Spielberg, Nolan Among Directors Who Have Serious Concerns About LED Screens in Movie Theaters

Some prominent directors "just went after us," said NATO head John Fithian at CinemaCon.
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National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian

There's a radical idea being proposed about the future of cinema that's being debated this week in Las Vegas: putting LED screens (effectively large video walls) in theaters as a replacement for projection, which is how movies have been shown since the birth of the art form.

"It’s a very interesting debate right now," National Association of Theatre Owners head John Fithian said Tuesday during a press conference at CinemaCon. "We had a meeting last week with the Global Federation. It was informative, the range of attitudes."

"Many of the studios think LED is the best thing since sliced bread," he said, adding that others question whether it is simply a giant TV screen. 

Fithian said that some seasoned filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and Michael Apted, "just went after us. 'You have to have projection. … Don’t just go the way of just being television.' Voices are coming at us from all sides."

Consumer tech giant Samsung has already thrown its hat into the ring, launching an LED cinema screen system dubbed Samsung Onyx. The first in the U.S. opened last weekend at Pacific Theatres Winnetka in Chatsworth, California. Ironically, the first motion picture to play on the new screen (which was also shown to the press on Friday) was Spielberg's Ready Player One. Samsung also has a handful installed internationally, and expects to have at least 30 installations by the end of the year.

Sony Electronics — which also offers digital cinema projectors — is previewing its Crystal LED cinema screen this week at CinemaCon. It emphasized during a Tuesday press conference that it wants to work with filmmakers to get the rollout right, but also acknowledged that it hopes to have its first LED cinema screen installed before the end of the year. The company also reported that it will be installing an LED screen for screening and postproduction uses on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City,  as well as at its soon-to-open Sony Digital Media Center in Glendale, California, in order to engage filmmakers.

Projector maker Christie and Wanda Film Holdings have acknowledged that they are researching the potential of LED screens for cinema use.