Before you jump to conclusions and think we’re talking about red/green anaglyph - we’re not. A Los Angeles-based startup, Oculus3D, has announced that is has developed a low-cost 3D theatrical format that works with the installed base of 35mm movie projectors. The company’s OculR system eliminates the need for exhibitors to purchase a new digital system to play 3D films and, according to company materials, does not require exhibitors to pay per-seat or per-show royalty fees. Their 3D solution "works with all standard 35mm projectors, delivering superb quality film-based 3D presentations that are equal to or better than more costly digital options."
Insight Media Consultant
The OculR system consists of a unique print format - left and right images rotated 90 degrees and formatted side-by-side on a single frame, a special lens for the theater’s existing 35mm projector, a "silver" movie screen (as used for D-cinema-based polarized stereoscopy) and low-cost linear-polarizer eyewear. The OculR lens is said to offer rapid installation, "eliminating theater downtime and providing a minimum brightness of 6 foot lamberts," which they say "equals or exceeds the brightness of most digital and single-projector film systems."
The OculR print format is created by applying an algorithm to the final digital intermediate file to produce a master negative. Release prints are then made using standard lab techniques and costs should be identical to making a standard print; making the conversion from 2D to 3D with this system should thus be a seamless process for the labs, exhibitors, and studios.
Oculus3D estimates that it can get theater owners up and running with the OculR system for approximately $20,000 - $25,000 per screen, which is possibly 85 - 90% less than investing in a digital projector approach. "The team at Oculus3D has created a cost-competitive and projectionist-friendly 3D film-based delivery system that bypasses the problems of the resurrected, discredited, and obsolete ‘over/under’ film-based approach of the 80’s that plays inside-out images much of the time," said Lenny Lipton, president and chief science officer of Oculus3D.
"We see a substantial worldwide market for the OculR 3D system and estimate some exhibitors could save $150K per screen in equipment, 3D software conversion and installation costs, while the studios could add a meaningful number of new 3D screens in 2010," said James Marsh, analyst, Piper Jaffray & Co. "Exhibitors who have been concerned about the cost of switching over to a digital cinema system now have an interesting new option to consider."
"Our product stops the forced marriage between digital and 3D as many exhibitors are being pushed into replacing workhorse film projectors to take advantage of the boom in 3D movie releases," said Marty Shindler, founder and CEO, Oculus3D. "OculR will help meet movie patron demands for 3D while saving an estimated $150,000 to $175,000 in per screen set up costs and eliminate hardware and software ongoing maintenance expenses."
A SMPTE Fellow, Lipton is one of three film industry veterans who founded StereoGraphics Corporation in 1980, where he invented the ZScreen electro-optical modulator, the heart of today’s Real D system. When Real D acquired StereoGraphics in 2005, Lipton became Chief Technology Officer, and helped perfect the RealD projection system. Lipton first gained fame years ago as the lyricist of the folk hit "Puff the Magic Dragon," parlaying the financial rewards from the hit to study 3D.
How big of a market could they have? Estimates of D-cinema projection penetration are hard to pin down, due to the number of different theater groups and equipment manufacturers. Some estimates have put it at digital penetration at 48% of all screens worldwide by 2012, which still leaves a sizable market for the film-based alternative, especially given the cost savings.
While an attractive approach could be to fit secondary screens in theaters, the company could have difficulties depending on the agreements already in place with the existing "big three" 3D technology providers, RealD, Dolby and XpanD. Also, while Oculus3D claims that the system brightness is comparable to D-cinema technology, the side-by-side film format would have to compromise on spatial resolution, at least compared with existing film. Finally, the system does require a different print process, and that means getting the support of enough studios, who are already in bed with the "big three."
Despite these obstacles, it could still be a contender, given the cost savings to theaters. Keep an eye on these guys - they just might upset the field. -agc