Christie Laser Projector Shines at IBC in 3D

Christie Digital used a 63,000 lumen laser projector at IBC in the first screening of a full-length movie using a laser-illuminated projector.  You read that right — 63,000 lumens, topping the 55,000 lumens Barco showed earlier in the year, with Barco in partnership with IMAX and Kodak.

The Barco/IMAX/Kodak demo showed the possibility of using a single projector to light up a really big screen, the kind IMAX likes, with a single projector.  That demo used a 70-foot-wide (21.3 meters), matte Harkness screen with a 1.0 gain.

The Christie demo used a smaller 52-foot-wide (16-meter) silver screen with gain. Smaller is relative, of course, this is still a bigger screen than you will find in your typical multiplex even if it is smaller than the largest screens IMAX uses. Instead of using the 63,000 lumens to illuminate a super-large screen, the Christie demo used the high projector output to show Hugo in 3D at the 14 foot-lamberts specified for 2D presentations.

In his pre-show presentation, Dr. Don Shaw, senior director, Product Management, Christie Entertainment Solutions, asked, “Why is this [3.5-4.5 Ft.-L] sufficient for 3D when the 2D standard is 14 Ft.-L?” His answer, of course, was that it wasn’t sufficient, especially since 3D movies are often shown at even lower light levels, down to about 2 Ft.-L. Since there is no 3D light level specification for the cinema, he says this isn’t even “wrong,” since there is no specification defining “right.”

Shaw cited a couple scientific studies that said 3D caused eyestrain, headaches, trouble seeing, blurred/double vision, dizziness, disorientation and nausea/motion sickness. Shaw attributes some of this to the low light levels and low frame rates used in 3D presentations. While 24Hz may be marginally acceptable for 2D presentations, he contends it causes additional problems in 3D. Shaw said the problem was only partly due to the light level and frame rate. But Christie, as a projector manufacturer, can’t do anything about bad 3D content.

In addition to screening the full length of Hugo 3D at 14Ft.-L, Christie had a separate demonstration of 3D content at both 3 Ft.-L. and 14 Ft.-L. Clips from Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Puss in Boots and Hugo were used for this demo, but it was unclear if there were two different color grades for the content shown at these two very different lightlevels. This is when Dr. Shaw discussed the technology.

At this demo screening, there were two additional speakers: stereographers Demetri Portelli (‘Hugo’) and Corey Turner (‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’).  Turner, who is currently VP of Post Production for Paramount, said, “Technologies like this will only help filmmakers fall even more in love with 3D. It will also finally give audiences a way to see all of the wonderful detail that the director and many members of their crew put into each and every shot.  People will no longer cautiously question, ‘…is this really in 3D?’ because they will be able to see and detect all of the subtle depth cues intended for the presentation.”

To produce 14 Ft.-L in 3D, the demo at IBC used a prototype Christie laser projector with 4K DLP imagers and a Christie Integrated Media Block (IMB). 3D technology from XpanD was used for the presentation. The movie was shown at 24 frame per second and tripled flashed as most movies are (not a high frame rate demo). This was a limitation of the content, not the projector or IMB.

The lasers were in a separate rack and connected to the projector head with a fiber optic cable. The manufacturer of the lasers was not specified but since Shaw used a photo of NECSEL lasers in his presentation and pointed out that Christie and NECSEL had the same parent company (Ushio) and that NECSEL is the “world’s leading supplier of projection grade lasers,” it is pretty safe to assume NECSEL lasers were used in the demo.

Don’t expect 14Ft.-L 3D in your multiplex cinema any time soon. Shaw said that he expects Christie to have projectors for the largest screens in about 18 months but even he expects “cost benefits and positive ROI will remain elusive.”  He does not foresee widespread adoption of laser technology in the cinema for several (5+) years. We are looking forward to it, however.