Barco outlines cinema technology trends

Cinemas are taking advantage of new developments but theatres aren’t going to adopt the latest technologies for the sake of it. Every investment has to make commercial sense. Tom Bert, senior product manager at Barco, talks to Tim Kridel.

TK: What are some major trends in the cinema market, and how do those trends affect the AV needs of theatres? For example, Odeon is among the operators that rent out their theatres for corporate events and other non-movie activities. So if a theatre will be hosting more than just films, does it require different/additional types of projection, loudspeakers and other AV systems? 

TB: There are different trends happening simultaneously in the different segments of the market. Premium screens and premium movie experiences are an important one: high brightness laser projection, immersive audio, but also things like recliner seats fit in that trend. Another important trend is that towards more automation and higher operational efficiency: laser phosphor projection fits in that corner; as does better integration between POS, TMS and media servers. The example of using auditoriums for non-movie content and events that is given fits in the latter category: higher occupancy by diversifying the audience and content. State-of-the-art digital projection and audio equipment can manage alternative content and event types without a problem. The most practical problems come from things like connecting the laptop of a presenter in the front of the auditorium to the projection booth in the rear. AV solutions like Barco Clickshare are being used in cinemas to solve these types of problems.

TK: Even average home theatres now often include advanced technologies such as 4K and 3D. What are theatre operators looking for in terms of technologies to help convince consumers to leave their home to see a movie? For example, do they see augmented and virtual reality, or immersive audio, as key for attracting and retaining audiences?

TB: Going to the cinema has been, should be and will continue to be a unique experience. Truly a night out. 4K and 3D are just two contributors to providing the best image (quality) possible. The screen size and its immersive nature is another example of a significant contributor. Same for immersive audio: the whole auditorium is acoustically optimised for the best sound experience; it’s very hard to match that in a home environment. Other technology drivers should help enforces that unique, lasting experience. The industry does not just jump onto hypes, but adopts solutions that are visibly better (and make economical sense). The improved contrast and 3D brightness that laser projection can bring is an example already being deployed. 

TK: What are movie studios doing – or in some cases, not doing – that affects theatre operators’ AV requirements? For example, there are more and more 3D/spatial audio systems on the market and the cost is coming down. But films have to be mixed for these systems. Are studios doing that? 

TB: The ecosystem between creatives, studios, distributors, exhibitors and tech suppliers is a complex one. Studios are just one voice in the market. Paradigm shifts have historically been driven by creatives (directors) and enabled by the studios. For example when “The Hobbit” was released, many exhibitors had to upgrade their equipment to support the higher framerates (48fps). The release of “Avatar” in 2009 was a big driver for 3D (technology) adoption. Sometimes these changes are here to stay, sometimes they fade away. The increased complexity of the content (types) affects everyone in the ecosystem. The market is becoming more mature over the years: new trends are being looked at with a healthy dose of pragmatism, common sense and critique.

Tom Bert will return in a wider article on cinemas, technology and the future for theatres in the June edition of InAVate EMEA. If you aren’t registered to receive the magazine and you would like to read this article click here.

More Q&As in the series: 
Mike Bradbury, head of cinema technology, and Simon Soffe, head of communications at Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group
Adil Zerouali, a regional director within EMEA for cinema services at Christie

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