Dolby Sheds Some Light on Exhibition at NATO Event

Theater owners focus on 3D presentation quality at a special event.

Amid a rising chorus of complaints about 3D projection, the National Association of Theater Owners California/Nevada turned to Dolby Laboratories last week for a special presentation about how best to project 3D movies.

The program came at a time when the media, including critics like Roger Ebert, and even filmmakers such as Michael Bay have been criticizing how 3D movies are projected, charging that they often look too dark.

NATO CA/NV president and CEO Milton Moritz emphasized that last week’s best practices program was in the plans before the media blitz and was not in response to negative press. “I think the industry is taking a beating," he said. "I don’t notice any of our members cutting down on the amount of power and light on the screen."

Among the issues, it has been suggested that due to the cost of light bulbs, they are not replaced as frequently as they should. A 600w Xenon bulb for a digital projector can run $1800, compare with an estimated $1200 for a 600w bulb for a film projector (which can have a longer life), according to Moritz.

"But you don’t want to take the chance of that bulb exploding," he said, noting that there is an incentive for theater personnel to change the bulbs when needed or they could damage the projection system. "(If it explodes) you are taking about a very big expense. You’ve got to shut down the theater; you got to get technical people. It can run into thousands of dollars."

But attendee John Sittig, who handles projection and sound at Arclight Cinemas, suggests that it nevertheless can be an issue. "We (Pacific and Arclight) do change our bulbs when the light starts to deteriorate,” he said. “My personal feeling is that industry wide, that is not necessarily the practice. In some theaters that I have been to, it is very obvious that the picture is much darker that it should be. The bulbs are a big expense, and it is my personal feeling that some exhibitors may try to get every once of light out of them."

Light levels -- which are measured in "foot lamberts" -- were part of the discussion last week at two separate events held in Dolby’s Los Angeles and San Francisco facilities.

The standard for a digital 2D presentation is 14 foot lamberts, while 3D typically ranges between 3.5-5.5 foot lamberts. That would appear to be counterintuitive to 3D's critics, who argue 3D movies need to be projected at brighter levels to compensate for polarized 3D glasses.

“From the public perception, there is a bit of a disparity and it is a little bit alarmist for people who don’t understand the processes,” Stuart Bowling, Dolby’s worldwide technical marketing manager, told NATO members. “It is important to point out to your customers that while 3D is presented at a lower light level, the image they are seeing has been processed and adjusted--re-color timed--to its light levels. They don’t distribute the 2D 14 foot-lambert version for 3D.”

Bowling also suggested best practices for 3D presentation, including that theater personnel check lamps for flicker or dimming, and replace them as necessary.

He also encouraged the use of a framing chart, which was demonstrated to show how it is used it to check a range of presentation elements including white levels.

Among the additional points: Verify that the server is in 3D mode, ensure all optical elements are clean and clear, feed the feature into the digital cinema system with sufficient time to do a test (when possible), make sure the projection and digital cinema system is serviced regularly, and check 3D presentations regularly by walking into the auditorium to look and listen.

Dolby is best known for its sound technologies, but also offers the Dolby 3D theater system, which was recently used for the Transformers: Dark of the Moon premiere in Moscow. A Dolby quick guide to 3D presentations was distributed to workshop attendees during the NATO event.