To address complaints that digital 3D can look too dark, digital-cinema insiders have been exploring the potential of laser projection as a way to get more light onto screens.
Next week, projector maker Christie’s laser technology will be used to screen Paramount’s March 28 release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation at AMC Theatre’s Burbank 16 ETX theater. This is believed to be the first time laser projection has been made available for paying audiences.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation will play in 3D at brightness levels of 14 foot lamberts (ft-L) -- along the lines of what is used for 2D -- on a 65-foot-wide screen. It is estimated that typical 3D brightness levels only reach 3-4 ft-L.
Noting that 14 ft-Ls 3D is "much brighter than what current technology produces on most screens," Don Shaw, Christie’s senior director of product management, said, "This test of our laser technology will demonstrate how spectacularly a moviemaker’s vision can be realized when shown at light levels normally only possible for 2D movies."
Christie developed its own laser projection engine, which uses laser devices from supplier Necsel. The demonstration will use a 4K-ready projector, though G.I. Joe will be played from a 2K Digital Cinema Package, with a version that was specially mastered for 14ft-L 3D.
"We fully support the advancement of cutting-edge technologies to further enhance the theatrical presentation for moviegoers. Laser projection provides incredible brightness, making each film look all the greater, but its impact on 3D is startling," said Mark Christiansen, executive vp of worldwide operations for Paramount.
A number of vendors are recommending developing laser-illuminated projection technology to make the screens brighter. Proponents say laser light offers additional advantages, including lower operating costs, reduced power consumption compared to the xenon lamps currently in use, and increased system lifespans.
Still, regulatory issues remain an issue for the technology, because the FDA monitors the use of lasers. Acknowledging this point, Christie's Shaw told THR that "FDA regulations remain on the radar; however, we have gone beyond due diligence here to make sure our test satisfies all applicable regulations and safety concerns. No one will need to sign a waiver."
The Laser Illuminated Projection Association is urging the FDA to lower the requirements for laser use, arguing that such light sources are "no more dangerous" than today’s Xenon lamps.
The technology test at AMC will last for two weeks. "We are delighted to work with Christie to host this technical demonstration that could equate to a major advancement in movie-illumination levels," said Dan Huerta, AMC's vp of digital systems.
Laser projection has previously been demonstrated at industry events including IBC, where, in 2012, Christie used laser projection to screen Hugo in its entirety for the professional audience.