October 21, 2013 9:00am PT by Carolyn Giardina
ShowEast: Laser Projectors Take Center Stage
Addressing complaints that theater screens, especially when showing a 3D movie, are too dark, the digital cinema industry has been exploring laser-illuminated projection technology. And some of these new developments will be highlighted at theater owners confab ShowEast, which starts Monday at the Westin Diplomat & Spa in Hollywood, Fla.
Proponents say laser light can also offer lower operating costs, reduced power consumption compared to the xenon lamps currently in use, and increased system lifespans. However, others believe the cost of this technology could be a barrier to entry along with regulatory issues since the FDA monitors the use of lasers.
To address these issues, projector maker NEC plans to demonstrate a new laser-light source projector aggressively priced at $38,000 and targeted to exhibitors with small screens up to 36 ft. Scheduled to become available in March, the new NC1100L 2K projector is being developed to offer brightness of 14-ft-L (using a 1.8 gain screen) with 10,000 lumens of light -- a low enough number that the projector won't require FDA approval.
Jim Reisteter, general manager of digital cinema at NEC Display Solutions, believes this can be an attractive option with its “aggressive” price and a projected “20,000 hours of expected light source usage.” In particular, he is looking toward Latin America, where many screens still need to convert to digital, as well as the U.S. as key markets for the technology.
For larger screens, NEC is working through a partnership with Laser Light Engines to develop an option for large screens (70 feet or higher), that will involve retrofitting any NEC Series 2 projector. At this point, that option would need FDA approval; the technology will be demonstrated in Los Angeles during the week of Nov. 11.
On Wednesday at ShowEast, Christie and Dolby are teaming up for a demonstration featuring Christie’s prototype 4K laser projector, fronted by a RealD XL Cinema System and accompanied by Christie Vive Audio speakers and amplifiers configured for Dolby Atmos.
Last summer Christie announced that it received a US FDA approval of a variance allowing the sale of these laser projectors for use in a cinema. The first is scheduled to be installed in Seattle's Cinerama Theatre in early 2014.
Barco has already developed a prototype laser projector, but the company believes the economics don’t work at this stage.
Similarly Sony is developing a laser projector, though its execs have stated that the company believes the market is still several years away.