Sony, Regal ink deal for digital

4K projectors aimed for at least 5,000 screens in 3-5 years

Sony Electronics has inked a deal with Regal Entertainment to supply the nation's No. 1 exhibitor with 4K digital projectors throughout its entire circuit.

The deal represents Sony's second big d-cinema hardware coup in the past few months. In March, it struck an agreement with AMC Entertainment -- which operates the second-biggest U.S. circuit -- to supply its theaters with digital projectors.

Both rollouts will begin once Digital Cinema Implementation Partners locks into a bank deal to facilitate digital installations for Regal, AMC and Cinemark, the nation's three biggest exhibitors.

Sony's installations at Regal sites -- planned for about 550 Regal Cinemas locations -- are set for completion within three to five years and will bring Sony's U.S. digital installations to 11,000 screens. The agreement with Regal calls for Sony to outfit a minimum of 5,000 of the exhibitor's 6,700 screens.

"We continually strive to strengthen and enhance the final presentation we make to our customers," Regal exec chairman Mike Campbell said. "Our goal is to offer state-of-the-art levels of resolution, contrast and overall image quality."

Campbell said he hopes an easing in the nation's credit crunch will allow a robust rollout of d-cinema systems soon. Some suggest that could be by summer's end.

"The delay in having been able to roll out the technology has a silver lining as it turns out," Campbell added. "It has allowed us to roll out superior technology. Over the past 18 months, the cost of the Sony 4K technology has dropped to where it is just marginally more expensive than the 2K, and ... 4K gives us a competitive advantage over 2K."

Added new Regal CEO Amy Miles: "This gives Regal the opportunity to utilize the latest technology to provide our patrons the best available presentation."

About 1,500 Regal screens also will be outfitted for 3-D digital projection using Sony's newly introduced dual-lens adapter technology.

"Regal has always been at the forefront of merging technology with entertainment to create a dynamic moviegoing experience," Sony Electronics vp d-cinema Gary Johns said.

Financial details of the Sony-Regal agreement were not disclosed.

Sony's AMC installations are expected to begin by year's end and extend through 2012, involving more than 300 theaters and 4,600 North American screens.

Together, the Regal and AMC pacts catapult Sony Electronics and its high-resolution 4K systems into an industry-leading position amid the exhibition industry's aggressive push into digital distribution and 3-D cinema.

Some other circuits have invested heavily in 2K-resolution digital projectors, which were widely perceived as the industry norm before the AMC deal.