Peter Knight looks under the hood and discovers a passion to serve the experience at CinemaNext
MANY WILL BE AWARE of CinemaNext as it has been in existence since 2004, though you may well know it by another name. It started out in life as XDC when founded by Laurent Minguet until 2012 when it changed its name to dcinex — until it was bought by Ymagis Group in 2014 and renamed again to CinemaNext. Headquartered in Liège, Belgium, the company also has offices in 25 other countries, including the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Russia and it employs around 200 people. CinemaNext offers a range of different services, including installation and maintenance of projection equipment, sound systems and outfitting for cinemas. They also advise cinemas on their financing and the management of refurbishment projects.
In December, CT was given the opportunity to visit the offices in Liège which opened in July 2018. CinemaNext’s main hub is located in Liège-Barchon (Parc Artisanal) and features a 2,400m² two-story building that includes 1,400m² dedicated to the supply chain and logistics. The Liège-Barchon offices also house sister-company Eclair’s Benelux team, which provides colour-grading and DCP mastering services for international movie releases alongside digital distribution and theatrical delivery solutions.
As you would expect, the offices have a 40-seat screening facility available for a variety of uses. The auditorium includes a showroom for cinema seating and has a variety of different types within so visitors are able to try everything from a simple reclining seat, to the most luxurious ones. The space is used for quality control of content as well, so there is a control panel in the centre of the auditorium. Work is shortly going to start on making sure that the auditorium is equipped for both white and non-white screens, allowing for the greatest variety of 3D content to be played back.
There is the ability to play content back from three different projectors — one using a xenon lamp, one a mercury lamp and one a laser so that true side-by-side testing can be carried out and observed. This was an interesting exercise during my visit as it’s not every day that you get to have a go at guessing to see the same content played back across three different light sources. The same can also be done with the audio system, so that different audio configurations can be observed.
The projection room is more of a technical test bed space, with a variety of other projectors set up, that can, if necessary, be moved into place. This means that a whole variety of different equipment can be tested and observed from within the offices, anything from Series 1 projectors and servers to the TMS equipment, including CinemaNext’s own in-house TMS solution. Like any test setup, this projection space along with the cinema auditorium are going to be constantly changing and updated or reconfigured in order to test and experiment as technologies develop.
Operating across 26 countries with offices in the majority of them, CinemaNext believes that this means that it can offer both the advantages of a large international business, able to operate across borders, with the advantages of also being local through country-specific offices. Thus, if a project comes in at the last minute and there are not any local teams available, teams from other countries can be called upon in order to help get the customer out of a tight situation, especially when it comes to complex refurbishment projects that have so many different moving parts, any small change can cause a much larger one elsewhere.
Support at an international scale
When you support more than 9,500 screens, the Network Operations Centre (NOC) is an important part of the enterprise. CinemaNext has six different teams, each having dedicated language teams, with the international team based in Belgium. The NOC is able to track what is happening with an issue at any time through screens in the office. From the NOCs, technicians and parts can be dispatched.
With the implementation of consistency among the way that equipment is installed within the cinemas it means that it is a lot easier for the support team to be able to diagnose and understand where the issue might be.
Logistics: the right time, the right place
Have you ever considered the challenge of a new build or refurbishment cinema auditorium where practically all of the new equipment needs to be in the same place at a specific time and from a variety of different manufacturers and suppliers? One of the key areas that CinemaNext specialises in is doing just that. They have a specialist team who work out the logistics of getting different items to the warehouse and then package it all up together, one pallet per screen then to be sent to the relevant cinema or location, managing all the necessary paperwork involved.
This is not just as simple as sending a small parcel through the post, but a complex challenge of making sure that the lead-times are managed so that products arrive when they are needed, while not sitting around the warehouse for needless long periods of time.The warehouse has a mixture of ‘standard’ consumable products that are constantly shipping in and shipping out to customers and technicians. Added to this is a range of second-hand and refurbished products that are available to be distributed out as well. The team have setup the warehouse space to be as logical and efficient as possible for the team.
Consumables and more online
Backing up this logistical expertise, CinemaNext launched its online shop in December and is being rolled out globally over the next few months. The CinemaNext Shop allows customers to buy everything from everyday consumables to complete projectors and everything in-between.
From the user interface it is, in theory, possible to purchase everything from the projector, pedestal, server and sound system right through to the lens and lamp to put in it. This can then all be tracked to delivery, and, in common with all well-designed online stores, it is possible to see a complete order history so that you can reorder the same product, if required. While this is not the first time that it has been possible to do this, most readers will remember the printed catalogues that existed in the celluloid days. While it is one of the first eCommerce sites to exist in our world, CinemaNext is quick to point out that it is worth contacting them before buying some equipment to ensure your Shop account is configured with the correct commercial terms. Talking to the logistics and shop team it is evident that there is a growing amount of second-hand equipment starting to become available as companies start to upgrade. This equipment will start to become available via the online store in the future.
In-house software solutions
In common with the innovative approach to online purchasing, the CinemaNext TMS is a fully featured one at the cutting edge. The latest developments include CinemaNext TMS Mobile, which allows exhibitors to use a smartphone or tablet as a remote control to transform the auditorium into a conference room by controlling every feature (sound, lights, projection), screening time synchronisation from a point of sale system, automatic import of advertisement packages, automatic management of power supply equipment, quality control monitoring (colour, luminosity, sound), DCP creation tool and push notifications to prevent any potential issues. It is compatible with third-party software (e.g. digital signage), making it fully automated.The TMS is also interoperable with all existing server technologies and compatible with projectors from Barco, Christie, Kinoton, NEC and Sony. Its CinemaNext Monitoring tool monitor and optimise a cinema’s assets with intuitive dashboards giving at-a-glance confidence that everything is running as it should, including detailed device status, storage status, lamp status, warnings, KDM errors, playback status, real-time alerts, and a number of other features. Designed to help guarantee a cinema’s hardware is working properly, the system is also interoperable with all existing server technologies.
End-to-End and Manufacturer Agnostic
In fact, interoperability was one of the things that the team at CinemaNext was keen to emphasise. Theirs is an end-to-end company that works with all manufacturers. They are keen to help cinema operators create the best possible spaces for their customers and the team believe strongly that knowledge of all models of equipment helps them achieve the right solution.
The Hidden Show
The CinemaNext team is adamant that technology should be a hidden part of the show, the audience should not know about what is happening, and should simply see and hear the best experience. They are working hard on technology and resources that will help cinema owners keep on top of all their technology. One of these projects is about how, using log data from all different pieces of equipment, it is possible to predict when something is about to fail before it does. This is clever thinking as it requires the ability to analyse years and years’ worth of data across a range of manufacturers and equipment models to show and understand when something will fail.
Virtual Reality: the next big thing?
One of CinemaNext’s biggest recent developments is its own in-house virtual reality offer. Unsurprisingly, when the first Illucity-branded VR corner was launched it was in the local Kinepolis cinema in Liege, Belgium. Opening in October 2019 the opening was one year after the launch of the acclaimed Illucity adventure park in Paris, the first VR location-based entertainment centre of its kind.
CinemaNext has taken over a corner of the cinema foyer, where there was previously some seating, with a variety of different VR experiences. The 80m2 Illucity corner is located at the cinema’s entrance and features three distinct immersive experiences for visitors of all ages and skill levels: Illucity VR Arena — 4 players and escape game, Illucity VR Hestia — multi-players, and Illucity VR Ride, for one player. The Hestia uses D-BOX chairs to allow a user to be moved around as they either soar as an eagle or experience a 360-degree space experience. The eagle experience is a first-person game where you get to fly and carry out various tasks, while the 360-degree space experience is more of a traditional ‘movie’. The VR Arena offers the opportunity to play against three other opponents, while the VR Ride is more like arcade-style systems with a selection of different content, including games and linear stories.
The price is currently €5 per person and indications are that it is proving popular before shows and that there are definite repeat customers who come before or after a movie screening. It is still early days, however, and it will take time to see how well it is received.
Built on a diverse portfolio
Most people will have heard of CinemaNext, but I suspect few will be aware of quite the range the company offers. Certainly I was surprised by the number of different products and services available. There were many things that I simply considered before, especially in terms of the logistics of getting what are quite often heavy and large products to the right place at the right time. Or there were the things that were just a little bit clever, such as the projector setup in the internal cinema.
CinemaNext has worked hard to develop local and individual relationships with customers, while also having the back-up and support of an international company that is able to provide the flexibility that provides.
Products, Services & Support
CinemaNext has a number of strings to its bow, offering a wide range of products, services and support to the cinema community. These include…
Sphera – the Premium Cinema Concept
Launched in 2017 at Village Cinemas at The Mall Athens, Greece, Sphera is a premium cinema offering that delivers cinema exhibitors state-of-the-art projection, sound, comfort and design for a fully immersive cinema experience. What makes Sphera different to other similar products is that it is a turnkey solution designed for small, medium and large-size cinema multiplexes that provides a cutting-edge experience based on EclairColor HDR, 4K cinema projectors, Dolby Atmos, premium seating, impressive LED cinema visuals and contemporary design. The dynamic light show with interactive ambient light system are different to other setups, as they sit along the edge of the auditorium and interact with the content.
It is not just the technical fit out of the projection room or the front end of the auditorium that CinemaNext is involved in. It also provides the rest of the cinema outfitting, from the auditorium carpets and seats through to the lighting and acoustic treatments.
Audio and Projection Systems
CinemaNext specialises in working with all of the projector, server and audio manufacturers in order to provide the right solution for customer’s needs, rather than having to compromise. This means that it has knowledge (and data) from right across a full range of products to improve the wider products and services it offers. It says that part of the company’s value is in “advising clients on the best projection system equipment for the ultimate movie-going experience at reasonable cost, from project management, sales and financing to installation and maintenance tocinema projectors and best-in-class support, servers, screens, 3D systems, consumables and accessories.” Separate to this, CinemaNext also works with different screen manufacturers to offer the right unbiased solutions.
Accessories built in house
CinemaNext design and build a number of their own accessories in-house to their own specifications, such as projector plinths and the lifts for boothless projection. This allows for greater flexibility and consistency of installation.
Other services, products and support
The range of services and products offered by CinemaNext is fairly comprehensive.It also includes: Project Management, Commissioning & Installation, Content Management, Spares & Consumables, Service Agreements, Support and financing
A View from the top
Tim Potter, VP of Sales, CinemaNext EMEA & International
“Cinema is at the heart of the communities our customers serve — customers who range from small art houses in Bordeaux, multiplexes in Moscow, prestigious film organisations in London and even cruise ships serving the Mediterranean. Our customers are the catalyst for the regeneration of towns and cities, adding value to the district or banlieue they serve. Their venues screen the latest Hollywood blockbusters or art house films, broadcasting live from the opera or ballet, hosting corporate and eSports events.
Our customers offer more choice through the deployment of innovation; premium offers utilising the latest sound , projection or emissive LED display technology; from recliners with built-in touchpads to order food and drink to your seat, to VR arenas, rides and kiosks; and smart scheduling systems that ensure they have the right content on the right screen at the right time. It is CinemaNext’s raison d’être to support these technologies.
Our broad portfolio of products and services allows us to choose the best solution to meet the need. This helps everyone, from smaller independents, who can struggle to obtain the best commercial solution, up to multi-national customers who demand consistency and continuity of delivery across their territories. We assist customers in making the right choice when investing in technology that is sustainable, lasts longer, lowers energy costs but does not compromise the experience.
We are here to help increase occupancy and drive box office sales, whether choosing the best seating solution or through our business solutions such as CinemaNext TMS. It is our mission to deliver solutions and services that are integral to delivery of the best entertainment experience.
Trying out the Sphera PLF solution…
In 2019 I was able to experience CinemaNext’s in-house premium cinema offering, Sphera, for myself. It had been installed into a new-build cinema and its number one premiere screen had been installed with Sphera. It featured a laser projector, complete with immersive sound system, comfortable seating, and LED side lighting. There was, of course, the external auditorium branding, together with pre-show product teasers. The cinema in question reported that customers would actively check to see if content was in the Sphera screen before booking. Being the largest screen, most content opened in this screen each week. The actual experience in the auditorium was enjoyable and Sphera definitely brings an alternative option to those that might wish to have a PLF experience in their cinemas, but without having the need to create their own bespoke one.