Roll up, roll up for a dazzling display of lights, showmanship and technological astonishment. The CineEurope circus is in town once again and all eyes are on Barcelona for the annual movie-making magic show!
Excited whoops and warm applause greeted Hugh Jackman as he hit the stage during the 20th Century Fox slate presentation at CineEurope in June. Accompanied by a high-energy troupe of dancers, startling pyrotechnics and the star-dust infused instant transformation of the auditorium, Jackman was there to introduce his forthcoming tentpole feature, The Greatest Showman. In many ways, his performance as the inventor of showbusiness — P.T. Barnum — was apposite, reflecting the circus that CineEurope has become, rolling into town for its sixth outing in the Centro de Convenciones Internacional de Barcelona, Spain.
A firm fixture in the distribution and exhibition calendars, the most energetic in the European cinema business justifiably look forward to the clamour of June when they gather together to marvel at forthcoming spectacles, innovative technologies and catch up with friends old and new. Over the coming pages, Cinema Technology reveals what was big at CineEurope and what will keep industry minds occupied over forthcoming months — until the circus rolls into town once more.
ICTA’s technology focus
The European arm of the International Cinema Technology Association discussed technical matters in earnest in Barcelona
The Cinesa cinema complex provides an excellent venue for manufacturers to demonstrate projection equipment and new systems at CineEurope, and ICTA members, experts and guests (a quarter of them exhibitors) gathered there to debate the latest in cinema technology. After welcomes from Thomas Rüttgers, ICTA European representative, and Jan Runge, on behalf of UNIC, who highlighted the publication of ICTA’s ‘Innovation and the Big Screen’ report, Sony’s Oliver Pasch introduced a panel to discuss the current hot topic — ‘HDR: Is it The Next Big Thing or Just Another Hype?’. Toby Glover from Technicolor explained the technology, the terminology and the acronyms, and the ‘blacker blacks, whiter whites and expanded colour space’ definitions met general approval. Till Cussmann from CinemaNext was bullish about HDR in the form of their EclairColor system, saying that it is an affordable solution, and Stuart Bowling talked about the DolbyCinema system that encompasses theatre design and the physical environment as well as the DolbyVision and Atmos technologies, recognising that their ‘Hero Grade’ pictures will be too expensive for all but top-of-the-range cinemas to incorporate.
A question from Ioan Allen about whether HDR includes Higher Frame Rates led to much discussion — the two are interlinked, and it was pointed out that HDR can show up judder at 24fps which is not apparent using standard dynamic range, and that increasing the frame rate reduces the judder. Toby Glover said that HDR and HFR can provide a different visual experience.
Desperately seeking “wow”
During the first session there was agreement that cinema needs to provide a ‘wow’ experience, but Roland Jones, who makes the technological decisions for the Vue chain, asked the most relevant question: How are we going to sell HDR to the customers?
HDR is obviously a hot topic, and there were many opinions. There was agreement that cinema can’t stand still at a time when domestic TVs offer better resolution and higher dynamic range — some of the panel extolled the high quality of the best domestic TV images and noted that TV manufacturers are coming around to some sort of ‘standard’ which means a customer knows what he is getting when he buys a UHDTV. This led to a general consensus that there are no current cinema standards for HDR and that the industry urgently needs such a standard if exhibitors are to be expected to invest in new equipment and, if cinemagoers are to be persuaded an HDR performance is special. Reminiscences of when THX used to be a guarantee of an all-round high-quality experience led to declarations that cinema once again needs to become the ‘gold standard’ for presentation. Questions were asked about how SMPTE standard-setters are helping, and all agreed cinema needs to provide a high-quality experience with a recognisable ‘badge’. Work is progressing, but we are a long way from the standard needed. Till Cussmann noted that we are 10 years into different forms of immersive sound in cinema and there is still no standard there. He felt that the industry has a maximum of five years to get its act together with HDR — people will be used to HDR on their TVs and if cinemas don’t provide pictures at least as good, they will lose a large part of the cinema audience.
Do you reach the customer…?
“Smart Connect — how to empower marketing for personalised customer touch points” was the title of a session led by Michael Halevy of Compeso [CT covered their ticketing/POS system in March 2017]. The essence was how to use data you gather as an exhibitor to ‘touch the heart of the customer and then improve your profits’. He showed the five phases of the customer journey from pre-booking through to watching the movie. The talk showed how significant increases in profits can be generated from relatively straightforward analysis and use of data. Sharing a similar storyline, Christian Kluge from Smart Pricer asked why cinemas are lagging behind the airline and hotel industries in adopting dynamic pricing. His figures showed how increasing bookings in non-peak times and incentivising early bookings can drive revenues up, with new ways of targeting new audiences with offers such as ‘earlybird’, ‘super saver’ and ‘saver’ tickets. He showed how Smart Pricer can provide cinemas and entertainment venues around the globe with the necessary tools to increase revenues and attract visitors. Research has shown that 20% of potential cinema customers can be flexible in attendance times.
So, farewell to the projector?
“Active Cinema Screens – the end of projectors?” was the provocative title of a session that everyone had been looking forward to, after the demonstrations from Samsung and Sony at CinemaCon had raised so much interest. The programme promised presentations from GDC about the Samsung system and from Sony, so there was some disappointment when the GDC speaker didn’t appear. Mark Clowes from Sony did a sterling job, however, explaining how Sony’s 4K Crystal LED displays work, providing super-high contrast, high brightness (perhaps 1000 Nits compared with the 48 Nits or 14fL of a standard cinema screen) and wide viewing angles. He explained how the technology allows multiple display units to be mounted so that there are no visible seams, and, later in the week, I was able to confirm, along with a number of other critical viewers, that the pictures are magnificent and that ‘you really can’t see the joins’, when Sony showed a 2K version in its CineEurope demonstration area.
Mark was upfront that the product is not ready for cinema use, with no product sold, and that it has been introduced to gain feedback from exhibitors. He acknowledged there is work to do with considerations of power consumption, mounting of the display in the auditorium, how 3D might be achieved, and, how cinema sound (especially dialogue) can be achieved. This raised much concern with the sound experts in the ICTA audience, who predicted ‘devastating acoustic consequences’ and ‘phantom images depending on where you sit’. Others felt that modern sound processing and positioning systems, including object-based systems, might find ways of overcoming these difficulties. Mark acknowledged the possible problems and stressed that the technology had been introduced in order to stimulate such discussions. Sony had been taken aback by the level of interest and will welcome feedback.
A new sound format
John F Allen from High Performance Stereo gave a detailed presentation about “A New Sound Format for Large Screen Cinemas”. He had come up with a design using five speakers across the top and five speakers across the bottom of a very wide screen in a US Marine Museum in order to provide coverage over the whole area of the screen, creating a sound image to match the huge picture.
“Innovation in Cinema: Pain Points and Relief Missions” was the initially puzzling title that enabled Dave Monk of EDCF to raise some vital discussion points for exhibitors. Considering the barrage of innovations hitting the business and confusing claims made for laser projection, he suggested it is time to reset our priorities and consider what exhibitors really need. We must concentrate on making the equipment we have now work optimally — cleaning and refurbishing projector optical systems can bring huge gains in light output and ensure the lifetime can be maximised, improving return on investment. The same goes for audio and all the cinema equipment — making the best of what you already have can make a huge difference to the experience for customers. He identified various pain points, including the need for more brightness and better contrast to improve colour portrayal of images.
Elisabetta Brunella from the EC Media Salles project gave a market update discussing variable growth in audiences in different European countries. She made some pertinent points on investment, saying that the cinema industry should ask itself if efforts to modernise have been successful in ROI terms — she claimed the number of screens has increased more than the number of attendees, so there are fewer people for each screen. Before investing in new cinemas, we should consider the cost of maintenance, energy and the effects on the environment, recommending an eco-tech approach. It was suggested that non-digital (Blu-ray, DVD screening) cinemas should not be included in the cinema statistics that Media Salles uses, but Elisabetta was adamant they should, as they keep alive the habit of viewing movies communally.
“The Impact of Projector and Room Design on Contrast” was the topic considered by Gilles Claeys of Barco, discussing the prospects for HDR in cinemas and explaining how not only projectors have to be redesigned to provide blacker blacks, whiter whites and greater contrast images, but that it is vital to ensure that extraneous light sources are kept to a minimum with screens, furniture and fittings also designed to ensure as little light as possible is reflected back.