Digital Cinema Market Innovating to Stay Relevant

The cinema has represented the highest quality movie experience for a long time, but can it maintain this dominance going forward?  Large flat panel TV and home theater projectors offer stunning images and sound quality, so how can the theater differentiate the experience enough to entice consumers to leave the conform of their home?

One big card to play is the engagement window, meaning movies debit in the theater and you have to wait to see them at home.  This wall is starting to crack however, as the windows tighten and experiments are underway to do simultaneous day and date releases to consumers at home.

Once at the theater, you had better give the consumer a great experience as well.  Here, we are seeing the emergence of more ambiance and amenities like cushy seats, liquor and food service.  Barco is experimenting with what they call Escape theaters that add two side screens and offer unique and sometime compelling content.  They are also have an audience engagement platform to provide some pre-show fun.

But the big initiatives are around sound and image quality. In the sound arena, the surround sound of 5.1 and 7.1 channels is evolving to offer a more immersive 3D sound environments.  Dolby has been rolling out their Atmos solution for a couple of years.  This allows sounds to be placed nearly anywhere in the dome above the theater.  Barco has rolled out a number of their Auro 11.1 system that add a second level of 5.1 and a dome channel above the lower level 5.1 system to create a simpler solution.  Last fall, Barco acquired IOSONO and is now planning a 20.1 channel cinema sound solution.  IMAX is now moving from a 6-track solution to a 12-track solution, so theaters will clearly have a superior sound solution that almost any consumer.

Barco Auro111soundfielddiagramforweb jpg

Barco’s Auro 11.1 3D sound solution vs. a standard 5.1 solution


In consumer TVs, the big buzz word is now high dynamic range.  What this means for a TV is that the peak brightness level goes up – typically by a factor of two and the image processing improves to be able to display a much greater range of brightness levels (dynamic range).  This essentially means increasing the contrast of the display and ability to use this wider contrast.  The effect is that there is more subtle variations in the dark regions of the picture and brighter elements of the picture are much brighter than before giving them more “pop”.  Consumers see this effect instantly and are almost always impressed.

But content needs to be mastered in this new high dynamic range format and that is most easily done by larger studios on Hollywood movies.  The ecosystem to create these new masters is in development with several competing solutions.  But most importantly, theaters will need new high dynamic range projectors to show content that can rival that which consumers can see in their homes. Prototypes have been shown so far, but no official announcements have been made.

The Hobbit saw the debut of high frame (48 fps instead of 24 fps) in movie theaters.  It is thought that the next Avatar series will run at 60 fps.  Some have criticized this new look while others cherish the lack of motion artifacts.  This debate continues.

Stereoscopic 3D remains a relevant option in theaters today with many block busters released in the format, generating significant revenues.  But 3D movies have been plagued by low brightness level.  That is starting to change with new RGB laser solutions that offer high 3D and 2D brightness and an expanded color gamut if content creators choose to use this bigger pallet.

Wider color gamut is also a topic for home TV as the new Ultra High Definition standard call for a very wide 2020 color gamut for this content.  Although essentially no content is mastered in this wide 2020 color gamut today, TVs are using quantum dot and OLED technology to get very close to displaying this full color gamut.  As a result, content will follow.  However, the theatrical space uses a smaller P3 color gamut.  Will the cinemas move to the 2020 color gamut to keep pace?

This and many other questions will be discussed and debated at the upcoming Display Summit conference in Orlando, Florida, just prior to InfoComm.  Display Summit is a thought leadership event focus on advanced technologies in the professional pixel pipeline.  In the Digital Cinema session, experts from Barco, Christie Digital and NEC will convene again in a rematch of their popular debate at last year’s Display Summit.  You can learn more at:


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About the Author: Chris Chinnock

Chris Chinnock the founder and president of Insight Media. His areas of focus include the 4K ecosystem, laser displays, 3D/Light Field/Holographic displays, advanced imaging technology (HDR, HFR, WCG), VR/AR/MR and emerging technologies and products in the broadcast, consumer electronics, ProAV and the display industries.