Here we have SPECO's latest platter, the LP-280. So what's new? Well first of all this platter is "DIGITAL"!!! Whoo hoo! Ok seriously as we all know "digital" is quickly becoming a buzz word that means nothing, so let's put that silly sales term aside and concentrate on how the platter performs.
We received the LP-280 platter last fall and requested 3 months to test run it in at a local theater. Installation was incredibly easy and fast, despite our never assembling an LP-280 previously. Here is what we found right off of the bat.
*There is no more "programming" of the platter. All that is required is just regular threading, much like a Christie AW3, with a few slight differences.
*We all found these black rollers to be preferable over the white ones, for the white ones stained easily. (Ok, so it's a cosmetic thing, but one that is important to us regardless.)
*Threading the column is very easy and no two rollers are close together, unlike the late model LP-270s.
*Payout is very smooth as is takeup.
*The center ring is actually a circle. We never liked the older style metal rings that were always bent out of shape.
*The brains removed and installed effortlessly, unlike some platters that are difficult to get in and out.
*The new make up table is excellent! No more of that awkward horizontal table that used to come with the LP-270s. .
*The brain design is horrible. Just downright absolutely horrible. Here is a booth filled with a lot of experienced projectionists and none of them (except the ones who had already worked with this new brain design on LP-270s) could figure out how to thread the thing properly without having to be shown. There are WAY too many unnecessary rollers in this design! Also, the payout arm is upside down, making threading even more difficult than it needs to be. Is it obvious yet that I could not possibly hate this design any more than it is?
*The center ring, while a vast improvement over the old SPECO rings, is far too flimsy to support carrying a print vertically by one person. (We will not get into the discussion of why this is or is not a good thing, but the bottom line is many theaters have no choice but to move prints in this fashion and this ring does not allow for it with any degree of safety.) It also tends to push the print off center when it is removed from the film roll and will pop out if a film clamp is not placed directly over the open spot of the ring during a move.
*There is no provision to mount a film cleaning bracket.
*The rollers have ball bearings in them supposedly to reduce static. Bad, bad idea. What ends up happening is that the payout tends to OVERFEED the film and dump it right onto the floor just by the sheer weight of the film since the rollers turn so effortlessly. We actually threaded up a film and then once everything was "set" for the show to run, we watched as the payout platter kept spinning and spinning and spinning and dumping foot after foot of film onto the floor, never even slowing down. Wondering it it was an intertia thing caused possibly by a jerky tug on the film during threading, we stopped the film by hand in the center of the film roll, re-tensioned everything up by running the projector until all of the slack was taken back up, and then gently released the film again. What happened? The film started slowly paying out onto the floor, getting faster and faster until it was spooling it onto the floor at full speed again. Not good! Since most booths have the platter on the non-operator side of the projector, this may very well go completely unnoticed after the projector is threaded. Indeed a disasterous design flaw. The only way to prevent this from happening is to follow a ridiculous threading pattern by zig-zagging the film back and forth around the keeper rollers on the tree. Also, because these rollers are so free-spinning, an online film cleaner is 100% useless. I'll say it again, bad, bad idea. No platter should ever have bearing-based rollers.
...and that is what we found the first day we set up the platter. Needless to say within 48 hours time the operators at the theater were desperately wanting their AW3 back into service, but we had all agreed to give it a full 3 month run so the platter remained in service and I contacted SPECO with our findings to see what kind of support they could provide.
Now comes the good news. SPECO was very willing to improve their product. While many companies would have taken an emailed list of "this is what we have found undesirable about your product" in a negative way, SPECO (specifically Mark Pearson) returned the email interested in any suggestions we might be able to offer to improve the unit. Right there, that was pretty impressive on it's own.
So after bouncing some emails back and forth with Mark, a couple of weeks later we receive a new hand-built prototype brain design. We used it and liked it much better than the "stock" brain that came with the platter system. Within another week's time, we received a second brain for us to play with for extra parts and pictured below is a side by side comparison of the original SPECO design (on the left) and the "Film-Tech" design (on the right), which was a combination of the prototype brain coupled with our own design improvements that we made to it.
(Note: in the picture above, the "stock" brain on the left is actually missing a few items...the two feed arm stop posts as well as the pull handle.)
Now tell me that isn't MUCH easier to thread! It also performed substantially better than the stock brain. As a test of the new design, we brought in some projectionists and said "thread that" without any instruction or diagram, just like we had done on the original installation day of the LP-280 with the "stock" brain. All got it their first try after examining it for all of perhaps 5 seconds. There is virtually no way to misthread this, and it also allows for effortless un-threading too. Also, a fairly major complaint we had with the original brain design was that it was not "short projectionist friendly". This new version IS. Trust me, I'm fairly short and with the "stock" brain I absolutely could not thread the film off of the top platter without standing on a stool and there are a lot of projectionists out there under 5'10" that would have the same problem. With this brain design, I can thread it effortlessly. After running with this design for some time now, we have all found this to be a great improvement and now for the best news of all, SPECO is planning on offering this design as an option! For existing LP-280 owners who want this brain design, don't worry about spending any money. We were able to make this design without drilling one single hole in the base plate and by using all existing rollers and parts. Of course you will have lots of spare parts left over, but if you so choose to convert your brains to this design, it will only cost you the expense of two feed arm stop posts.
In regards to those horrible ball bearing rollers and expressing our complaints and concerns, SPECO is now shipping the platter with standard rollers! (Mark was very kind and sent us a bag full of regular rollers for us to replace the bearing-based rollers with.) Since static is not an issue with this platter anyway, this is a much needed improvement so that the threading can be performed in a normal fashion without spilling film onto the floor and an online film cleaner can actually do it's job since there will be a little bit of backtension coming from a combination of the new brain design (assuming you specify it) and the ball-bearingless rollers.
Speaking of film cleaners, another complaint we had was the lack of a mount for a film cleaner bracket. I asked Mark if I could drill and tap two holes in the side of the platter for this purpose and SPECO had no problem with me doing so.
After sending them these pictures, this is now going to be a standard feature! If a theater wants to mount their cleaners on the platter (as we prefer to), then the standard bracket available from Kelmar will fit perfectly. If a theater wants to mount their cleaners on the projector, then these extra two tapped holes won't interfere with anything. Either way this is looked at, it is a positive.
Next on the ajenda is the center ring. Take a look at how flimsy the existing ring is.
Obviously we were not impressed and requested that SPECO come up with a stronger ring. I have just heard back from SPECO and they are currently designing a cast iron center ring and it will become a standard item on the platter! A prototype of this new ring will also be on display at the SPECO booth at ShoWest this year. Good news indeed! (I will update this review after I am able to handle one.)
So what's left to complain about? Not much. In fact the picture below shows the only complaint/concern I have.
Anyone who has ever worked with a platter that has these "fins" on the underside of the decks knows the pain involved when breaking down on a lower platter while a movie is running above it...you'll feel it with your HEAD if you aren't careful, and it's not a nice feeling. Also, these fins act as a fan, which mean you can never build up or break down on a deck at any speed that is above a platter paying out a movie. However, this is a somewhat minor complaint and many makes of platters are built in this fashion.
Other minor complaints include the deck surface itself and keeper rollers. While the deck of a SPECO platter is extremely easy to keep clean and scratch free, I personally prefer an aluminum surface so it can be "grooved" to prevent the possibility of prints sliding, however I've ran LP-270s for years and have never had any real problem with the painted surface, so again it is a minor complaint. Also, the rollers in the takeup chain did not come with keepers. Hopefully SPECO will start shipping these platters with keepers on ALL rollers, but even if they do not, ordering a few extras for those rollers is no big deal when you consider the low price that this unit sells for.
Complaints and upgrades aside, other points to be made here include: this platter comes in a regular 110volt version as well as a 220volt version, is ETL certified, it has a built in payout elevator to safely stop the show in the event of a film wrap, is very well built, and offers easy threading.
So assuming you were to order the platter with all of the options and upgrades as I've just discussed, how does the final package perform? Extremely well! I give this version of the LP-280 a solid A rating. Now if you order the platter with the stock brain, the plastic center ring and the ball bearing rollers, (or in other words, how the platters have been shipping) my rating on this platter would be a C rating because there are too many design flaws that are a recipe for disaster in a booth that does not have very attentive operators (mainly from the overfeeding while in standby mode complaint, due to the "stock" brain design and the ball bearing based rollers, requiring very weird threading). Fortunately, SPECO has shown great interest in improving their products and has shown top notch customer service. I recommend this "upgraded" version of their platter highly.
Bottom line: The LP-280 "stock" platter has it's faults, but with the new modifications and upgrades, this platter is an excellent performer and is highly recommended.
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