Although IBC is predominantly a forum for the promotion and testing of broadcast
technology, the 2014 edition of the giant trade show also featured a major
development in the world of cinema. For the first time in the Europe, Middle East
and Africa (EMEA) sphere, audiences got to experience two films, Life of Pi and
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 14 foot-Lambert (fL – the unit of luminance) 3D,
using Christie’s 6P laser projector system. The high-end projection and display
technology company is marketing the 6P as a solution to most of the major
shortcomings of the 3D format.

According to Richard Nye, Christie’s cinema sales director in EMEA, the main
problems with 3D projection as it currently works, using xenon lamp illumination,
boil down to the question of brightness. “Projectors that use xenon lamps are
specified for 2D brightness only,’ he says. “There is a Digital Cinema Initiative
(DCI) standard that states that you must have 14 fL of light onscreen for 2D, but
there is no published standard for 3D projection, which means, when it comes to
using those projectors for 3D, you take whatever you get. The net effect of that is a
pretty poor experience for the viewer.’

The low luminance associated with 3D projection means that important details are
simply not visible to the audience. Most 3D systems in use are of the passive type.

These systems use a silver screen, rather than a white one, as well as a polariser
in front of the projector lens. The result is a “muddy’ image and the occurrence of
“hotspots’ on the screen. Wherever an audience member is sitting in a cinema using
a passive 3D projection system, they will see a bright spot in the image directly in
front of them and the rest of the screen is relatively dim. The undesirable effects of
3D are often physical in nature, with people complaining of headaches and nausea.

The 6P system, which throws out the old xenon lamp entirely and replaces it with
lasers, delivers up to 48 000 lumens to the cinema screen. The xenon lamp system
can deliver only a maximum of around 28 000 lumens. But the innovations of the 6P
system involve more than just adding muscle to the light source.

“With current systems, the 3D effect is achieved by what’s known as triple
flashing,’ Nye explains. “You have one image for the left eye and one for the right
and they flash alternately. Your brain then puts the two together to form the 3D
image. That’s the only way we can achieve 3D with a single projector but that’s not
we how see naturally. The 6P system uses two projectors, putting out two offset
images simultaneously – one for each eye. So aside from the increased brightness,
you get a more natural viewing experience.’

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes proved an interesting choice to showcase the 6P
system. Together with the 14fL visuals, the film also came with an impressive
Dolby Atmos sound mix, which added to the immersive experience. The use of 3D
for the film is unobtrusive and tasteful, which meant that it made a strong case, not
only for the projector system but for the creative possibilities of the 3D format.

Although it is your classic Hollywood blockbuster – hackneyed adjectives such as
“spectacular’ and “action-packed’ wouldn’t be out of place – the director has resisted
the urge to use 3D for gimmicks or shock effect. Although the immersive
experience of the medium is still achieved, there is a subtle difference here. The
traditional description of a 3D movie is that it seems to “come out’ towards the
viewer. In this case, the viewer’s feeling is rather one of being “pulled into’ the
moving the image. The format has the capacity to enhance the cinematographer’s
art, adding another dimension to the possibilities of image composition.

The 6P delivered as promised; the increased brightness is noticeable, allowing the
visuals to come through sharp and clear. The viewing experience throughout the
two-plus hour running time of the film was as comfortable as one would have with a
2D film through a high-quality projector. Of course, there are still the glasses,
which are still an annoyance to some viewers, but even these (Christie makes use
of Dolby’s relatively ergonomic product) are lightweight and comfortable, and not
an impedance to the enjoyment of the film.

Christie is taking orders for the 6P system but since it is a major investment and
many exhibitors are still uncertain of the future of 3D, take-up is likely to be slow.
Nye says that some orders have already been placed by cinemas in the Middle East
and there is currently one in commercial operation in the United States. Africa’s
cinema owners are likely to think carefully before making the leap however. The
price point is quite fluid since the system is scalable and modular and the price you
pay will depend on the needs that arise from the size of your theatre and screen.

Nye places the average price at about US$10 for every lumen. So if one opts for
the maximum number of lasers, which delivers 48 000 lumens, that’s nearly half a
million US dollars. Compare that with the xenon lamp projectors that most cinemas
currently use, which cost around US$2 per lumen.

So the 6P will offer an extremely high-end, premium entertainment experience –
this is exactly the way that cinema will have to go in the future in order to ensure
its survival.