IMAX Unveils Kodak Partnership to Bring Laser Projection to Theaters
by Alex Billington
October 17, 2011
I feel a bit like Dr. Evil saying this, but is the future of projection technology in lasers? The big news today is that IMAX has announced a partnership with Eastman Kodak that includes exclusive rights to use their proprietary, patented laser projection technologies. So what is laser projection? We don't know much about it yet, but according to the press release it sounds like this is the future of projection because with any screen, at any size, it delivers "the deepest blacks, and the brightest 3D of any system demonstrated to date." Sounds great, especially in a huge IMAX dome theater where brightness is already a growing issue anyway.
The development of next-gen projection technology has mostly focused on 3D and Texas Instruments' DLP systems, but since 2010 they've also been working on another technology - Laser Light Engines (LLE). This separate initiative is centered around developing technology to illuminate existing digital screens to IMAX standards. The Kodak technology is expected to extend these efforts and allow the illumination of IMAX 80-to-100-foot screens and domes with a brightness and clarity not currently attainable in these formats. The solution will also consume less power, last longer and have a wider color gamut when compared with existing technology. IMAX has, for the time being, exclusive rights to Kodak's systems, including "a portfolio of more than 50 patent families covering fundamental laser projection technology." They went laser crazy.
A few more quotes: "This license, combined with LLE and IMAX's own intellectual property, puts us at the forefront of laser-based projection and will provide moviegoers, exhibitors and filmmakers around the world the level of quality for which the IMAX brand is known," said IMAX CEO Richard L. Gelfond. "This Kodak intellectual property is truly cutting edge, and will be used by IMAX's esteemed Technology Group to enhance the cinematic experience for consumers, enable the application of digital technology in our larger and institutional theatres, and make being in business with IMAX even easier and more profitable." Indeed, it's always all about the profits, but at least IMAX is doing their best to care about the quality and viewing experience, beyond just the venue size itself, which is more than I can say for most movie theaters.
IMAX expects to introduce the new laser-projection technology by the second half of 2013, mainly focusing on "the company's largest screen and dome customers", since they haven't found a digital solution for those theaters until now. Kodak engineers will work closely with IMAX engineers over the next 18 months to assist with the implementation of the technology into the IMAX product family. Lasers are and have always been a very powerful technology, giving us CDs/DVDs and beyond. Technology has advanced enough that there are more than just green & red-colored lasers nowadays, in fact this technology shows they can create the entire spectral range of color, and that this might be one of the future solutions for brightness and clarity issues.
While it's always exciting to hear about new technology and where the future of digital cinema will go, laser technology still seems like a ways away from being implemented on a wide scale, and most people have no idea that it even exists anyway. I would really love to see a demo to see just how much better it looks in person, as that always leaves an impact. With this laser projection technology coming up next, and higher framerates as the next filmmaker-driven push, one thing is for sure - movies are going to start to look a lot more lifelike and perfectly clear on the big screen. Only time will tell how all of this changes the industry.