This year marks the transition from the InterOp set of standards to a full SMPTE implementation. This transition is supposed to be completed world-wide by April of 2011. But there is one part of the DCI and SMPTE specs that is being ignored; the need for 48 candelas per meter2 (14 foot Lamberts) of light bouncing off the screen during presentation. This is attainable and probably done regularly for 2D movies, but because of the nature of current 3D technology (some versions which suck up 80% of the light sent from the projector), most facilities are barely getting 3 ftL (10 cd/m2) to the eyes during 3D movies.*
Against this background, Laser Light Engines of Salem New Hampshire USA announces that the IMAX group has made an investment in their company and their technologies. This is auspicious for several reasons.
IMAX once had an unmatchable system for making and presenting movies. Their film stock recorded nearly post card sized frames which could be presented in an immersive style, saturating screens of immense proportions. They took a PR hit for allowing the IMAX name to be used for movies shot in 35mm and upgraded digitally during the mastering and print phase, but still shown in 15/70 (15 perf/70millimeter). They took another hit for surviving by creating a multiplex version of IMAX. Recently they have taken a hit for showing 3D movies digitally, which although done in the best way possible, could never match the dual 15/70 versions.
Using two Christie projectors allowed a full 2K image to be triple flashed to the screen with far more intensity than a single projector could produce. (Although the Sony digital system produces a 4K image, with 4 times the data of 2K, their 3D system divides their 4K chip into 2 x 2K images. Sony also hasn’t progressed their LCOS system into the very largest screens due to contrast issues.) But even with two projectors, the amount of available light to the screen still doesn’t meet SMPTE specifications.
Enter LASER technology from Laser Light Engines (LLE). For several years this company in Salem, New Hampshire, USA, has been approaching and dealing with the detailed challenges which will usher in the next technology leap for digital cinema. This week they have announced an agreement with IMAX which should help each company meet internal goals, as well as the expectations of their audience.
[Press Release attached as pdf for logged in readers.]
If it were as simple as finding 3 LASERs and firing them at the Texas Instruments DLP or Sony LCOS chip, this would have been done long ago. But it is not that simple. At this year’s ShoWest convention, LLE announced that they had met one of the lingering challenges, eliminating the effects of speckle in the green channel, in this case a LASER of 546 nm. (Blue and Red LASERs are at 455 nm and 615 nm.)
It might be difficult for IMAX to portray this to the blogosphere, where they have taken the most hits recently. It is also not prudent to pollute one’s own bathwater by speculating upon a future technology that shows the compromises of existing technology. On the other hand, there is a growing realization that 3D technology may have been generally introduced before it is ready, and speculation is rampant that it is being pushed merely for commercial reasons. That speculation does a dis-service to several hundreds of artists who have done incredible work in the field. Perhaps some clever marketing guru will figure a way to explain that today’s version of 3D is above good enough, well worth paying more for, as there are extra costs in the production/post-production and exhibition chain…but wow~! the future.
The mantra of this news magazine is that Engineering is the Art of Compromise. Continuous refinements knock away at these compromises, which is why this news is so exciting…there is nothing so refined as LASER technology and no bigger need than to become more green, more efficient, safer, brighter – issues that LASER technology can handle. There will be more on this topic, as well as its companion – optical fibre – in further issues.
[There is a Boston Globe:Boston.com:Business:Technology article named
Casting some light on 3-D of 11 July 2010 that came before the IMAX news. Conjecture on whether exhibitors would change the high heat, short life Xenon bulbs for a slightly more expensive, much longer life, lower heat LASER seems a bit mis-placed, but the article explains many other issues very well.]
* Our series that begins with Scotopic Issues with 3D, and Silver Screens examines these issues.