Two new global PLF (premium large format) brands have launched in Q1 2019 further intensifying market competition in the developing PLF cinema market. Digital technology company, Sony, has launched a new PLF system known as Sony Digital Cinema which will see the company enter into direct competition with Imax and Dolby Cinema for the first time.
The technology components of Sony Digital Cinema include Sony’s dual 4K laser projection, HDR, Dolby Atmos sound and recliner seating. The system reportedly will cost over $1 million, but no further details on the type of business model were available. The first Sony Digital Cinema location will open in Spring 2019 at the Galaxy Theatres, Las Vegas Boulevard Mall. According to Sony, North America will be the initial focus for commercial roll-out, although details will also be shared with international exhibitors. The initial screen will be a 70ft screen with Sony reportedly focusing on very large auditoriums.
The other potential global PLF brand launch has come from CGR Cinemas, The ICE experience. CGR has signed an agreement with leading Middle East exhibitor, Vox Cinemas, to bring its premium brand concept to Vox theatres. While ICE is technically an exhibitor PLF brand, international and cross-exhibitor expansion, places it in the same market as Imax, Dolby Cinema and Sony Digital Cinema.
The PLF market has evolved into a reasonably mature one following an earlier push of new brands based on new technologies, such as RGB laser and HDR, and concepts, such as panoramic screens. PLF screens reached a total of 3,372 worldwide in H1 2018 according to IHS Markit, after first hitting the 3,000-screen milestone in 2017.
The emergence of new global PLF brands is the first for some time following the launch of Sphera, from Cinema Next in 2017, Dolby Cinema and Sphere X in 2015 and Barco Escape in 2014. In addition, the market for global PLF providers has also continued to evolve as panoramic screen format Barco Escape closed operations in Q1 2018 and RealD Luxe scaled down its focus to China and Asia Pacific. In 2018, there were seven active global PLF brands, following the demise of Barco Escape. The latest developments therefore show there are currently nine global PLF brands transcending exhibitor ownership and territories in 2019.
Nonetheless, the launch of Sony Digital Cinema is not the first time Sony has tested the waters of the PLF market having previously launched Sony Finity, as a technical brand which was often used alongside exhibitors own branded PLF systems or as a technical standard for PLF projection quality. In contrast, the new launch is a fully marketed and proprietary technology-led PLF system aimed at capturing market share of the growing global brand PLF market currently dominated by Imax and Dolby Cinema.
In the competitive global-branded PLF market, IMAX stands as the market leader with a majority 64.8% share, but a proportion that has been slowly declining. This is partially due to the rise of new global formats as well as a more competitive landscape. CGS was the second largest global format (15.8%) although it is mostly located in China, followed by Dolby Cinema and Screen X. Dolby Cinema now accounts for over 190 screens worldwide including expansion into to China, UAE, UK, and Japan in 2018.
The conversion of an exhibitor PLF to global PLF brand is not entirely new with CJ CGV having first entered this market with both of their technology-led Screen X and Sphere X formats. The slight difference, however, is that CGV’s concepts are based on proprietary technology formats whereas CGR is primarily an exhibitor aggregating technology and other core concepts under successful PLF branding. CGR Cinemas currently has 25 ICE screens across its network in France, up from 19 in H1 2018 and 13 one year prior. The launch of such a partnership between exhibitors could also spur on other exhibitors to strike similar partnerships. Cinemark was the leading exhibitor PLF brand internationally with over 250 XD screens across 17 territories and the largest total in one territory with its 160 plus XD screens in the USA. Other new exhibitor PLF brands launched in H1 2018 include Showplace’s Icon-X as well as Titan LUXE from Reading, a second brand following on from its core concept Titan XC.
The outlook for PLF screens therefore remains strong with further potential to grow the base of premium screens through new outlets for premium packaged screens in Sony’s 4K laser PLF system and further expansion of ICE screens or other strong exhibitor PLF brands in a form of exhibitor partnership.
Technology remains a core proposal of PLF screens with both Sony and ICE brands founded on RGB or 4K laser technology, and with Dolby Cinema and Imax also featuring laser in their core proposal. The strong link between high-end laser and PLF comes as the market for new displays is also opening up in LED or direct view technology and this is another market that Sony could potentially tap into in terms of future PLF direction, with the company reportedly looking at launching its own LED screen.