Digital to the Imax

Big-format biz to build projectors based on TI's tech

Large-format film giant Imax Corp. said Monday it plans to ramp up and build the next generation of digital projectors based on Texas Instruments’ DLP technology, already adopted by several major studios, including Disney and Fox.

Production of the Digital Light Processing devices will be done through Imax’s Digital Projection Intl. subsid. Pricing is still dependent on demand for the projectors, but sources said they could easily run in the $300,000 range.

Announcement made at this week’s ShoWest confab in Las Vegas comes the same day TI announced Christie Systems Inc. would also be a licensee of DLP Cinema technology and build the devices.

TI plans to award a third license to another projector maker in the coming months.

TI’s first-generation projectors were used to exhibit Fox and Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” Disney’s “Toy Story 2” and “Bicentennial Man” beginning last summer.

During those public tests, DPI built the projectors that were used.

On a roll

Imax said it plans to aggressively roll out the new line of projectors as soon as work on the DLP Cinema technology is complete.

DPI intends to manufacture and market the DLP-based projectors to commercial movie theaters using 35mm-film-based display technology, with the hope of replacing the more than 75,000 movie projectors around the world.

But until that can happen, exhibitors and studios are expected to continue debating who will pick up the tab to renovate the theaters and pay for the digital prints, among other issues.

The projectors are expected to provide a major revenue stream for Imax, which is best known for its 205 Imax theaters operating in 25 countries.

Way of the future

“We believe that digital cinema is the way of the future for the commercial film industry,” said Imax co-CEOs Richard L. Gelfond and Bradley J. Wechsler. “Imax will be one of the few exclusive licensees to use this transforming technology to drive widespread usage of digital projectors in conventional movie theaters. We believe all film-based projectors in movie theaters around the world will be replaced with digital projectors, and DPI is in a unique position to be a leader in this industry as TI’s longest-standing projection partner.

“The opportunity to be a major player in the technological transformation of the exhibition business through digital cinema is one of the many benefits we intend to realize from our acquisition of DPI.”

When available, the DLP Cinema imaging chips will be integrated into DPI’s complete high-performance electronic projection systems, creating a projector that can display high-quality digital images delivered either by satellite or DVD instead of via traditional 35 mm film reels.

At the heart of DPI’s cinema displays will be three DLP Cinema DMDs — silicon microchips that are capable of reflecting enormous light from high-definition sources with millions of tiny mirrors that create well over 1 billion shades of color digitally.

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