Sony Favours HPM Over Laser

Sony, unlike other big names in the cinema projection space, did not have a stand on the show floor. However, we were able to sit down with David McIntosh – the head of the company’s digital cinema business – to talk about Sony’s plans.

McIntosh said that Sony has been “a big part” of the digitisation of cinema. Its work with Hollywood studios and others to engineer the virtual print fee (VPF) helped speed the rollout of digital projectors worldwide*.

Now that digitisation is effectively over, Sony is focusing on lowering costs to cinemas in other ways. For example, it is now helping in the move from xenon-based projectors to those using Sony’s high pressure mercury (HPM) lamps. These are easier to replace (they do not require an engineer) and the projectors have more redundancy, as each projector has more lamps – up to six.

Laser is not seen as a competitive solution for digital cinema by Sony – even though it is produced pro-AV and home cinema models. McIntosh said that cost, speckle (“Vibrating a cinema screen? Really?”) and contrast were all issues that have yet to be overcome (Bill Beck of Barco argued that most of these issues have been dealt with – see Barco is Pro-Laser, Anti-Speckle).

While Sony is developing laser projectors for cinema, the company does not want to rely on third-party components. This means that Sony is having to develop everything itself, and contributes to a perception of the company as “slow,” said McIntosh. However, Sony think that it has time to wait – it does not predict significant laser demand until post-VPF, which is still four-to-five years away.

After talking to McIntosh, we heard that Sony was celebrating two big projection wins. The first was the installation of four SRX-R515 projectors at the Cinecitta Multiplexkino in Nuremburg, Germany, following a trial in 2015. The second was nine projectors installed in the eight screens of the Omniplex Cinema Group’s newest site in Northern Ireland, at Banbridge. Omniplex took five SRX-R510P and two R515P units, as well as one R515DS dual-projection system.

Sony also showed off a new stacking system for its SRX-R510 projector. The SRX-R510DS uses two projectors to deliver up to 18,000 lumens of brightness. It will be available in the autumn.

Analyst Comment

* The VPF is – in essence – a small amount taken from each ticket booking in a digital cinema and paid to the film’s distributors. It will, over time – up to 10 years – repay the distributor for selling cinemas digital projectors at a lower cost.