Laser Projection at 55K Lumens, HFR, 48FPS - The Future of Cinema?
by Alex Billington
April 25, 2012
This week is the industry convention CinemaCon in Las Vegas, the yearly tradeshow for the movie theater industry, both the exhibitors on one side, and the movie studios on the other. While we do get presentations from Hollywood showcasing their upcoming movies, this is also a major convention for technology, and looking towards the future. Ever since the controversial, divisive showcase of The Hobbit footage in 48FPS earlier this week, everyone has been buzzing about how awful it looked, and whether 48FPS really is the future (or not?). But today I saw a laser projection demo and whoa - this is the future I cannot wait for.
This morning's laser projection demo was hosted by Barco, one of the big manufactures of projectors for cinema. As this is one of the first times they've ever demoed prototype laser technology for the "public" (and not just industry execs), I was very anxious to get a glimpse of what it would look like, and if it would be the industry gamechanger I've been hoping for. Last year, when James Cameron personally demoed both 48FPS and 60FPS, I was convinced that might be the industry gamechanger (though now I'm a bit unsure after The Hobbit footage). This laser demo today, however, makes me feel like this is definitely the future of digital cinema, even though we won't really see laser systems being installed in mass until late 2013, at the earliest.
So why lasers (frickin' lazerz man)? Well, using a laser system for a projector's light source allows them to continue to improve screen brightness and image quality, as well as perfectly uniform brightness on huge screens upwards of 70 to 100 feet. Barco explained that our demo on the prototype equipment today was putting out 55,000 lumens (lumen is a measurement of the total "amount" of visible light emitted by a source), which is more than some current world records. Many have complained that brightness is an issue with 3D, but this takes brightness and clarity to an entirely new level, as was evident in the footage we saw.
Barco demoed a couple of different clips, one of them included 4K footage from the documentary Samsara, which was spectacular. I could view every last little detail as far back as I could see, and it looked stunningly bright, but not too bright. We also saw a demo of 48FPS 3D footage of a helicopter flying above Los Angeles shot on a RED camera. Literally looked like a window to the sky where it was flying. Finally, they showed the Burj Khalifa wall-clinging scene from Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, and honestly I think it even looked better than when I saw it on IMAX at its release (IMAX is also working on their own laser projector).
I learned today that laser and 48FPS can be used together, and it's not one or the other. In fact, based on the info they were providing us, it sounds like laser projection systems will simply be the upgraded projectors that all cinemas will begin to use starting late 2013 going on into 2014. Instead of just proclaiming that laser projection is the future and that's it, these two can be used together, and by the time we actually start seeing 48FPS (HFR) movies in 3D on laser projectors, we'll truly be entering a new era of cinematic image quality.
Barco's laser projector from January, image via Commercial Integrator
The future of cinema, right? Well, that seems to be the big question. What is the future of cinema? Is it going to be high frame rates like 48 and 60FPS? Or is it going to be lasers? Or is it going to be both, or neither? Will audiences accept HFR, or will they revolt like a lot of people here at CinemaCon? Will lasers become a consumer choice, or will they eventually be the industry standard light source in all projectors? Only time will tell, but I can definitely say that what I saw of laser projection was fantastic, I want to see every film projected with lasers, on a screen that big and that beautiful. That's how I love to watch movies.