Beijing theater installs laser projector

Phoebus Vision says it's the first laser-screening system

SHANGHAI -- A movie theater in Beijing has installed what it claims is the world's first projector that uses a laser rather than conventional light, breaking ground on projection technology that U.S. theaters are barred from exploring because of safety regulations.

The Beijing Hua Xing Ultimate Movie Experience opened Thursday with a screening of John Woo's epic "Red Cliff" using a projector made by a local company.

"Beijing Phoebus Vision Co. provided us with the world's first set of laser-screening instruments" Han Jie, spokeswoman with Beijing UME said Monday.

The projector was installed in an existing 120-seat hall in the Chinese capital at a cost of about 1.2 million yuan ($176,000).

"It is the first laser-screening set in the world," a Beijing Phoebus Vision spokesman said. Han said that UME's normal cinema projectors cost about 700,000 yuan ($102,000).

Several companies, including Mitsubishi, have demonstrated laser projection systems, said industry analyst Matt Brennensholtz of Norwalk, Conn.-based research firm Insight Media. These systems are usually very costly, he added.

"I'm not aware of anybody that's used a laser projector in a movie theater before," Brennensholtz said. "There were a number of tests, but I've never head of a public theater where you pay your ticket and go in and see one of these."

According to Michael Karagosian, president of Los Angeles-based MKPE Consulting, laser projection systems offer broader color range and use less power than traditional systems. In addition, the bulbs -- which cost several thousand dollars each -- can last 10 years instead of six months.

However, because of safety concerns the laser systems are not approved for public use in the U.S. and in many other countries, said Karagosian, a technology consultant to the L.A.-based National Association of Theatre Owners.

"What you don't want is a little kid standing up looking back at the projector and suddenly have a ray in his eye," he said.

UME's Han said the tickets to see films projected with the new laser technology would remain the same for now "in order to let more people experience and accept the new technology."

UME plans to install another such laser projector at its Shuang Jing cinema in Beijing by the end of 2008. The chain does not plan to install the model in the other cities where it operates: Shanghai, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou.

Maria Trombly and Alicia Yang contributed to this report.