Landmark Plans Digital Projection for its Theatres

posted by br91975 on March 17, 2005 at 5:36 am

According to this article, Landmark Theatres will be launching a digital projection roll-out this summer with the installation of Sony’s new digital SXRD projectors in six Landmark locations, with eventual installation in all 59 of its theatres.

Comments (9)

JodarMovieFan on March 17, 2005 at 2:42 pm

I hope the Washington DC Market will be part of the initial roll out, but the screens at the two Landmark multiplexes here are a bit on the small side. And the admission prices are some of the highest, if not the highest here, even during so called ‘bargain’ matinees.

br91975 on March 17, 2005 at 5:29 pm

Based on my knowledge – as it is – of the Landmark chain, my best guess on three of the five theatres to be a part of the initial digital projection roll-out would focus on the Sunshine in NYC, the Kendall Square Cinemas in Cambridge, Ma., and the NuArt in LA; beyond those likely sites, I’d suppose they’d target some of their other top-grossing venues (not sure if their theatres in D.C. would fall into that category).

Richardhaines on March 18, 2005 at 6:41 am

So we can look forward to all the digital problems that television stations and industry trade screenings have experienced. System break downs, digital artifacts, glitches, image freezes, image breaking up and coming back together, the image stops but the sound keeps going then appears again out of synch and so forth. It will only cost theaters a mere $100,000 or so every three to five years to replace the digital ‘projectors’ as the heat from the lamphouse burns out the electronic components. Will they also have a print running simultaneously as a back up to the unreliable digital formats? Let’s hope so since film projectors are inexpensive and last the life of the theater. Of course, film prints look better and have a great sense of depth and dimension compared to digital imagery which tend to look ‘flat’ and artificial like a computer screen.

Of course is the audience is bored, they can count the pixels, especially if they sit in the first few rows of the theater.

And for this digital technology, the industry abandoned the dye transfer process (aka “Glorious Technicolor” which was briefly revived from 1997-2001), Cinerama and 70mm?

VictoriaCinemaNZ on March 19, 2005 at 5:53 am

One would think that the level of technology employed in the SXRD and associated equipment by time of installation would be above the sorts of problems Mr Haine mentions. Most of those mentioned are more asociated with cheap dvd players or improperly recorded discs or use of inferior media. Having worked for a television network undergoing the transition from analog to digital, many of the problems mentioned could be traced to any number of electronic processors, mixers, distribution amplifiers, converters, recorders, players, stores, delay lines etc. In other words, an inordinately complex signal path – but that is the ‘norm’ for a broadcasting station.

The trick is that a digital cinema should be employing the LEAST complex signal path between player and projector – ensuring a lot less chances of malfunction getting to the screen.

Our cinema (along with glorious 35mm) plays dvd to a 5 x 3 m screen over a throw distance of 14m. Projector is a Sony VPL-VW-10HT, an ageing model but outputting an entirely acceptable picture for a paying audience – with this exception: we do not sell our first our two rows (18 seats) as the pixel makeup can be seen from them.

I do not agree with the ‘flat’ comment at all. I have viewed many different movies via this LCD projector, in some cases as a follow-on from a 35mm print. Apart from a drop in resolution (WXGA) the biggest difference from film is the lack of contrast – our electronic picture is simply not capable of the wide contrast ratio of film. Beyond that limitation, I have seen very acceptable pictures via the medium. One more proviso: the quality of the transfer of program material from its source to the dvd. This has been found to vary wildly, from visible aliasing to almost film-like quality.

Given the good results we generally are able to get with this relatively modest dvd and LCD projection equipment, I would imagine hi-resolution, high contrast Digital Cinema in years to come will be totally acceptable, provided a hi-res playback format is adopted i.e higher than dvd. The bonus points in digital projection must not be discounted either – the complete absence of speckling, scratches, wobbles and bad splices!

As a commercial exhibitor, I would fear only one thing from the installation of high-end video projection: the extremely high cost of lamp replacement – and this I think will be the limiting factor in the growth of the medium. Only the larger chains with high turnover will be in the market because of this, and could be reflected in higher admission costs. For the rest of us, the transition will take a lot longer.

Richardhaines on March 19, 2005 at 6:28 am

Actually many of the trade screenings for digital projection
have had technical breakdowns.

As I mentioned elsewhere, if the industry does dump film, there
will be an archival crisis down the road as the digital masters
start deteroriating and losing their data. There will be fewer
‘hard copies’ from which to restore. One of the reasons so many
films exist is because there were camera negatives, Interpositives,
Internegatives, B&W separations and prints made on most titles for
both domestic and foreign release. This ensured that something survived on the film. In addition, since motion pictures are a
‘hard copy’ of an image and sound it’s far easier to restore them
then electronic data which is easily erased or deteriorated. I don't
know of any archives that consider digital data archival. I guess that’s not a concern for exhibitors but it ought to be for filmmakers.

The cost of digital far exceeds that of 35mm or 16mm motion picture film. It might wipe out many indies.

As for the quality, I guess you could say that digital projection at it’s best might be better than the current quality level of release
prints (which is film at it’s nadir with high speed prints cranked
out at the rate of 2000 ft. per minute with sub-standard resolution).
However, digital cannot replicate or surpass motion pictures at it’s finest in 70mm (“Lawrence of Arabia”), Cinerama (“How the West Was Won”), VistaVision (“Vertigo”) or Technicolor (“Thunderball”).
No digital process comes even close to simulating that level of quality.

I’d prefer reviving some of those formats to dramtically improve
exhibition and give people something far more impressive to screen
than they can get at home with the best DVD player/projection system.

It seems to me digital is just another degregadion of cinema that has been occuring over the past thirty years. Of course, unless you have seen films presented at their zenith (i.e. a new 70mm print of “Lawrenc”), you won’t know what you’re missing and I’m sure that digital will be passable to the targeted youth audience although I doubt it will be an incentive to dramatically increase the general demographic. The question is why go for ‘acceptable’? Why not try to bring back “spectacular”? Most of the problems like speckling (a result of high speed printing), scratches (improperly set up platters) and wobbles (improperly adjusted gate) can be easily fixed in any house with a professional operator. Of course that goes to the theater management. Do they have a professional or an amateur running the machines. Again, something that can be adressed without completely changing the type of projection unit used in the house.

I do believe it will prove to be quite costly for exhibitors in the field compared to standard film presentations.

VictoriaCinemaNZ on March 20, 2005 at 5:00 am

I agree with you on these points Richard. also, I don’t like the trend over recent years of filmmakers (an ironic term in this example) opting for video rather than originating on film. Of course we can appreciate that viewing, editing and production processess can take place more quickly via video, but as you say, this dispenses with the hardcopy that film provides.

I would like to see all production continue 35mm as the originating format. There seems to be no problem now in the transfer of film to video for editing, etc (no visible loss of resolution) but after the final cut is done, transfer all product intended for cinema release back to conventional film. This was done with wonderful effect in the French arthouse film ‘Amelie’, in which the beautiful and rich colour enhancements (particularly with flesh tones) were all done in the video domain.
The release print we screened of Amelie was superb in all respects of technical quality.

The other situation concerning exhibitors is the current explosion in popularity of home-cinema. In our country it is being blamed for an otherwise unexplained reduction in cinema admissions (coupled with increasing frequency of pirating and downloading of new product via the internet). I can only surmise that when consumers one day total up the cost of dvd’s they have collected, and consider the comparitive cost of seeing the same product on the giant screen (where it belongs), they may see sense and abandon the fad???

Richardhaines on March 20, 2005 at 6:48 am

GC Potts,

I am a film producer and shoot my pictures in 35mm (in a simulated style of sixties' Technicolor films) and do all the
editing in the video domain then conform the 35mm negative and
make 35mm prints. I have no objection to utilizing video and/or
digital as part of the post-production process but there’s no question the film should be photographed on celluloid which generates
a far greater resolution than any digital/video process. You have
an incredible leeway in exposure today, T grain structure which
increases the sharpness and a great deal of lattitude in terms of
lighting design. Digital and video by their nature have a very limited contrast ratio. You’re not going to successfully light
anything photographed in these processes with much nuance or detail
in the shadow areas nor will it generate a good resolution when out-putted to film.

In terms of the decreased attedence since the sixties, it was caused by two factors. Originally, attendence dropped in half because the market was glutted with too many restricted movies after 1968. When the principal product of the industry was not general attendence (G, M/GP/PG/PG-13), it forced the large screen cinemas
to fold like dominoes. However, after the counter-culture movement somewhat fizzled out in the mid-sixties (it was linked to the Vietnam war), a number of highly successful mainstream features were made in the mid to late seventies which increased attendence again.
Titles included “Jaws”, “Close Encounters”, “Star Wars”, “Grease"
and "Superman”. Attendence went up and the moviegoing demographic was enlarged. What’s also interesting is that there were some technological developments that also increased attendence. Beginning with “Star Wars”, 70mm made a major comeback and the sound was improved with dolby processing which reduced the hiss and broadened the range. 70mm became one of the selling tools for getting people back to theaters even when home video formats became popular in the mid-eighties as a threat to the increased attendence.
It even gave the mutli-plexes a boost since most outlets kept one large screen for these presentations even if the other screens in the complex were much smaller and hand less impressive presentations.
According to Variety, box office grosses were higher in cinemas that offer 70mm which had superior image quality and sound than theaters playing the same film in 35mm.

It seems to me there’s a lesson to be learned from the reaction to competition in the fifties and the late seventies. The way to get people back into cinemas is to first, have the bulk of the product mainstream which encompasses a large demographic (thus limiting but not elminating the number of restricted and/or controversial pictures which by their nature reduce attendence) and secondly, to offer some kind of spectacular technological innovation that offers something unique compared to what you can see at home.
It worked in both the fifties and the late seventies and eighties.

For example, attendence dropped from 90 million a week down to about 41 million a week from 1958-1951 due to the usurping TV medium.
The way exhibitors and distributors brought it up to 49 million a week a few years later was to introduce Cinerama, 3-D, CinemaScope,
VistaVision and Todd-AO on enormous large screens (both curved and flat). That was something you couldn’t get on television then and now. Alas, as the studios changed their approach by the late fifties
and decided ‘if you can’t beat em’, join em'. They started producing for the mediuma and selling their backlog of “A” titles for broadcast. In the sixties they began eliminating all of the superior formats introduced in the previous decade. By the late sixites, original Cinerama, VistaVision, 3-D, Technirama and other formats were gone. Attendence decreased to about 41 million by the mid-sixties. It was thought that by dumping the production code and
allowing complete screen freedom would increase attendence. This was actually a myth since it had the opposite effect. The general audience was eliminated (at least for the bulk of the yearly product) and replaced with ‘targeted viewers’ which in reality meant the youth market. While grossses were high on some individual counter-culture pictures like “Woodstock”, the majority of them didn’t do well and alienated so many viewers attendence was reduced to 22 million weekly by the mid-seventies. Attendence didn’t go up again until mainstream blockbusters were re-introduced in the 70mm format.

However, it would appear that by the nineties, the approach by the industry was not to try to compete with the home video competition but to cut corners to try to reduce operating costs in theaters. This certainly didn’t work to increase general attendence as a whole although individual pictures brought back the crowds. Platters with inept operators, advertising slides, horrid release copies with murky cinematography, trailers played at a volume that was louder than the feature and other visual distractions combined with inflated ticket prices replaced 70mm which was phased out by 1997 and dye transfer printing which came and went afterwards.
Over production of theater building combined with less than impressive presentations put many chains into Chapter 11 at the beginning of the new millenium.

It seems to me that what’s needed it to re-invent the theatrical experience again as it was in the past. I seriously doubt the unreliable digital format is the way to go. The quality cannot replicate film at it’s best (i.e. camera negative showprint, 70mm,
dye transfer) and the fact that some claim it will be ‘acceptable’ is not the kind of technilogical innovation that will ‘wow’ audiences the way the original 70mm prints of “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters” did in the late seventies.
About the only format that is still impressive is Imax although it’s not really suitable to feature presentation. It’s so sad that the megaplexes absolutely refused to install 70mm projectors even though they have digital sound in that format now (to replace the mag stripes) and the image quality is much steadier and finer grain than 35mm. That’s the kind of technology that can impress audiences and you clearly cannot replicate it’s quality on a home DVD projector.
I know I’m a voice in the wind but I think history has shown that ‘showmanship’ is a more reliable technique of increasing boxoffice and attendence than trying to start from scratch with
a technology that does not dramatically improve what we have now.

Richardhaines on March 20, 2005 at 6:55 am

A few types on the above. I meant to say that attendence dropped from 1948-1951. Also, the counter-culture dominance was from the mid-sixties through around 1973 or 74. As I’ve stated elsewhere,
I enjoy some of those pictures as cultural curiosities today. “Easy Rider” is quite funny. However, their affect on moviegoing demographics was negative from an exhibition perspective.

Richardhaines on March 20, 2005 at 7:16 am

Some questions to ponder are the following:

What exactly are the digital advocates claiming about this technology?

That’s it’s cheaper to show than film? Obviously not for exhibitors.
The projectors cost 10 times more than a 35mm machine and have to be replaced more often as the electronic components degrade or wear out,
the projection illumination is more expensive. Who saves money? Not the theater as far as I can determine in both long and short run.

Are they claiming that it looks better than film? This is a tricky question. It might look no worse than the current level of quality but that’s not saying much. Certainly none of the digital systems have can replicate the resolution of film at it’s peak (the kind that brought in the crowds in the past) like 70mm, a camera negative showprint (first generation print) or dye transfer print. It would be cheaper to revive those techniques than switch to digital projection.

Will a 35mm back up print still have to be manufactured and run or can they guarentee that the system won’t break down in the middle of the show as it has in a number of houses and in trade screenings? If a 35mm print is run simultaneously, then what’s the point?

If the image originates on digital, how will it affect contrast, lighting design, the grain structure and other considerations.
If it severely limits the options of a cinematographer due to inherant flaws in the technology, how will this improve the quality of feature films. Features that are shot on location with live actors to simulate reality for the narrative are a lot different than special effects fantasies like “Star Wars”. Will conventional
narratives have the artificial appearance of science fiction fantasies due to the nature of digital imagery. How will this affect your ‘supspension of disbelief’. For example, let’s say you wanted to make a mystery film with ‘film noir’ style lighting. Is this even possible if you shoot in a digital format. What if you wanted to have the image in B&W for artistic effect like “Shindler’s List”. How will this look if shot digitally? Can it even be done?

How do you preserve a digital image when it starts to degrade. Is digital archival in any way, shape or form?
Do you have to re-copy the image every few years just to retain the data and who is going to remember to do that on hundreds of films?
Will the major distributors continue to store their negatives or will they transfer everything to digital and junk them all afterwards. This happened in the past when Fox discarded the original 3 Strip B&W Technicolor negatives after converting them
to Eastmancolor (De Luxe). Now those color negatives are fading and they don’t have the original B&W records to restore them. Universal
destroyed all of their silent film negatives in the late forties when they were considered ‘obsolete’. Now archivists are scrambling around to find surviving elements to restore titles like “Phantom of the Opera” (Chaney version). Most studios have state of the art storage today but will they continue to pay the bills for these 35mm elements after converting them to digital?

I certainly hope I’m not the only one asking these questions in the mad dash to eliminate a hundred year old medium. At a recent trade show for digital they had a tag line they were using,“Film is a four letter word”.

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