LED Panels as a Cinema Screen? The First L.A. Installation Could Be Ready by April

LED panels — the types of displays you might see used to make up a video wall for digital signage — will not replace the motion picture projector, but they will soon bring competition and disruption, a prominent cinema technology veteran forecast during the Hollywood Professional Association Tech Retreat, which is taking place this week in Palm Desert, California.

In fact, Pete Lude, CTO of engineering firm Mission Rock Digital and a former exec at Sony and RealD, reported that Los Angeles could have its first LED cinema screen (from Samsung) installed by April. He added that at least 10 Samsung displays could be installed in cinemas worldwide by the fall. Samsung has already installed two (both 34-ft. screens with 4K resolution) in Korea, and more are on the way, including one in Switzerland, one in Beijing and one in L.A, Lude reported.

The first question is, why make this change? Lude argued that these screens — which the cinema community is starting to refer to as “Direct View Displays” — offer a wider dynamic range (meaning blacker blacks and whiter whites). Since they are made up of video panels — effectively building blocks — they could also be used for new types of configurations, such as wraparound screens. And, as this doesn’t required a completely dark theater, he argued that this could also allow dine-in theaters to offer ambient light for diners in their screening rooms.

Lude suggested that there’s also the “potential” for power savings, and likely lower maintenance costs, once installed. “They are pretty robust, as they have been out there for non-cinema applications," he said.

But there's still a number of key factors that would need to be addressed before this could be considered a viable alternative to digital cinema projectors — notably, cost. Lude explained that LED screens are currently priced in the range of roughly 6-8 cents per pixel, meaning that a cinema-sized screen could run in the $500,000-$700,00 range. In sharp contrast, he said that currently a cinema laser projector typically runs in the $150,000-$300,000 range. The exec expects, based on recent trends, that LED displays could be competitive with laser projectors in two to three years.

For Hollywood, Lude emphasized that maintaining creative intent of the filmmakers will need immediate attention.

On the technical side, he reported that standards, including in security, will also need to be addressed.

The first direct-view displays aimed at cinema, from Samsung and Sony, debuted last year at CinemaCon.