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Thursday, April 26, 2012

CinemaCon 2012, Day 3: Laser Light Projection + PirateEye

Film Flam Flummox


My plan for a designated "tech" day at CinemaCon  was very nearly thwarted before it even began as my lack of a Passport/Admit One/whatever-the-little-booklet-is-called-this-year to go along with my media pass kept overzealous convention employees from giving me entry into the laser light projection and PirateEye demonstration/presentation--never mind the publicist for the film whose footage would be a prominent part of the program, the globe-spanning documentary Samsara, had e-mailed me not only a personal invite but an attendance confirmation.  Of all the events for which to experience entry drama, a tech demo at the bright-'n-early hour of 8:45AM, seems the least likely, especially when one would  believe one would want those who actively want to attend  would be welcomed without hesitation.  While everything was sorted out eventually, and I was let in to cover, the frustration only grew once I entered the cavernous auditorium of the Caesars Palace Colosseum: the place, as could be easily predicted, was not even half full.

Those who were in the house, however, were given a glimpse into what is likely the future, albeit still very much distant, in cinema projection technology.  Todd Hoddick, Vice President of the North America Entertainment Division of Barco, introduced laser light-projected footage of Samsara, Ron Fricke's forthcoming follow-up to his celebrated documentary visual extravaganza Baraka, due out in cinemas this summer.  While there are obvious benefits to using laser light in digital cinema projection--chief among them a brightened, clearer image, especially beneficial for 3D features--various not-insignificant obstacles stand in the way of its adoption, one being the FDA's regulation of laser light use (which necessitated all of those in attendance for the presentation to submit a medical waiver beforehand), but perhaps most prominently being the cost.  The demo was immediately followed by a panel discussion moderated by Jerry Pierce, chairman of Inter-Society's Digital Cinema Forum, featuring a number of prominent figures in digital cinema technology and exhibition, all of whom had not seen laser light projection in action prior to the morning's demo: Wim Buyens, Senior Vice President of Entertainment at Barco; Michael Esch, Senior Director of Entertainment Solutions Product Development at Christie; Pete Lude, Senior Vice President of Solutions Engineering at Sony Digital Cinema Solutions; John McDonald, Chairman of NATO Technology Committee and Executive Vice President of U.S. Operations, AMC Theatres; and Jim Reisteter, General Manager, Digital Cinema Division, NEC Display Solutions of America.  Contrary to what one would expect at such an industry convention, reaction to this bit of the new was not only muted but decidedly skeptical, with cost--not only in terms of implementing new projectors but laser's compatibility with existing equipment, such as silver screens--being perhaps the one factor preventing laser being adopted in any way, much less in a widespread fashion, at a cinema near you anytime soon.

The second part of the program was focused on a piece of technology that is actually starting to be adopted in the here and now: the anti-piracy auditorium-scanning system known as PirateEye. Brian Dunn, CEO of the company, gave a thorough presentation detailing how the state-of-the-art system, which has been in use in the Caesars Palace Colosseum all convention week long. The PirateEye website goes into much more detail into its process than I ever could, and I must say that it is rather ingenious not only in how it protects against movie piracy but also in how it has a number of built-in features to protect patrons' right to privacy. The system is currently in place in some theatres, most notably at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

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