Barco Releases High Contrast Cinema Projector at CinemaCon

Barco used CinemaCon to unveil a new cinema-class projector using RGB laser illumination that has been optimized for high contrast. Contrast will double from 3000:1 in the 3-chip DLP RGB laser projectors used in the Premium Large Format (PLF) market today to 6000:1. To get there, the company has to trade off brightness, which will drop by about one-third across the line. That means cinema exhibitors can continue to buy the light-optimized versions ranging from 22K to 56K lumen or the contrast-optimized versions without output of 14K to 40K lumens.

In our conversation with Stijn Henderickx, Barco’s VP of Cinema prior to CinemaCon, we asked if Barco would be marketing this as a High Dynamic Range (HDR) projector? After an extended discussion, it seems the answer is no. The main reason for this appears to be the lack of a clear definition of what HDR means in a theatrical environment. Is 6K:1 good enough? Is 8K:1 or 10K:1 the minimum level? Industry consensus is needed on this, including the measurement method.

The other issue is affordability. The current Dolby and Imax HDR solutions are very expensive so a more mainstream solution is needed for wider adoption, thinks Barco.

Currently, HDR content for cinemas is being mastered by Hollywood but only for the Dolby theaters and Imax theaters. Can the debut of these new high-contrast projectors from Barco motivate Hollywood to offer a “generic” HDR grade that would go to other PLF cinemas? If history is a guide, once a decent installed base of these projectors is out there, Hollywood will indeed create content for the platform.

In the meantime, Henderickx expects exhibitors to mostly upgrade their PLF theaters with the new high-contrast models offering attendees an even better experience. Will exhibitors market this higher contrast capability? Henderickx is not so sure they will, but we will have to see.

Laser Roll Out Going Well

Meanwhile, Henderickx noted that Barco’s rollout of its RGB Laser projector line has been going very well. He noted that there are now over 100 installed screens in more than 20 countries with over 40 different exhibitor groups. He cited some exit polling results as well that showed movie goers liked the improved quality with two-thirds saying they will now go to the cinema more often and three-quarters saying they have no problem paying a premium for the enhanced experience.

Henderickx sees the PLF segment as the most interesting part of the cinema market. He says there are currently about 2K PLF screen worldwide, about 1.5% of the 130K screens globally. “Many other industries have a premium segment this is a much higher percentage of the market, so we think the cinema PLF segment is going to grow quickly because of these new technologies.” Growth should occur in all markets, but will be especially strong in China.

Barco’s Escape theatrical format falls into this PLF segment and we report on this in a separate article.

For mainstream cinema projection, Barco offers a choice of B, C and S series projectors. At CineAsia, Barco introduced the DP2K-15CLP and the DP2K-20CLP, new series C projectors with laser phosphor light sources with the 20CLP model achieving an industry-leading 18K DCI lumens. An innovative cooling system enables long projector lifetime beyond 30,000 hours. Compared to lamp-based projectors, their optical efficiency is also significantly higher, decreasing electricity costs up to 50 percent.

Exhibitors can buy this projector new or retrofit an existing lamp-based model. Barco plans to offer an expanded C series with LP models soon with B series models coming by the end of 2016. The S series will offer LP models in 2017.

Henderickx expects lamp-based models to become dominant in 2-3 years, but there will continue to be a market for lamp-based models where there is a small screen size or there is infrequent use. “This will be the entry –level model for 18 to 25 foot screen, especially in emerging markets where the higher initial cost of the LP models may be a harder sell.” – CC