Samsung and LG are among a number of technology companies quietly giving Hollywood a new lease of life about the potential of LED display technology to replace theatrical projection systems that have been used since the birth of the cinema. It would be a radical change.
A projection system, true to its name, projects images onto the big screen. An LED wall is similar to a sophisticated huge TV screen and using it would make the projection booth a thing of the past. At this early stage, major US theater chains are not using the technology.
The companies are hesitant to share many details about their plans — Samsung’s Onyx LED screens for cinema have been installed in about 100 movie theaters worldwide, including at The Culver Theater in Culver City — but Hollywood insiders have recently seen new demonstrations of the technology, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
“As with any new technology, there are a lot of very positive things and some very scary things,” said director and cinematographer Jay Holben, who worked with this technology – categorized in the industry as “direct view” screens – as part of a US Door the Society of Cinematographers led project to create standardized test material for all types of displays.
Dominic Glynn, senior scientist at Pixar Animation Studios, adds: “Overall, we are very strong supporters of the new creative possibilities these technologies offer.” Glynn calls such direct view displays “very ambitious and very capable” in areas such as high dynamic range and brightness. (Pixar released Light year on such a screen at Houston’s Star Cinema Grill for paying audiences in 2022.)
But there is still much work to be done, and for Holben and others, how sound is handled is a ‘detrimental’ concern. This is because in the traditional cinema there are speakers directly behind the screen, which is not possible with LED panels. But the biggest issue could be how cost will factor into theater owners’ decisions about whether or not to adopt this technology.
Holben notes that expensive LEDs also “significantly” increase power consumption and heat output (requiring more air conditioning) compared to projection systems, adding: “They also require metal construction that is not normally present to reduce the weight of the screens. , which can vibrate with sound. It’s all pretty big expense for theater owners.”
Technology developer Barco, meanwhile, is rolling out its HDR-compatible “light steering” laser projection systems in Hollywood while keeping its LED screens focused, at least for now, on markets such as digital signage. “There are some fundamental properties of LEDs that make them a bad fit for the cinema market… price is the most critical point,” said Barco’s Tom Bert, a senior member of the Entertainment division’s product management team. (Similarly, Sony’s CLED technology is currently targeting other applications, including virtual production and color grading rooms.)
Many Hollywood groups are already working to make LED screens a viable option in movie theaters. In late 2022, studio consortium Digital Cinema Initiatives released its direct-view technical specification – effectively a recommended technical blueprint for showing its films on these new systems.
Several such displays, including technology from Samsung and LG, have since been certified as DCI compliant. Among the work DCI still hopes to accomplish is to create a specification for a standard Digital Cinema Package (the digital equivalent of a film print) that can be used in LED-based auditoriums without the need for a separate version of the film. to be made.
Looking ahead, Pixar’s Glynn says there are creative opportunities to take advantage of the technology, but filmmakers must master its use. “If (direct view displays) generate enough enthusiasm among audiences, there would be a really compelling reason to invite audiences back to the big screen to see something they may not have seen the first time around, or that they want to revisit in this, in this new format,” he notes, as long as “we don’t exploit the technology for its own sake. It should always serve the story or be complementary to the story.”
This will be one of the topics covered Saturday when the NAB Show opens in Las Vegas. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers will present a series of panels exploring the future of cinema.
A version of this story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter magazine on April 12. Click here to subscribe.