company is talking to others and is not exclusive to Sony. EclairColor is based on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s ACES color encoding system, which also gives that technology a boost. The way it is structured at present the mastering will be done by Ymagis and distributed on a separate DCP. This may limit content available in the short term, but longer term Ymagis aim to licence the technology (again as a software plug-in) to post-production equipment manufacturers and understands that opening up a content stream is a key to this launch.
Ymagis Group is a major player in the provision of digital cinema services to the European cinema sector, and the leading actor in cross-border electronic distribution of content to cinemas in the continent. As a whole, the group posted revenues of EUR158m for 2015. In 2015, the company acquired lab company Éclair which is the unit launching EclairColor.
The company needs to start building new business opportunities now, as the VPF side of the business (where it all started for Ymagis) winds down as VPF contracts come to an end. This has already happened in Austria. The company has been busily acquiring other companies in the electronic distribution and cinema integrator sectors in order to service a European-wide cinema sector, and this latest product launch widens their sphere of activity on an international level.
The EclairColor system was shown to select audiences at CineEurope (including me), with positive results and the company is now looking to show it to Hollywood and gain backing from the studios and filmmakers in the USA. This will be crucial to its chances of success. While the image results speak for themselves when seen, a potential stumbling block could be the reluctance of the market as a whole (distributors and exhibitors at any rate) to welcome a further multiplication of formats. This makes life very complex at a distribution logistics level, and can lead to demands for upgrades and investment at exhibitor level as well as a lack of clarity on how to screen films. However, with technology’s Pandora’s Box open, the market needs to accept innovation leads to greater complexity and there is a balance between streamlined workflows and stifling genuine steps forward that improve the cinema experience.