CinemaCon: Barco Introduces Tri-Screen Theater Configuration; Plans Install at Fox's Zanuck Theater

Ted Schilowitz Headshot - P 2014
Courtesy of Ted Schilowitz

LAS VEGAS -- Barco unveiled its vision of where cinema is heading through a series of technology demonstrations that included new features for theater owners and expanded creative options for filmmakers, on Tuesday at CinemaCon.

The presentation included what Barco has dubbed Escape, which is basically two additional screens positioned on either side of the main screen for a more immersive feel (think Cinerama). The demonstration, held at the Cinemark's Century 16 South Point and XD at South Point Hotel and Casino Theater, featured Barco's new 4K laser projector in the center and two Barco 2K projectors on the side screens.

Several at the presentation told The Hollywood Reporter that plans are in place to install an Escape system at 20th Century Fox's Zanuck Theater, possibly as early as next month.

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Fox president of post-production Ted Gagliano was on hand for the demonstration and previewed a new clip from Wes Ball's The Maze Runner, scheduled for a Sept. 19 release, which was mastered to take advance of the technology. He also showed a clip from Ball's short Ruin using the system.

Gagliano sees creative potential, and the format was applied to the clip from The Maze Runner to convey the scale of the maze, but it's easy to see that this could quickly fall into the "gimmick" category if not used with the story in mind.

The Fox exec related that a movie could be lensed with the three screens in mind. Alternatively, a sort of post-conversion process could be applied. He admitted that this format might not be something for an entire movie, but perhaps for select scenes.

Tory Belleci (Mythbusters) was also on hand to show a clip that he created for the Escape system.

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Barco consultant Ted Schilowitz, the former "leader of the rebellion" at camera maker Red who left the company last fall and also serves as a consultant at Fox, led the demonstrations. He asserted that systems such as Escape could be used for features as well as pre-show content, noting that the "22 or so minutes before a movie starts is a lost zone. We want to bring back the showmanship."

For theater owners who decide to make an investment, Escape and other technologies demoed by Barco can be purchased together or a la carte. For Escape, theater owners can choose their own screen and projector configuration, which could run anywhere from $135,000 to $185,000 (not including the projector for the center screen).

Pricing was not announced for the 4K laser projector, which will begin to roll out during Q2. To show its potential, Barco screened a clip of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 4K, 3D and at a high frame rate of 48 frames per second, at 14 foot-lamberts (a measure of brightness), as well as a demo clip played in 2D at 60 frames per second.

For immersive sound, Barco is of course recommending its Auro 11.1 immersive sound system, which, depending on the theater configuration, can run anywhere from $35,000 to $100,000 (which is generally considered on the lower side for immersive sound).

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Barco also demoed "iD" (Interactive Dimension) interactive technology from Audience Entertainment, for which Barco is an investor. The $10,000 system is aimed at pre-show content, including advertising, or potentially, features.

The technology was demoed with a racing game, during which the audience used hand gestures to control the car. According to the company, the car's direction was selected based on the majority of participants' choices. "This is going to create a new category because you can alter the story," asserted Audience Entertainment CEO Barry Grieff.

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Lobby promotions are also part of the plan. Barco's setup in Las Vegas included a central 30-foot screen and numerous smaller displays, as well as an interactive video wall. "We are also working on augmented reality," said Barco vp global entertaiment Todd Hoddick. "We want to turn it in a way to monetize [the display] and bring more moviegoers into the theaters." He added that part of the lobby plans include allowing customers to use their mobile devices for tasks such as sharing photos or buying movie tickets.

All of these technologies are billed under the "CinemaBarco" brand, but they are effectively individual options that theater owners could use to create their own services. Barco execs didn't comment on the potential surcharge for these systems.

Twitter: @CGinLA