IMAX Continues to Hype Laser Projection as Future of Movie Theaters
Last week we wrote about the Dolby Atmos next generation sound system being installed in theaters around the country, meaning theatrical experience is improving yet again. At the moment we're still waiting for laser projection to develop enough to be installed on a mass scale. One company we're watching is IMAX, who has been in development on a laser projector system for a while (we wrote about a Kodak partnership in 2011) but hasn't announced anything publicly just yet. Lasers to project films? Yes indeed. In an "in-depth" interview with TechRadar, IMAX CTO Brian Bonnick discusses why lasers will be the future of cinemas.
With daily innovations in consumer electronics, movie theaters have struggled to keep up and present an experience that outshines anyone's living room. It took a few years for most of the world to convert to digital, much to the complaint of many die-hard film purists. While Dolby Atmos and other atmospheric sound systems are advancing the aural experience, the visual experience hit a big speed-bump last year when audiences rejected High Frame-Rates. While we wait for the next few Hobbit movies, the focus is back on improving the in-theater experience again to an exceptional level where it's truly worth the ticket price.
"People are going to say I want to go out and and I'm willing to pay more because I'm not going out as often, but I want something that is significantly better.
"I think it bodes well for us, and it's why it's so critical to continually take out technology further."
But why lasers? Aside from a perfectly crystal clear picture, uniform brightness across entire screens, and improved performance without a bulb, it's the contrast ratio and color depth that should stand out the most. IMAX CTO Brian Bonnick explains, "it's a big problem with digital projectors. IMAX film projectors offer up between 3500:1 and up to 5000:1 on a good day and if the print was done well, so that's the benchmark." But what about their laser system? "With IMAX Digital Laser we are looking at contrast ratios of 8000:1 and higher." That number may seem arbitrary here, but damn will that make things look good in a theater.
He goes on to say that development on the "IMAX Digital Laser" system is "the largest research and design financial undertaking this company has ever done and it's about more than just one development." As in, they're trying to develop a laser system that can also upconvert 2K images and improve clarity. They're taking their time to make sure this is developed correctly. "We have the best in the world working on this technology. Everything in the system is being done from ground up to take advantage of laser technology. What everyone else is doing is looking to improve the brightness, so they are looking, in a lay sense, to haul the lamps out of their projector and put in a laser." However, improving brightness isn't the only advantage.
For example, here's one system they're working on to combine two low resolution images for a better image:
"So we're working on a new technology called hyper-projection which, in the the lay sense, you present what appears to be a low resolution image (it's not) from one projector and a high detailed image which is very sharp from the other projector - neither picture on its own is particularly attractive but when they get superimposed your brain melds the two images and create this pristine image which eliminates all of the artefacts [sic]."
That sounds great, but I'm not exactly sure what the application would be. Can they instantly improve image quality even if the source footage is low resolution? That could be cool. We're still a few years away from seeing any laser projectors actually installed in theaters, but it's one of the next big technological leaps I'm excited for in the entertainment industry. All this talk may not mean much until you've seen laser-projected footage yourself and experience the look, but those who have already know the potential of this technology. At least IMAX is taking the time to make sure next generation systems they're developing will stay true to their brand's quality. For more, be sure to read TechRadar's full article with Brian Bonnick on the IMAX lasers. As always, we'll be on the lookout for the latest major updates about the future of cinema technology.