A strong culture of customer support ensures NEC builds long-term partnerships with cinemas, as Peter Knight discovers at its UK service centre.
NEC traces its history back to the 19th century, when in 1899 it was founded as Nippon Electric Company Ltd — changed to NEC Corporation in April 1983 — as Japan’s first joint venture with foreign capital. NEC was established by Kunihiko Iwadare in association with the US firm Western Electric Company (a name well known in cinema from the early days of 35mm). The basic aim of the company, expressed in its slogan “Better Products, Better Service,” was to provide customers with world-class products and dependable service. The notion of follow-up service didn’t take root in Japanese businesses until a full half-century later, whereas NEC had, from the beginning, embraced a concept that developed into what is now called customer satisfaction. In cinema terms, NEC entered the sector in 2003 and has more than 11,000 digital cinema projectors installed in Europe, Middle East and Africa alone.
More than just projectors
NEC is more than projectors though, it offers a range of products tailored to the cinema space…
In November 2013 NEC installed a huge 107m2 LED screen on the Odeon Leicester Square (see previous page). Used to market films showing in Screen 1 and for premieres, it is one of the largest displays of its kind in a public square. The huge display is flanked by two 18m2 NEC LED displays. The whole digital canvas looks as good today as it did when installed over five years ago.
The NEC 10mm Nichia LED module is designed to deliver uniformity of brightness and colour, with realistic skintones, across the entire screen. Not surprisingly it can be a challenge to get uniform colour consistency of images across a display of this size and it is a major achievement for NEC. Being such a large display it has an interesting set of challenges: it must be seen from multiple locations and angles in a variety of different weather and light levels. No matter where the viewer is standing, they will experience bright images delivering up to 6,000cd/m2 brightness, and excellent viewing even in direct sunlight. An ambient light sensor ensures optimum brightness whilst minimising power consumption and with a high lumen to watt ratio.
Digital Menu Boards and signage
NEC also produces menu boards and displays for digital signage posters and integrated systems for cinemas. Sensor-driven solutions using NEC leafengine (unified sensor/software connectivity) make delivered content relevant to the viewer and pertinent to certain conditions. This content-aware signage maximises opportunities for revenue generation, enhancing the messaging according to the time of day, seasonal conditions, dwell time and audience demographics. NEC works with partners such as Beaver Group to specify and deliver the elements needed to create an immersive experience to engage with visitors. Integrated digital signage networks link all areas in the venue, building a connection with audiences who respond with increased loyalty and buy-in. Operators benefit from increased efficiency, maintaining fresh, engaging and relevant content according to the audience demographic.
NEC’s projector technology and range
As with Christie and Barco, NEC makes use of the TI chipset for its projectors and has a variety of products to meet the needs of a venue, no matter its size or requirements. With 11 cinema projectors in its range, NEC can offer a projector for any size screen up to a massive 32m. Its smaller projector products (the NC1000 and NC1201L) support boothless operation. NEC’s Cinema Silencer Housing, designed to go in the auditorium, works alongside its boothless products.
NC1700L: World’s first RB Laser DCI projector
The NC1700L projector was the world’s first RB Laser projector to be DCI compliant. Designed for theatres with mid-sized screens of up to 17m wide, the RB laser light source produces colour and brightness that surpasses traditional laser phosphor projection systems. As with most projectors manufactured currently, the NC1700L has been designed to be both flexible and easy to install, requiring no exhaust system.
NC3541L: World’s Brightest RB Laser
Up to now, laser sources for premium- and large-format screens have tended to require full use of RGB laser sources. The NEC NC3541L is a 4K projector using an RB laser which takes advantage of both laser phosphor and RGB laser technologies. The result is a powerful unit which delivers benefits in terms of cost, operational efficiency and image quality. This projector manages a 35,000 lumen level of brightness and can be used for screens up to 32m.
Back on screen, fast
From the beginning, NEC understood that, for a cinema, getting back on screen as soon as possible was vital. Early discussions with cinema owners led to the establishment of hubs right across EMEA in the UK, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Germany. These allow parts to be delivered anywhere in six hours — within an average of 4 hours — to most locations (subject to weather and traffic!). So if a cinema discovers an issue first thing in the morning, it is possible it can be back on screen by the evening. The hubs are open 16 hours a day, with the German one open 24/7. The rapid hub service is an extra service available to any customer who wishes to pay for it, otherwise parts come from the Amsterdam hub, which operates normal working hours, meaning, typically, next working day delivery.
Inside the European Technical Centre
NEC’s technical centre has been in its current building in in Telford in the UK since 1999. Opened as a manufacturing plant for desktop monitors, the centre is now used as a call centre for non-cinema products, as well as being the main EMEA cinema support centre for all of the NEC partners. These partners are able to access support via email and telephone. As many of the partners and staff at the cinema support centre have worked together since the beginning, it is often described as feeling like a big extended family.All parts swapped out of NEC projectors by its partners are returned to the warehouse. Each is checked, and if it failed under guarantee is returned to Japan, otherwise it is refurbished and reconditioned to be able to go back out. If the cost of repair is too high, it is recycled. Consequently at the support centre, there is one of every model of every projector manufactured held in order to test out parts. The warehouse also keeps a supply of loan equipment for use across Europe for demo purposes.
Since 2017, the team in Telford has been able to refresh and recondition projector prisms for any of their projectors — the only site outside of Japan to offer this capability. Making it possible to extend the life of all NEC projectors, the prisms come into the service area and are broken down into their component parts. They are then cleaned in a sterile environment before the reassembly and realignment process takes place. The cleaning can take a bit of time, to remove the build up of dirt completely. Reassembling the prisms requires the use of a special clamp that allows for the finest of adjustments across six different planes of access. The technician has five cameras and a pixel-perfect monitor on hand to ensure the alignment is precise. Once the prism is refurbished, glass washers are glued into place to stop the settings being changed. The glass washers are secured using UV glue which must be kept at a specific temperature and an exact weight. The whole process is a continuous cycle and takes about eight hours, although in reality it takes longer as a result of having to send reports and information to different parties. To give an idea of how useful this service is, one Portugese ten-screen venue is currently going through the process of reconditioning the projectors in all of its screens. Similarly, a set of the first cinema projectors that NEC installed in Hatfield, England, are still in use today having been refurbed, and in Blackpool 16 years later, still producing the required 14ft/L output.
This ability to service and refurb means that cinema operators can look to upgrade the projector in their largest screen, and then roll their remaining projectors down, via a refurbishment programme, leading to the extended life of the equipment. Or they can simply look to refurbish their projectors, selling the older ones on to another user for whom such a refurbed projector might make a more economically rational purchase. From the refurbishment process NEC is able to recycle 67% of all material with the remaining 33% being incinerated, producing electricity. The emphasis on service and longevity here is key — NEC sees refurbishing and reusing as a good thing. It will often sell a new unit and gain a new customer if an older one is sold on at the same time. Smart thinking.
NEC supplies the Queen Mary 2
The Queen Mary 2 cruise liner was launched in 2004 and can carry up to 2,600 passengers across the Atlantic, but you may not know that there is a 475 seat cinema on board. When it was being built in France in 2004, the Queen Mary 2 was on the cusp of the digital cinema age and was fitted with two Christie 512 digital projectors and an Ernemann 35mm projector, all in a compact projection booth that serves as the control centre for lectures and the planetarium. The cinema is towards the bow and occupies three of the 14 decks in height and about threequarters of the ship’s width. The cinema screen is 13 m wide and capable of showing 3D. Now the screen is illuminated using NEC’s NC3240S-A 4K projectors, each with 9kW lamphouses, running at 108 amps. Below the projectors are mounted GDC 3D servers with Dolby 7.1 surround sound as standard. Several seating areas have audio loops for the hard of hearing.
NEC Launches new modular NEC NC2402ML
At CinemaCon, NEC launched a new projector to its range, the NEC NC2402ML, the world’s first cinema projector to integrate a modular laser light system with a projector head. The modular approach enables venues to plug-in the appropriate light module based on the required brightness. This functionality allows projectors to be adapted according to screen size. The NC2402ML bundles NEC’s NP-02HD projector head with the modular 24,000lm light module out of three swappable light modules (24,000lm, 20,000lm and 18,000lm). Having all in one box, the modular approach makes it quick and easy to achieve the desired light output for different screens and scenarios. The unit uses RB laser technology, providing crisp, almost speckle-free imagery, combining benefits of RGB laser technology with lower costs.
Other benefits of NC2402ML include:
- Virtually zero maintenance – no lamp and no filter replacement costs, no maintenance personnel costs and no lamp stock due to the innovative Laser Light engine.
- Lower TCO – highest reliability, maintenance-free operation, low power consumption and up to 30,000 hours life; the Laser Light source results in a significantly lower overall cost.
- Sealed optical engine – minimising dust and smoke ingress, consistent performance is assured and no special maintenance is required.
- A host of integrated features – optional built-in 2TB screen server, 2 x 3G SDI Interfaces, HDMI interface for alternative content, advanced network and built-in GPIO functions with NAS support.
Our Japanese heritage guides our ethos, placing the customer at the centre of operations. A culture of respect and reliability permeates the organisation making NEC a trusted partner for the long-term. Our principles might make our sales methods more conservative than our competitors, but we prefer to nurture a partnership working with our customers to gain a complete understanding of their needs.
As a global organisation NEC is well-positioned to deliver a full service for multi-national clients whilst responding on a local level. We work with leading systems integrators and cinema chains who require a cross border service yet with a single contact point to support multi-national operations. As the only display manufacturer able to supply and support the broadest range of technologies, we offer cinema-wide solutions. We’re not just in the theatre, but on the façade, in the foyer, the bars and lounges, the ticket office, the back office and the concessions stand.