Inside the latest projectors, a radical overhaul of the chipset at the heart of digital cinema has taken place. Peter Knight examines the details of Texas Instruments’ new .98” 4K DMD chip — and its deployment in Cinionic’s ground-breaking Series 4 projectors.
Despite the best efforts of Cinema Technology to deliver the lowdown on all the latest technology, every now and then there’s a new development that occurs that doesn’t necessarily achieve the prominence it deserves to garner within the industry. Two such technologies came along at once when Cinionic released its Series 4 projectors at CinemaCon earlier in the year. As part of its launch, Cinioic’s Tom Bert gave a technical talk explaining to the assembled audience about the radical developments inside these ground-breaking new projectors. Understand the true extent of the development that the Series 4 projectors represent and you may begin to appreciate the significance of this new technology and why it’s a masterstroke that has seemingly passed many in the industry by.
The latest DMD chips
It is 20 years since the first DCP projectors started to appear in cinemas across the world and in that time, we have already seen a great number of changes from those early days. Sometimes these changes are minor improvements, while at other times it may be far more significant. The first DCP projectors were essentially Series 0 projectors; the first that most cinemas acquired were Series 1s; and Series 2 projectors saw the introduction of 4K chips among a number of other incremental changes.
Many of these “series” evolutions come down to the next developmental change of the DMD chips that are at the heart of the DLP projector and the improvements introduced by their manufacturer — Texas Instruments (TI). In 2013, TI announced the launch of the improved .98” 4K DMD chip. This saw them achieve the seemingly impossible — they managed to fit four times the number of mirrors onto the .98” chip than they had previously. In short, instead of more than 2 million mirrors, they managed to achieve more than the critical 8 million mirrors required to achieve true 4K resolution.
To understand the significance of the ability to add such an elevated number of additional mirrors to the DMD, first it is necessary to understand how the chips themselves work. DLPs work by reflecting the light from the light source. Each of their chips has many thousands of mirrors, every one of these can individually move many times a second. The light reflected from these constantly moving mirrors forms the image which is subsequently projected on to the screen. A 2K DMD utilises 2,211,840 moving aluminium mirrors, with each of these representing a single pixel in the final projected image. Each mirror is suspended over address electrodes by a torsion hinge between two posts. Depending on the voltage polarity that is applied, each mirror will either tilt to the left or to the right. When light is applied to the complete DMD, only the light redirected from a mirror tilting to the left is projected, thus an image can be created.
Enter the 4th dimension
With its new ‘Series 4’ chipsets, TI has had to change the fundamental way that it makes the mirrors move. The new chips are called .98” 4K TRP and they have effectively added roll to the way in which the mirrors move. What does that mean? Now, instead of a simple binary on and off tilt movement for each of the mirrors, there is an additional roll movement required. It is this roll movement that enables TI to put four times the number of mirrors on the same-sized chip. It is also why there are now so many 4K projectors available in other industries and applications.
Without question it is clear that the majority of projectors in the future will come as 4K as standard. The chipset was initially released at CES in 2013 to great fanfare with the idea that it would bring greater brightness through better optical and power efficiency. According to the original press release, the TRP chipset has the ability to produce up to 100% higher brightness on a frame-by-frame basis, while also consuming up to 50% less power. This 2013 announcement heralded a whole slew of new pico projectors that have become brighter with a higher resolution, despite their small size, with the ability to run more efficiently — often on battery power.
This reduced size aspect represents one of the major advances of the new 4K chip — a smaller chip requires smaller components to work meaning that the final cost of the product is correspondingly more affordable. While this article focuses on Cinionic’s use of the 4K chip (and the phrase “Series 4” is a marketing term mainly in use by them), it is worth noting that both Christie and NEC also use the TI DMD chipsets and have themselves launched new ranges of projectors that make use of both the new TI .98” 4K chipset together with the development in laser light levels.
How laser light is developing
In tandem with developments in the chips used in projectors for professional applications, laser light technology has also developed at a fairly rapid pace within the cinema sector. To begin with, the green laser colour of the RGB was expensive and difficult to create and that is why frequently blue light is used which is then altered to create the green colour — this is especially so with laser phosphor projectors. However, several companies and research groups have found new ways to create the green laser that is its own distinct colour, in the same way that red and blue are. The most common green lasers are actually infrared lasers with a second crystal used to double the frequency and halve the wavelength to provide green light. The infrared is then filtered out so that it is only green light that is output.
Series 4 Cinionic projectors
Alongside NEC and Christie, Cinionic is one of the first cinema manufacturers to make use of this new chipset from TI and it has coined the Series 4 moniker for its product range from Barco. For Cinionic and Barco, this is more than simply a new 4K chipset that uses the same form factor as the previous 2K one (conveniently allowing for the use of many of the same components and designs across a whole range of projectors). This next generation technology will deliver an unmatched cinema experience for moviegoers today, future-proofed for tomorrow. The Barco Series 4 models from Cinionic have specifically focused on four areas. The company describes them thus: a brilliant image; being ready for tomorrow today; fit & forget; and Barco EcoPure.
A brilliant image…
The Barco AIM (Active Image Management) technology guarantees flawless images through the implementation of Barco patents on image control, processing and driving, enabled through the years of experience in cinema. The new brilliant image aspect delivers the integration of a number of Barco patents that mean the 4K RGB image is now compatible with both white and silver screens, broadening its suitability for a range of applications. The projectors’ all come with Barco AIM (Active Image Management), all are laser-based, and offer Barco Colorgenic which delivers the full P3 colour space and more than 98.5% of Rec. 2020, for an extremely wide colour gamut.
Ready for tomorrow…
One of the key difficulties for both manufacturers and buyers alike is knowing what features they may need in the future, and with cinema this will often depend on what the filmmaker may want. The new Series 4 projectors have been designed to support High Dynamic Range (HDR), High Frame Rate (HFR) and immersive audio. This adaptability is described in the projectors as Barco AIM (Active Image Management) — for the buyer, it should deliver a degree of peace of mind for future requirements.
Fit and forget…
With few dedicated technical people in cinemas these days and an ever-growing requirement for staff to do more than one job, the requirement simply to install equipment and more or less leave it in situ is great. The Barco Series 4 projector has Fit & Forget thinking behind it, that means that it is designed specifically to withstand more than ten years of constant use, without loss of performance. This is particularly relevant for boothless environments where the projector really does benefit from this maintenance-free longevity. According to Cinionic, there is four times less maintenance required than in other series of projectors and the maintenance itself is more predictable.
Manufacturers are also conscious of the need to make their products increasingly energy efficient, a requirement that is virtuous for both the cinema and the environment. In the days of the film projector, it was usually necessary to have three-phrase power supplies in the projection room. These days, the efficiency of the new DMD chips coupled with developments in laser light sources mean power consumption and requirements are greatly reduced, to the point that it is possible to run a Barco Series 4 projector from either a single phase or three phase socket, depending on what is equipped in the projection space already.
Cinionic has gone a step further with the Series 4 projectors — they have introduced an eco-friendly 3 watts/hour hibernation mode so that the projector can be put to sleep, using virtually no power, but can nevertheless allow for remote support, maintenance and content ingest to take place conveniently overnight while in this state. The integrated projection system delivers an industry-leading 9.5 lumens per watt for an energy-efficient performance, always. Cinionic say this allows for more than 50% savings compared to typical xenon projectors.
Find out more at cinionic.com/series4
The new Savoy Grantham – A Series 4 showcase
On Thursday 18 July, the new 700-seat, five-screen cinema in Grantham, Lincolnshire, UK, opened to much fanfare. The Grantham Savoy will be the chain’s fifth cinema in its Midland’s-based network, with a sixth due to open in Doncaster in coming months.
There was a significant mix of local councillors and VIPs there to celebrat, together with a wide selection of the UK’s cinema exhibition community. It was quite the party atmosphere at the opening reception held in the spacious box office and concessions area.
The Cinema Quarter is the first new town centre development in Grantham for more than 30 years and — apart from the cinema itself — the building will house a new centre for the University of Lincoln, as well as space for two restaurants. It is adjacent to South Kesteven District Council’s headquarters and a 300-space car park. Previously, the nearest cinema was 19 miles away — a long stretch for the locals.
Screen 1 of five is a Premium Large Format auditorium that boasts the latest laser 4k digital projection combined with a Dolby Atmos sound system. This screen has 186 seats and is the largest, with the auditorium equipped with the first in the UK of Barco’s latest Series 4 RGB laser projection technology. The projection system will be complemented by 28 separate surround channels of sound in addition to left, centre, right, and subwoofers behind the screen.
“We are extremely pleased to be including the first Barco Series 4 laser projector in the UK,” declared Savoy’s MD James Collington on the opening night, “and this will be complemented by Dolby Atmos immersive sound to launch our new Vertex 4K format in screen 1.”
The other four auditoria at the Savoy site have all been equipped with laser projectors and KSC amps. One of the advantages of installing laser equipment from the beginning was that there was no requirement for extracts to be built into the projection room, just the ordinary air conditioning system.
To illustrate how proud the company is of the projection technology installed in its new site, James Collington gave a short presentation, thanking those that had helped with the construction of the cinema as well as a question and answer style session that featured Simon Tandy, MD of the cinema integrator Omnex which was responsible for the installation, and Kevin Marckwick, a technology advocate from the Uckfield Picture House, in Sussex. The pair talked in-depth about the merits of the projection system chosen for Screen 1.
And the first film shown in the venue’s new Screen 1? An anniversary edition of “The Matrix” — an appropriately futuristic title that still looked fresh 20 years after its original release.