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Author Topic: Article on Light issues with Digital
Mike Frese
Master Film Handler

Posts: 465
From: Holts Summit, MO
Registered: Jun 2007


 - posted 05-22-2011 09:50 AM      Profile for Mike Frese   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Frese   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
http://www.boston.com/ae/movies/articles/2011/05/22/misuse_of_3_d_digital_lens_leaves_2_d_movies_in_the_dark/

As if rising ticket prices and chatterbox patrons weren’t enough, moviegoers in the Boston area are being left in the dark thanks to the regular misuse of the lenses on new digital projection equipment at many of the region’s major theater chains. But almost no one at the theaters or their corporate headquarters is willing to talk about it.

A walk through the AMC Loews Boston Common on Tremont Street one evening in mid-April illustrates the problem: gloomy, underlit images on eight of the multiplex’s 19 screens (theaters 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, and 18, to be specific). These are the auditoriums using new digital projectors that are transforming the movie exhibition business, machines that entirely do away with celluloid. The “film’’ comes in the form of a software file, and the projector pumps it onto the screen at high intensity.

Why, then, do so many of the movies look so terrible? This particular night “Limitless,’’ “Win Win,’’ and “Source Code’’ all seemed strikingly dim and drained of colors. “Jane Eyre,’’ a film shot using candles and other available light, appeared to be playing in a crypt. A visit to the Regal Fenway two weeks later turned up similar issues: “Water for Elephants’’ and “Madea’s Big Happy Family’’ were playing in brightly lit 35mm prints and, across the hall, in drastically darker digital versions.

The uniting factor is a fleet of 4K digital projectors made by Sony — or, rather, the 3-D lenses that many theater managers have made a practice of leaving on the projectors when playing a 2-D film. Though the issue is widespread, affecting screenings at AMC, National Amusements, and Regal cinemas, executives at all these major movie theater chains, and at the corporate offices of the projector’s manufacturer, have refused to directly acknowledge or comment on how and why it’s happening. Asked where his company stands on the matter, Dan Huerta, vice president of sight and sound for AMC, the second-biggest chain in the US, said only that “We don’t really have any official or unofficial policy to not change the lens.’’

A description of the problem comes from one of several Boston-area projectionists who spoke anonymously due to concerns about his job. We’ll call him Deep Focus. He explains that for 3-D showings a special lens is installed in front of a Sony digital projector that rapidly alternates the two polarized images needed for the 3-D effect to work.

“When you’re running a 2-D film, that polarization device has to be taken out of the image path. If they’re not doing that, it’s crazy, because you’ve got a big polarizer that absorbs 50 percent of the light.’’

They’re not doing that, and there’s an easy way to tell. If you’re in a theater playing a digital print (the marquee at the ticket booth should have a “D’’ next to the film’s name), look back at the projection booth.

If you see two beams of light, one stacked on top of the other, that’s a Sony with the 3-D lens still in place. If there’s a single beam, it’s either a Sony with the 3-D lens removed or a different brand of digital projector, such as Christie or Barco.

The difference can be extreme. Chapin Cutler, a cofounder of the high-end specialty projection company Boston Light & Sound, estimates that a film projected through a Sony with the 3-D lens in place and other adjustments not made can be as much as 85 percent darker than a properly projected film.

That’s dark enough for Hollywood director Peter Farrelly to complain loudly when his comedy “Hall Pass’’ had its promotional screening in two of the Common’s theaters prior to opening this past February. Farrelly went from one screening where the 3-D lens had been removed to a second in which the lens was still on, and he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I walked into the room and I could barely see, and my stomach dropped,’’ the filmmaker said. “The first screening looked spectacular and the second was so dark, it was daytime versus nighttime. If they’re doing this for a big screening, I can’t imagine what they do for regular customers. That’s no way to see a movie.’’

So why aren’t theater personnel simply removing the 3-D lenses? The answer is that it takes time, it costs money, and it requires technical know-how above the level of the average multiplex employee. James Bond, a Chicago-based projection guru who serves as technical expert for Roger Ebert’s Ebertfest, said issues with the Sonys are more than mechanical. Opening the projector alone involves security clearances and Internet passwords, “and if you don’t do it right, the machine will shut down on you.’’ The result, in his view, is that often the lens change isn’t made and “audiences are getting shortchanged.’’

After multiple requests, Sony declined through a spokesman to respond to questions about its digital projection equipment. Executives at the major theatrical chains are equally unwilling to discuss the matter. When contacted for this article, a spokesman for Regal, the nation’s largest multiplex operator, e-mailed the following statement: “Patron response has been overwhelmingly positive toward digital cinema and all of the associated entertainment options provided by this technology.’’

A spokeswoman for Norwood-based National Amusements, the ninth-largest chain in the country, responded to detailed questions by saying “We are not experiencing any issues with the Sony 4K systems.’’

If they talk about it at all, the chains claim that individual multiplex managers are the ones to decide whether to switch out the 3-D lens for 2-D showings. Dan Huerta, Vice President of Sight and Sound for AMC, the second-biggest chain in the US, said, “Obviously, if we know there’s a 2-D movie that’s going to be shown through a 3-D lens, we would have to make sure that the manager or a technical person could make the call.’’

Yet some theater employees scoff at that notion. “I can tell you who’s not [making the call], and it’s not the manager,’’ said one projectionist who has worked at a number of area theaters, including the Common, and who also preferred to remain anonymous. This man — let’s call him the Phantom Projectionist — believes that unspoken AMC corporate policy is to keep 3-D lenses on for 2-D showings.

“If we knew a house would be opening ‘Harry Potter’ and it wasn’t going to be 3-D,’’ he said, “I would ask them to swap the lens out and it would either go nowhere or come back with a negative from the regional technician, usually with the impression that it came from above.’’

Digital projection can look excellent when presented correctly. Go into Theater 14 at the Common, newly outfitted with a Christie 4K projector, and you’ll see a picture that is bright and crisp, if somewhat colder than celluloid. (You’ll also hear a busted sound channel that makes the actors sound tinny and faraway— but that’s a different article.)

Digital is the future — the Common plans to be all-digital by July — if only because it saves studios millions of dollars a year on processing film prints. Why, then, did Regal and AMC sign contracts in early 2009 — and National Amusements in June 2010 — with Sony, the one manufacturer whose projectors feature the external 3-D lens that’s too expensive and difficult to easily remove for 2-D showings?

The reason appears to be a basic business quid pro quo. Sony provides projectors to the chains for free in exchange for the theaters dedicating part of their preshow ads to Sony products. Unfortunately, the 3-D boom took off in late 2009 and Sony had to come up with a retrofitted solution. Said the Phantom Projectionist, “To me it feels like they’re serving people pigeon burgers and telling them its grade-A beef.’’

But what if audiences don’t notice or don’t care that they’re eating pigeon burgers? When queried by a reporter, moviegoers exiting showings at the Common recently were hard-pressed to pinpoint problems with what they’d just seen.

An older couple leaving the under-illuminated 7:15 “Win Win’’ showing thought the film looked fine; another patron praised its “creative lighting.’’ Walking out of the 7:05 showing of “Source Code,’’ Gerry Jurrens, 62, of Kingston, N.J., admitted that “in some places it seemed a little grainy, but it still looks better than what I’ve got at home.’’

Educating audiences and overcoming this inertia can be difficult. Boston Light & Sound’s Cutler said, “We have a tendency to walk in the door, we’ve paid our money, bought our popcorn, and we want to sit down and watch something. We’re loath to get up and leave because we’ve put that much effort in.’’

Still, the basic benchmarks of quality are easy to spot. In the opinion of the anonymous Deep Focus, “You should have a good, bright, clear, sharp picture and clean sound. That’s really it. It should be very easy to run a good show off digital and it stuns me that the chains can’t even manage to do that.’’

Herb Nipson agrees, and with four decades experience as a Boston-area projectionist he’s worth listening to. “I think audiences have to be a lot more proactive now,’’ he said, “because audiences are the only group that has any real concern for the quality of the image. They’re the only ones watching it.’’

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

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Victor Liorentas
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 796
From: london ontario canada
Registered: May 2009


 - posted 05-22-2011 11:47 AM      Profile for Victor Liorentas   Email Victor Liorentas   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
In my visits to digital booths i always see this problem! Oh did i say problem? What problem? Everything is just fine,it's supposed to stay in place like that,it works fine so we just leave it there!
Whatever!
Multiplexes like this deserve a solar flare to take out all their equipment instantly! [Big Grin]

It would be just fine!

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Brad Miller
Administrator

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From: Plano, TX (36.2 miles NW of Rockwall)
Registered: May 99


 - posted 05-22-2011 11:56 AM      Profile for Brad Miller   Author's Homepage   Email Brad Miller       Edit/Delete Post 
That's just pathetic. I didn't realize the problem was so widespread. NONE of our digital screens have EVER had this problem.

People are going to start staying home and wait for VOD if this sort of nonsense continues.

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Steve Guttag
We forgot the crackers Gromit!!!

Posts: 12137
From: Annapolis, MD
Registered: Dec 1999


 - posted 05-22-2011 11:59 AM      Profile for Steve Guttag   Email Steve Guttag   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It is also sad that the anonymous projectionists hurt their case by adding inaccuracies.

Unlike other Real-D solutions, the Sony one does NOT alternate the image between the two eyes...both are projected 100% of the time. I have found if they are not perfectly converged, they will significantly lower the perceived resolution on a 2D image too.

Now the light loss is definitely there since the polarizers are definitely still in place.

Another problem that is not identified but is definitely a cause of dark perceived images are the use of high-gain screens. And in particular, Silver screens with Real-D cinemas. Now some are thinking..."but wait a minute, I though gain screens are supposed to INCREASE light, not decrease it." Yes, that is true but there is the physics of light. A screen does NOT increase light, per-say. It reflects more of the light back but at the decrease in dispersion. This is why gain screens hot-spot. The hot spot is not necessarily in the middle either. It all depends on where the projector is in relation to the screen and where you are sitting in relation to the screen.

I recently made a measurement on a typical silver screen (Severtson, I believe...nominal gain of 2.2). The brightest target was 14.0fL (not centered when I had the PSA in the middle of the room). The darkest target was 2.6fL! For those unfamiliar with the PSA, it takes 45 light readings at once with the screen evenly divided up. The nominal light over all 45 targets was...8.28fL!!!

So the average light that the audience sees on 2D, on a silver screen is only about 1/2 as bright as it should be (and it is uneven, depending on where they are sitting and where the projector is located). Hence, a silver screen or other high gain, if the installer targets 14fL in the middle will look dark. If you have a silver screen (or other high gain) you need to get the center brightness OVER spec so that the nominal brightness is IN SPEC or the image will appear DARK.

Another annoyance to some...if you use a gain higher than 1.0 (matte white), you also need to start curving the screen if you want to even it out a bit and avoid the huge range like in my example (14.0 vs 2.6). Note, DCI spec is the sides/corners are to be 85% of center. So if your corners are less than 11.9fL when your center is 14.0fL, you are not DCI compliant. In short, no silver screen theatres are DCI compliant (unless they have the dreaded Torus screens and that they are increased in their curvature in both directions to deal with the higher gain/lower dispersion of the silver screen versus the pearl screen they were designed for.

If the center brightness was targeted closer to 22fL on silver screens (2D) they would not appear as dark. Can a typical Sony system do this? I don't know, they are not known for their uber-brightness.

Note, for 3D similar principles apply. 5.0fL center is typically the nominal target (4.5-5.5fL) though it is not as codified as 2D is. Going for a center brightness of 8fL will significantly improve the perceived brightness of the overall picture. Note, these movies are color timed for 5.0fL and will become over-saturated at the higher brightness in the center (but will have a fighting chance at the other areas of the screen). Another issue is Real-D itself, it has the greatest likelihood of ghosting of all of the 3Ds so running things high may show off its limitations.

Dolby and Xpan-D can and should use white screens with as LOW a gain as possible to achieve the desired light but they are only 10% (actually closer to 8-10%, depending on the system, color correction...etc) or 18% respectively. So often, you are running a very bright lamp to hit spec. And if you have fixed height (movable side masking) you should really be using an anamorphic lens...it is the only way you are going to really be DCI compliant anyway on 2D or 3D for light.

-Steve

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

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From: Forsyth, Montana
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 - posted 05-22-2011 08:54 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I don't see why anybody would put in a 3-D system that requires a person to change-out lenses, when one of the intents of the digital projection is to reduce personnel needed in the booth. Seems sorta counter-intuitive and also accident-prone.

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Jonathan Goeldner
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From: Washington, District of Columbia
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 - posted 05-22-2011 09:02 PM      Profile for Jonathan Goeldner   Email Jonathan Goeldner   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I have a real major problem with the Christie Dual-projector unit that is used over at AMC's Tysons Corner ETX screen - it's seems way overlit. Granted that enough light has to brighten up the large screen - as a result, white lettering (subtitles) seem soft and unfocused (evident in 'Battle Los Angeles' and 'Fast Five') - even scenes when a single light source is on the screen it seems unnaturally hazy and blooms. I've never seen this problem over on the Cinemark Egyptian XD screen (Barco) since the manager told me that the projector's light output can be altered for non-3D/3D features.

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Joe Redifer
You need a beating today

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From: Denver, Colorado
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 - posted 05-22-2011 09:17 PM      Profile for Joe Redifer   Author's Homepage   Email Joe Redifer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
This is all over Facebook (nobody in this thread has yet participated in those discussions). That makes me glad as people need to see and be aware of this shit. It seems theater operators find new ways to mess anything up.

quote: Brad Miller
NONE of our digital screens have EVER had this problem.
Of course not. You have very high presentation values which seems to be extraordinarily rare these days.

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Jonathan Goeldner
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 - posted 05-22-2011 09:20 PM      Profile for Jonathan Goeldner   Email Jonathan Goeldner   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
^ which Facebook discussion thread?

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Jerome Holmes
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 - posted 05-22-2011 09:27 PM      Profile for Jerome Holmes   Email Jerome Holmes   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I was disappointed to see the another theatre in our chain not moving the 3d polalizor out of the image path on a non 3d movie. Broke my heart a little.

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Mike Frese
Master Film Handler

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From: Holts Summit, MO
Registered: Jun 2007


 - posted 05-22-2011 10:24 PM      Profile for Mike Frese   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Frese   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Mike Blakesley
I don't see why anybody would put in a 3-D system that requires a person to change-out lenses, when one of the intents of the digital projection is to reduce personnel needed in the booth. Seems sorta counter-intuitive and also accident-prone.

You would only have to change the lens once a week if even that. Pretty simple to do it seems to me. Unless you are splitting a screen.

Pretty sad to hear our leaders (solely by size) do such a poor job as in some ways we all get dragged down to some extent.

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Brad Miller
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From: Plano, TX (36.2 miles NW of Rockwall)
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 - posted 05-23-2011 12:05 AM      Profile for Brad Miller   Author's Homepage   Email Brad Miller       Edit/Delete Post 
Jonathan, it sounds like the AMC dual projection system is not properly aligned.

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Steve Guttag
We forgot the crackers Gromit!!!

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From: Annapolis, MD
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 - posted 05-23-2011 05:54 AM      Profile for Steve Guttag   Email Steve Guttag   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It is actually in the DCI spec that any auxiliary lens has to be able to move in/out automatically. Real-D is only compliant IF someone also has the Strong (because I don't know of anyone else making one) motor kit for Real-D. With a Sony system, I don't know how they can automatically switch between the two.

It is amazing how DCI spec is so often quoted when it comes to VPF deals yet it is only certain parts of the spec that folks seem to harp on...clearly, technical presentation qualities are NOT the areas that folks give a crap about...it is the security in the spec that is of concern.

As for the dual Christie projection issues...I agree with Brad...it sounds more like a mis-calibration than any intrinsic problem with the Christie projectors, or their brightness. If they are no longer focused properly, you are going to see that first in text and an image will not "bloom" on a DLP like it would on a CRT based display. I have found that most projectors do NOT hold their lens settings particularly well over time and need to be reset, periodically, if you want the everything to remain looking good.

-Steve

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Dave Macaulay
Film God

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From: Toronto, Canada
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 - posted 05-23-2011 08:13 AM      Profile for Dave Macaulay   Email Dave Macaulay   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
What 3D does Sony have the requires the use of passwords and opening the projector to remove it??? The description seems to be a Real-D XL... it just slides aside??
I have only seen the Real-D left in for a 2D show when the screen is running mixed programs (I have a problem with this but have to live with it: it degrades the 2D show but ruins a 3D show if left out, and with real-world staffing levels this WILL be forgotten). The light level, in my opinion, was not up to snuff but OK: without the glasses you gain a bit. The colors are a bit off too, but nobody complains (a poor measure of acceptability!!).
For an all-2D schedule we stress in training that the Z-screen or XL MUST be moved aside. I haven't found one left in for a 2D run so far.

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Paul Mayer
Oh get out of it Melvin, before it pulls you under!

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From: Albuquerque, NM
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 - posted 05-23-2011 10:32 AM      Profile for Paul Mayer   Author's Homepage   Email Paul Mayer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The Sony RealD 3D unit is a twin-lens affair that bolts on in place of the standard 2D lens. It is not like any of the XLs or XLWs where there is a set of rails that the unit slides upon.

And yes, to do a swap between 2D and 3D on a Sony requires a technician, logging in as a "Super", and a few minutes to re-calbibrate either the 2D or the 3D lens(es) and save those settings in the appropriate screen/lens files. Also, the projector has to be switched between 2D and 3D function modes. I don't remember having to actually open up the panels, since one can gain access to the service technician menus through the serial port on the back of the projector.

I imagine that re-shooting the colors is necessary too - not sure about that since I've not personally run into a situation where a theater routinely swaps these lenses. The theaters I've seen doing 3D on a Sony just use the "3D for 2D" settings that use both lenses for the 2D image. Painstaking physical alignment of the 3D lenses is especially required when in this mode, since the image will look soft with even small overlay errors between the two lenses.

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Frank Cox
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From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
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 - posted 05-23-2011 02:56 PM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The "techie" website Slashdot has posted the Boston Globe article for discussion here.

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