Laser-driven movie projectors have long been a tech Holy Grail, but now they’re finally going commercial, as projector maker Christie Digital announced their first permanent laser projector installation in a commercial movie theater.
The theater taking on the endeavor is the Seattle Cinerama, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The theater is the first to acquire Christie’s laser projectors after the FDA recently approved the system for sale to theaters. Seattle Cinerama purchased a 4k digital laser projector, and accordingly to theater manager Greg Wood, they plan for the laser projector to be up and running on their 68-foot wide screen in February or early March 2014, replacing their current Christie digital projection system.
Federal approval for laser projectors is required because the devices fall under the same regulations as laser light-shows, even though the light emerging from projectors
Christie says the laser-driven projector will put out upwards of 60,000 lumens of brightness. The exact light levels that will deliver in use will depend on the theater’s choice of screen and 3D hardware, but Christie says the system will exceed current standards for brightness. Laser-driven projectors are expected to solve many of the problems of dark and muddy imagery that have plagued digital 3D projection throughout the history of the format.
While laser projectors allow theaters the luxury about not having to worrying about replacing bulbs and cooling their projection booth, Wood said he doubted they will make matters much easier behind the scenes, at least at first.
“We are taking the risk that this is going to be high technical quality, and it’s going to have a period that we have to get used to and adjust,” Wood said. “Hopefully everything runs fine, but it is new technology.”
Wood said that the laser system costs considerably more than their current projector, but the theater management decided it’s the future of cinema. “We’re not doing this behind the scenes to try to save on bulbs or save on money in the long run or anything like that,” he added. “This is the best tech out and we want it, so let’s grab it.”
Audiences got a sneak peek at the new technology earlier this year when, in March, Christie partnered with Paramount to air a two-week public test of their laser technology, playing “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” at AMC Theaters Burbank 16. The test allowed the company to view how the technology would work in a real-world environment.
Imax has also jumped on laser tech, announcing in January that in 2014 three of its theaters will install lasers projectors developed by Kodak. Wood predicted that the rest of the industry will start adopting lasers in two years. “There’s just something magical about lasers,” he said.