With Barco alliance, Jeffrey Katzenberg touts quality, affordability

While the biz has been buzzing about plans for a new “Star Wars” trilogy, the usually sleepy world of theatrical movie sound has been ramping up for a format war.

Just a day after Dolby announced growing support for its Atmos format (Daily Variety, Oct. 31), DreamWorks Animation announced it has struck a strategic alliance with Barco and will release its next 15 pics in Barco’s Auro-3D sound format.

Auro-3D, which has up to 12 channels, adds a second set of surround speakers higher on the walls and more speakers directly above the audience to create a greater sense of depth in the audio mix.

First pic to be released in the format will be DWA’s “Rise of the Guardians” on Nov. 21. Only about 50 screens worldwide will be ready for the Auro format at the release of “Guardians,” but DWA will promote the format to the public on this and future pics.

In a Thursday presser at Pacific Theaters the Grove in Los Angeles — one of two locations in the L.A. area with Auro already installed — DWA topper Jeffrey Katzenberg said DWA chose Auro over Atmos for a simple reason: “It’s better. What else do you want?” He added, “This is the highest quality at the best affordability. You can’t separate those.”

“We believe they are going to be leaders in the market,” said Katzenberg.

Despite its monicker, Auro-3D can be used with any movie, be it 2D or 3D.

Asked whether there would be an upcharge for the format, Wim Buyens, CEO of Barco’s entertainment division, said, “We’ve seen there’s an upcharge for the immersive experience,” meaning enhanced sound and picture together. He said some theaters in some territories may choose to add an upcharge for Auro-3D only.

Comparing the launch of the new sound format with the launch of 3D, Katzenberg said, “Here we go again. I’m sure there will be those who use this as a gimmick, and overuse it, but I’m hoping the shortsightedness will be less than last time.”

As for additional studio support for Auro-3D, Buyens said, “Stay tuned. It’s clear this is not stopping here. This is not going to happen overnight, but people are getting used to the idea that the immersive experience is what drives moviegoing.”

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