Dolby to Take on IMAX in Large Format Theaters

By Matthew Brennesholtz
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On December 3rd, Dolby Laboratories announced Dolby Cinema, a branded premium cinema to compete with IMAX. It will offer moviegoers an experience that combines, Dolby says, “spectacular” image and sound technologies with “inspired” design to make every visit a “completely captivating cinematic event”. Dolby scientists, creative teams and acoustic professionals have worked with the target of advancing the science of sight and sound to create and enable an amazing experience that they believe will bring audiences on a cinematic journey from the moment they approach the Dolby Cinema signature entrance, to when they see the final credits roll.

The Dolby Cinema theaters will offer dual 4K laser projectors co-developed by Christie that will use 6P technology to deliver 3D content. The theaters will, of course, feature Dolby Atmos sound, implemented with Christie Vive audio speakers and Class D amplifiers, many of which were specially designed for this application. No one is talking about how much 6P laser projectors with this light output will cost but they aren’t cheap – Display Central estimates they are a minimum of $250,000 apiece, and Dolby Cinema uses two of them. While the viewer will get a premium experience at a Dolby Cinema theater, he can also expect to pay a premium price.

“Cinema projection does not get any better than this,” said Don Shaw, Senior Director, Product Management, Christie. “We have combined the research and engineering resources of two of the most innovative companies in the world to create the best projection system that anyone has yet seen. We’ll be delivering audiences a richer, more detailed viewing experience with up to 14 foot lamberts onscreen in 3D and up to 31 foot lamberts for 2D Dolby Vision content, far exceeding any ‘ultra-bright’ industry standards, to all Dolby Cinema locations”.

Dolby has posted a brief video showing the highlights of Dolby Cinema on its website, along with several other videos that go into more detail. Dolby Cinema is more than giant screens, Christie laser projectors with HDR and wide color gamut and Dolby Atmos sound – it is a complete theater design including improved sight lines, comfortable stadium seats, special lighting, etc. The first Dolby Cinema sites will be in the newly constructed JT Cinemas complex in Eindhoven, Netherlands and the UCI/Cinesa La Maquinista complex in Barcelona, Spain. The JT Cinema website has a count-down clock to the opening of the first Dolby Cinema theater in less than 14 days, with a scheduled opening of December 15.

But what about HDR content to go with the Dolby Cinema experience? None has been announced yet although many of the tools to create it exist. To learn more details on Dolby Vision and the advantages of HDR content, you can watch an interview of Roland Vlaicu of Dolby (http://tinyurl.com/mbjhuzh) and Peter Postma of FilmLight (http://www.filmlight.ltd.uk) by James Mathers of the Digital Cinema Society done at NAB last summer . FilmLight is a Dolby partner and incorporates HDR capabilities in its Baselight color grading system. Not too surprisingly, the interview focuses on the affect of Dolby Vison HDR on the production and post-production process.

(Our own Chris Chinnock interviewed Dolby at SMPTE and Bob Raikes interviewed the company at IBC.

Vlaicu says that existing cameras, lighting techniques and production processes can produce HDR content. This isn’t entirely true, since even the highest-end existing cameras cannot capture the full dynamic range of Dolby Vision. He added that directors could also optimize their lighting and camera shots for HDR, if desired. At NAB he said that by the end of the year, both consumer displays, TV distribution chains and TV content would be available. He made no commitment on cinema content, however. While the Dolby press release on Dolby Cinema provides a link to movies with Dolby Atmos sound, there is no equivalent link to movies with Dolby Vision HDR.

According to Postma, post-production of HDR content using Baselight is not significantly different than post-production of normal dynamic range content. He said the first step was to use the tools to make an HDR version of the content. Then semi-automated tools can be used to create the normal dynamic range version. While this is an extra step, he says that, first, it isn’t a difficult one and second, Hollywood already creates multiple versions of content so this process is not really new to them. – Matthew Brennesholtz

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I was lucky enough to see a demonstration of a couple of these things – a high brightness Christie 6P projector with Dolby Atmos at IBC this year. It was extremely good. However, it was not using, as far as I am aware, the Dolby Vision HDR system (although we also saw this at IFA and IBC). The 3D was really, really good and comfortable (apart from some of the ergonomic issues of the glasses). I only go to our local cinema once every couple of years, but I would certainly be prepared to pay a bit more to see this level of quality. As we have talked about before, the developments in home TV make it harder and harder for the cinema industry to develop a superior visual experience. (BR)