CinemaCon 2012: Industry Addresses Complaints About Dark Screens With Laser Light

7:21 PM PST 04/25/2012 by Carolyn Giardina
Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images
Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese warns theater owners that if movies aren't projected with enough light, audiences won't "come back."

LAS VEGAS — A demonstration of new laser illuminated projection technology was presented at the CinemaCon exhibitors convention on Wednesday, where it was offered as one solution to the problem of theater screens that appear to be too dark.

That issue has cropped up more and more lately, particularly in situations where 3D systems and glasses reduce the brightness of a movie.

“If [cinema screens] are too dark and you can’t see, why should they come back and watch another 3D film?” Hugo director Martin Scorsese asked at a filmmaker session at the convention in which he took part.

He told exhibitors, “We have to work together and show [movies] in the best possible light."

A number of vendors are recommending developing laser illuminated projection technology to make the screens brighter.

While no concrete plans were announced, some in the industry believe laser-based projection technology could begin to reach theaters by the end of 2013.

A laser light panel on Wednesday kicked off with a demonstration of a single prototype, laser illuminated Barco projector that allowed viewers to see various clips in 2D, 3D, 24fps, 48fps, 2K and 4K on a 70ft. white screen from Harkness. Typically, two projectors are used to light large 70 ft. screens.

Proponents say laser light offers additional advantages, including lower operating costs, reduced power consumption compared to the xenon lamps currently in use, and increased system life spans.

But challenges remain.

Noting that the theater industry is currently in a digital cinema transition costing an estimated $2.5 billion, John McDonald, executive vp of U.S. operations at AMC Theatres, said, “We’ll need to work though economic models. There will be capital costs to make the transition.”

Regulatory issues also are a challenge, because the FDA monitors the use of lasers. The recently formed Laser Illuminated Projection Association (LIFA) — which now represents roughly 20 companies — is working to lower the FDA requirements for laser use, arguing that such light sources are “no more dangerous” that today’s Xenon lamps.

LIPA chairman Peter Lude, who is an executive vp at Sony and president of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, said he is “optimistic” that regulatory changes can be made though he added that it could be a “long battle.”

Jim Reisteter, general manager of digital cinema at projector maker NEC told exhibitors this is a "glimpse at the future."

“We are not trying to bombard you with technology for technology’s sake,” added Michael Esch, senior director of entertainment at Christie.

In a related development, last week at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, technology company Laser Light Engines conducted a laser illuminated projection demonstration with Sony, using LLE technology and a Sony 4K projector.

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