I’ve just come from the Hughes/JVC/CineComm Digital Star Wars at the Loews Cineplex Route 4 10-plex up in Paramus, NJ. I thought I’d pass along what I saw.
They’re showing the digital show in on the #1 screen, their largest. The booth usually carries two Century/Strong combos, but they pulled out the B projector to install the video unit. It’s a big mother, about the size of a large refrigerator, and twice as wide. They had to knock out the port in front and replace it with a larger one to make the image size. They still have a print in the booth which they lace up on the Century and run in parallel with the video, in case of breakdown, it contains exactly the same trailers and daters. (Loews shipped their daters to Lucas for them to transfer to the video server).
The compromise is that they couldn’t make the usual screen width given the focal length of the video unit, so they pulled in the masking about 10% on the top and sides over the usual 2.35 to 1 setting. They had to come up with a different lens for the film projector to make the smaller masking in the event of a video breakdown. As it stands, the throw is 125’ onto a 41’ by 17’ screen.
The other compromise is the lamp. In the CinneComm system it turn out that you need twice the lamp to do the job. The film projector runs a 4500 watter, the video projector runs 7000 watts of xenon. I didn’t fully get the reason why (the factory rep gave me a ton of literature that I’ll try to digest when I get a minute) but it is partly because there is a series of polarizing filters between the lamp and the projector, it basically throws away half the light from the lamp because it only wants to see vertically polarized light at the picture head. For all this, they could only make 10ftl. at the screen (partly because it’s only a .8 gain screen).
The video runs off a 19 hard drive server in the 1080I HDTV mode with a Sony D to A converter. The audio is from an interlocked separate 9 gig drive. They’re using the house amps which someone from Lucas dicked around with, and they installed EX, which was pretty unimpressive. The operator runs the show from a computer, he simply drags the mouse arrow over “play” on the screen, clicks once, and you’re off. (What was kind of cool was that the operator can access any part of the movie at any time between shows by just knowing the frame number, and you see it on the booth video monitor. I got to talking to the factory guy about all the in-jokes in the movie, where to see “E.T.”, where to see the space pod from “2001” and so forth. He dialed up a joke I haven’t noticed, a picture of George Lucas himself in the background of one scene).
OK, you’re asking, how did it look?
Mighty dammed impressive. I have heard that the T.I. showing at the Meadow 6 down in Secaucus is a real mess due to motion artifacts, but there were none here. I expected the Pod Race scene to be a real problem for digital video, but it was totally smooth. Granted, the Factory rep allowed that the set up was in “demo mode” with only a very slight 4 to 1 video compression, they expect actual use in theaters to be a 50 to 1 compression, which may well introduce some gremlins, but this was clear as a bell. The only thing I noticed was that the contrast just wasn’t there. The whole film had a slightly washed out look to it; there weren’t a lot of true deep blacks. They claim a 1300 to 1 contrast ratio. Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve had my eyes taken out and calibrated, but the contrast just seemed a little weak.
And of course, no dirt. The real test was the Loews Feature Presentation dater, which is red lettering on a white background, and as you may expect is a dirt magnet. Totally white. Wow!
All in all, a very impressive and interesting show, many thanks to Rich from CineComm and the Route 4 management for letting me be a pest.
Now, who’s going to pay for it all?