Market Insight

Test sites grow for LED screens in cinema

March 02, 2018

David Hancock David Hancock Director – Research and Analysis, Cinema & Home Entertainment, IHS Markit
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Samsung’s Cinema LED screen is now established in five sites worldwide with the prospect of a further US site soon to open. The sites, essentially test sites although in commercially operating cinemas, are in Korea (2), Thailand, China, and Switzerland. The newest deals are with Arena Cinema Sihlcity in Zurich and Samsung has also managed to sign a deal with the world’s largest exhibition group Wanda, for an initial screen in Shanghai.

A further boost to LED in cinemas is the addition of 3D capability which doesn’t suffer from the same trade off in resolution and lack of brightness that standard 3D is required to. The 3D image can be as bright as the LED screen itself and bright enough to deliver the 14fL of brightness that cinema sees as the standard for 2D. Samsung also claim that the screen eliminates ‘crosstalk’, when the right and left eye image overlaps briefly.

The screen is nearly 10.3m (33.8ft.) wide, although it is meant to be scalable, and can maintain a similar picture quality at different angles within the auditorium even for 3D. The display has a 4K resolution and peak brightness levels nearly 10 times greater than the typical cinema standard (up to 140 fL or 480 nits).

The audio set up had been mentioned several times as a potential challenge, as the centre speakers can’t be placed behind the screen as with a standard screen. Samsung acquired sound specialist Harman (and its brand JBL) for precisely this reason, and has come up with placing speakers on the sides of the screen, employing JBL’s Sculptured Surround system and creating an ‘expanded sweet spot’ in the auditorium.

Arri, a specialist camera and lighting company that is known for its demanding approach to quality of image, seemed to endorse the screen when they visited the Seoul site at Lotte, which is encouraging for Samsung as the creative community will need to be on board with the technology in order to exploit its full capacity.

Our analysis:

The concept of an LED screen for the cinema sector is being taken seriously by the cinema industry. While it does put off some due to its TV-like nature, some cinemas are following the current testing and mood music closely. The radical nature of the concept, in that the booth and projection disappears, is attracting the interest of cinema designers and architects, and the on-screen picture quality is attracting the interest of the creative community and the cinemas themselves.

There are a few downsides that are still not resolved: one could be the weight, but probably only for existing screens that need to be retrofitted with LED. One is certainly the cost, although there is no hard figure in the public domain and this may come down as installs are made. The complexity of projection now, with multiple options from Xenon digital, Mercury digital, RGB Laser, laser phosphor and now LED, means that exhibitors need to look very carefully at the cost/benefit of each option for each of their screens and this may well end up with a very complex installed base of screens in cinemas. Having options is good, but cinema has worked on a standardised basis up to now and digital technology is changing that, and the industry is looking at the impact of this. It is also getting used to thinking differently so Cinema LED comes along at a time when it is being treated with a little caution but genuine curiosity as to its benefits and role.

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