Strong offers three types of A3 platter system; Microswitch, Phase Control, and SCDC (digital control). They all have similarities and they all have differences. I will be reviewing the Phase Control A3, which is Strong's mid-grade version of their platter system. This platter has a switch on each deck for Payout, Rewind, Makeup, and Off. I rarely if ever have it switched to Off. Strong also offers the AP3, which is a switchless version of this platter system. Oh how I wish I had that. But other than the absence of switches, everything is exactly the same on the AP3 as it is on the A3.
The Strong A3/AP3 Phase Control offers 3 or 5 decks. Here we are looking at the 3 deck version since that is what most theaters will use. The decks are thin silver colored aluminum driven by vacuum cleaner motors. Vacuum cleaner motors? Yup. Amazingly Strong has made several improvements over time and these motors are virtually silent most of the time. I like that. And when your booth floor is dirty and you blow up your vacuum cleaner trying to clean it, you can always just swipe a motor from an unused deck to finish sucking up those rat droppings!
The Strong Phase Control uses an LED inside the brain/payout which is installed over a photocell. As the payout arm moves, the LED light is revealed more and more to the photocell and the platter spins faster and faster. Unfortunately the payout speed is still controlled by the takeup variac (pictured below). The payout is allowed to run a bit faster than the takeup is running so it can undo minor wraps and the such.
The Strong Phase Control platter system feeds out incredibly smooth when all is well. I have been fooled on several occasions into thinking the platter was not running since it seemed like it was standing still and the motors were so quiet. Now that's SMOOOOOOTH payout! Very impressive. But if even one motor gets slightly slower or faster (or even bumped into by the operator) this will affect the timing of all three decks, due to the variac controlled speed. The platter is timed by physically moving the motors closer and further from the spinning deck. Timing these things is not what I would call "good times".
Even under ideal circumstances the timing does not stay consistent with the phase controls. It seems to drift over the course of a few days, and these are brand new units. It begins to drag around the brain, as seen in the Pulitzer Prize winning picture above. This is probably not cause for concern, but it makes me feel as if I have purchased a cheap microswitch platter. But it's not quite that bad, as once it drags it just usually keeps dragging in the same place. Every once in awhile I will see a unit going back and forth like a bad microswitch platter. More thought could go into the design of the payout, that's for sure.
Unfortunately the Strong platter does not have any threaded inserts to mount a film cleaner bracket. You can always drill and tap your own, but it really would be nice if they came from the factory like this. In fact I'd raise the grade in this review a notch if they did. However with the lack of sufficient payout tension you might not get a good cleaning anyway (see below) without modifying your Strong brains.
Take a look at these two rollers. Believe it or not, each roller on the platter can spin clockwise AND counter-clockwise, though not simultaneously. Normally you thread over just the first one on the left, but if you are taking up onto the top deck, you must thread over both of them. Not really a complaint, but an observation. I do think it could be designed a bit more thoughtfully in this area, but no huge deal. But I also show this to get a close up of the rollers. Yes, every single roller in this platter system is tiny and powered by ball bearings. This not only results in more stress on the film in certain areas, but also makes a film cleaner a bit less effective since there is not much tension on it once the film gets there.
It is easily removable. It has lots of rollers around it. Why? Because Strong knows that their platters tend to drag on payout, and the rollers are there to protect the film from getting scratched and to delay brainwraps. Brainwraps can get well over 50 layers of film thick before the film gets too hard for the projector to pull. Is that a good or a bad thing? You decide. Personally I don't like it. Strong offers a wrap detector which does add some tension and is beneficial if you have a projector mounted film cleaner. The wrap detector allows about 15 to 20 wraps around the brain before it triggers the switch in the variac and the platter shuts down. You can also lock the wrap detector "open" so that it won't stop the platter if you want.
At least Strong has taken the metal bracket off of the top of the tri-rollers
that feed directly out to the rollers on the platter tree. This metal bracket
is now underneath. It is now much easier to thread. But Strong still has
the payout arm upside down. There is no reason for this. You must push
the film through the rollers when threading, which is a pain, especially
when you need to get the film threaded NOW! It also makes it a pain to
try and unthread the film if there is a need. Ideally you should be able
to drop the film in and pull it out of the payout arm the same way you
would on a Christie brain. I have heard that the Strong engineers and designers
actually considered making this change, but did not implement it as "they
did not like the reason for the change" or something along those lines.
So let me get this straight. They understand the reason to move the bracket
covering the takeoff rollers on the brain, but they don't understand the
reason to make the payout arm upside down from the way it is now? Guess
what... the reason for both is the same! Do they think the film will just
magically float out of the brain if it is not covered? Is there some issue
that we do not know about with their platters that actually tries to pull
the film STRAIGHT UP out of the brain? The film seems to stay in the takeoff
rollers pretty well, so why not the payout arm? It is obvious that the
designers of this platter do not have to use it day after day, otherwise
I'm sure things would change. Interestingly, I have modified my Strong
brains so that I can thread by just dropping the film in from above, and
it can come out easily if I want it to as well. There have been NO adverse
affects to this, the film stays in the brain, the brain runs great, and
everyone loves it much more. In fact I had someone from another theater
touring my booth not too long ago. He saw my modified brains and actually
got ANGRY that the ones on his Strong platters were not like this.
It easily collapses so you can remove it. It also grows back to its full, firm size with a quick tug of both hands. There are many exciting holes to choose from when you go to put it in, unlike only two holes on other platter systems. You'll get it in quick and you'll never complain about not being able to find the hole. Unfortunately it is also a bit flimsy.
Check out how easily the ring is bent. It is so thin. Another gripe would be the pathetic diameter of the ring... it is way too small! Fortunately Strong sells a larger diameter ring, but it should be included as standard and the small ring should be available only upon request, though I'm not sure why anyone would want the smaller ring. One last minor gripe about the ring is that it has such a tiny notch to tuck the film into. In fact I must put a thin spacer washer in the ring just to make the gap big enough to tuck my leader into. Many people like to use friction and wrap the leader round and round the ring. This does not seem to work well on these newer, textured Strong rings for some reason. Not sure why. I tuck anyway.
It's a horizontal design so you want to make sure your film doesn't come too close or go over the rim of the reels you put on it. Otherwise you will need four hands to keep the film from falling onto the floor. The MUTs have three speeds. Slow, Supa-Fast, and Obliteratingly Fast. If you are not careful film can be damaged with this thing! It does wrap film pretty tight onto the reels when breaking down, I find. I like that.
It does move around quite easily however. It also feels pretty sturdy. It has a nice light that can not only be switched on, but it can actually be switched off as well. But there are two more gripes. First there is no place to put a splicer when you are breaking down a film. Very annoying. There should be a snap-up table on the right side or something. This proves that Strong's engineers do not actually work with the equipment that they design. Second the unit requires you to hook a cable up to the platter and also plug it into the wall. It cannot derive its power from the platter like a Christie MUT can. I know some people actually like this feature because it enables them to use the MUT as a rewind bench. That's cool. But I offer this solution: Make it powered by the cord when connected to the platter just like a Christie MUT. That way there is only one cable to worry about. When one desires to use the MUT as a rewind bench, plug in the detachable cord into the wall for "auxiliary" power. I think this would satisfy my gripes yet still satisfy those people who need it as a rewind bench. I just cannot stand having TWO cords to worry about when I load up a print. And the black power cord has many kinks and does not lay smoothly on the floor. It is a pain to deal with. Third (yes, I know I said only two more gripes, but I lied) the spindles to no have a lock key on them. That means you can't put a flat trailer flange on the MUT and expect to work with it. You're screwed. There is a simple modification for this, but it should still come with a keyed spindle nonetheless. And guess what? The MUTs are designed and manufactured by Design & Mfg. Inc. They don't do anything EXCEPT design and manufacture. But I think that the Strong MUT should be sent over to Redesign & Mfg. Inc. If they handled it we'd see some nice improvements.
Yup. The fan blades make sure your film flies all over the place! These pictures were taken with a flash and because of that they look "still". This is one of many details about the platter that show that the designers know nothing about real world projection room conditions. And even another picture:
Nothing but good times! In order to be able to break down a print and not have the film that is feeding out do this, you must have the speed dial on the MUT set very, very low. Oh, and check out the onscreen result of the film that was feeding out:
This is the green band of the trailer that was feeding out when the above pictures were taken. This was not modified in any way, and there is no photographic trickery going on. The only thing that should be noted is that the blue lines are from the light underneath the film, and are not scratches themselves.
Bottom Line: Cheaper is not always better. There are definitely better platters out there, and there are definitely worse as well.
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