CineEurope Panel Addresses LED Cinema

David MonkAt CineEurope, there was a 30 minute panel session headed up by David Monk of the European Digital Cinema Forum (EDCF) who also spent some time in the past promoting DLP in cinema for TI. His topic was a discussion of direct view (i.e. LED) cinema display. He started by making the remarks that in digital cinema, more brightness is needed especially for 3D. Better colour would be an advantage, as would increased image contrast. LED technology can supply all of these requirements. He then introduced the panellists, with each giving an ‘opening statement’.

Mark Clowes is from Sony which has its Crystal LED microLED technology which was aimed first at high ambient light corporate environments such as corporate lobbies and entrances, but also with applications requiring large high performance displays, for example, automotive design. The display was shown at Cinemacon in 2016 just to get a reaction and to see what people thought. It was not designed for cinema, but got a very good reaction so Sony is now moving to bring the technology to cinema. The firm is going through DCI approval at the moment – e.g. adding security features (Sony has its own IMB). Clowes said that Sony is moving cautiously – the product has to be good enough for cinema.

David Hernandez is new to Samsung and his new job as European Samsung Onyx Cinema Business Development Manager. He first saw the Samsung LEDs a couple of years ago, but now Samsung has 5 metre and 10 metre displays approved by DCI. The displays are getting lots of attention and are “redefining the theatrical experience”. The company now has 16 screens installed worldwide and the next two in Europe will be in Vienna and Stuttgart, in addition to the display in Zurich.

(We spoke to someone at the event who had got a report from a colleague in the cinema projection side that had visited the Zurich installation and who said that it was ‘OK’, but not spectacular, with some issues from the poor audio placing. They also felt that the display was too small for the venue. One of the problems for LED is that displays have to be ‘pixel to pixel’ fixed, without scaling, so, as Samsung has only one pitch, there are only two sizes, one for 2K and one for 4K. The report also highlighted some non-uniformity in colour when the display was viewed off-angle)

Jan Petersen is from Denmark and works for Nordisk Film Cinema and represented the cinema owners. He said that he is very impressed with picture quality, but there are challenges in sound because of the lack of perforation that can be used in projection to place sound at particular places ‘from the screen’.

DSC07402Clowes, Hernandez, Petersen and Monk were on the panel. Image:Meko

Monk then opened up to questions. We asked about any progress on developing a standard for mastering content for HDR displays, but we didn’t get anything useful in reply, although the question was described as ‘a good one’.

Another questioner said that Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan had asked just before Cinemacon “why would you pay to watch a TV screen?”. That is to say, they don’t view LED with, potentially high refresh rate, as a truly ‘cinematic experience’ What problem are you trying to fix, the questioner asked? It’s great if you are trying to improve the theatrical experience, but this move, the questioner felt, is being driven by technology not by any research evidence. Monk, who clearly likes the new technology, said that some people liked all the problems of analogue film, when digital came along. However, most are happy to have none of the problems of film display. However, some directors still want to use film.

Clowes of Sony said that his first ‘jaw dropping’ moment at Sony was seeing his first HD video, while the next one was seeing HDR properly and he described the HDR video that Sony took of the Rio Carnival and uses to demonstrate its OLED mastering monitors. HDR is stunning, he said and needs to come to cinema because of the improvements that consumers are enjoying in phones and other devices.

Monk said that developments in HDR and improved performance are already developing, Dolby Vision is really popular with a lot of creatives and really delivers a good experience. He also pointed out that TV is driving on in quality and cinema has to react to that, otherwise consumers may be tempted to simply wait and watch content on their TVs, rather than going to cinemas.

Monk then asked if you can make a sound solution – fixing the issue that currently, speakers can’t be behind the screens . Clowes said we’re at step one and at the moment the development probably does not provide as good sound as projection. Hernandez agreed that there is a challenge – Samsung Labs and Harman have some technology (as we reported from ISE – using psychoacoustics to make the sound from above the screen appear to come from lower, and bouncing some sound off the display from speakers at the side to particularly help those at the front, but, he continued, audiences are getting very immersed in the content and are tending not to notice after a short while.

Monk said that he is very concerned about the price of LED – what is the correct price, he asked. Hernandez of Samsung said that LED is more expensive than Laser RGB but “not as high as the rumours”. The company is selling systems, not just the screen.

Petersen said that the price of LED has to come down if it is to get high penetration and he is also unsure about lifetime. Although he accepts that the basic life is very long, he is concerned to understand how a display will look over age and if you exchange panels. In his experience, changing panels often causes problems in LED displays and that would be a big concern if you had invested heavily to install a system.