If you go to a lot of movies like me, you’ve probably noticed going and checking out the latest Blockbuster has changed a lot in the last few years. With 3D, 4D, IMAX, RPX and theaters like AMC now offering dine-in options, going to see a film is now almost as much about choosing your experience as it is picking what film to see.
One of my favorite local theaters the AMC Neshaminy (Who also one of the few theaters who participated in the Hateful Eight 70mm Roadshow) was recently upgraded with the Dolby Cinema Experience. While some added value experiences just focus on the size of the screen or bells and whistles, Dolby Cinema is all about delivering the best presentation possible thanks to laser projection and Dolby Atmos sound. I got a few moments last week to speak with Stuart Bowling, the Director of Content and Creative Relations at Dolby to pick his brain about just what makes the Dolby Experience one of the best offerings out there for movie geeks looking to see films presented in the best way possible.
For me a good presentation is almost as important as the film itself in my cinema going experience, so it was great to hear one of my favorite chains was choosing this for their added value offering. So next time you’re looking to check out the newest summer tent pole release, do yourself a favor and check it out at the AMC Neshaminy in one of their Dolby Cinema theaters and you’ll never go back, trust me.
So what was the genesis between the partnership between Dolby and AMC Theaters?
So with Dolby Cinema we worked on this program for a few years. As we were developing the next level of exhibition experience and how we could change the movie going experience we were already working with AMC closely with Dolby Atmos, which we launched in 2012. AMC at that time had been working on their own premium large format and they were one of the first partners we brought in to experience the technology and they saw the promise of what the technology was going to be and as we continued to develop it they had a lot of input and that was the genesis of the relationship.
I’ve seen a trend toward theaters improving the cinema going experience. Do you feel with the progression of home theater technology you’re competing with what consumers have at home and trying to deliver something above and beyond what they can do in their house?
I think if you look at the cinema going experience just on its own, the cinema experience is a shared experience. It’s about going to watch something on the big screen in a fairly large auditorium and that is typically an experience you can’t get at home. As you mentioned technology does progress rapidly in the consumer market, versus the business side with exhibition. Technology can’t rotate through that industry at that level. We are really more thoughtful about what technology we implement and push through this system in exhibition in that it requires a lot of investment. We see the two as very different beings in that they are both providing a function and need for the consumer.
There is also a symbiotic relationship as well. In that if you look at movie releases typically first in a cinema space, that then gets people to come in and see the movie, and creates a lot of buzz and then they will buy it either as a digital download or a Blu-ray; and now we have UHD and high dynamic range in the home as well. The two continue to coexist.
One of the big perks of the Dolby Cinema experience is laser projection, what are some of the benefits of laser, versus the more traditional xenon bulb projection?
If you look at it technically, then the first technical thing is that we can achieve a much higher blackness level than we can with a xenon projector. The challenge there is it kind of toes back into your earlier question that the exhibition model continuing to evolve and like any business it has to re-invent itself and continue to invest and move forward and make changes.
So you look at the original multiplex idea, as many screens as possible, get people in and get people out. Now we have auditoriums that are more specialized, more offerings, more service oriented and another byproduct of that is screens have gotten bigger and as they get bigger they require more light. Getting more light typically with a xenon projector means you have to put a big bulb in there, so you’re up to 4-7 kilowatts of light being emanated from the projector. That entails a lot of heat they have to extract. The other byproduct is, if the bulbs get bigger the lifespan significantly gets shorter. Now you’re into a consumable that’s only got about 500 hours of life.
Laser removes all of that.
It’s a much better light source, its more pure, has a longer lifespan and we get more brightness. We also don’t have a heat problem, because the way laser light is produced its almost like a little amplifier in essence, that RGB light comes out of a fiber optic it then gets coupled and there are many of those fibers that are coupled together to produce the overall light inside the projector. So basically you just have a couple of racks of amplifiers for the laser light.
For Dolby Vision, we double the light level, because we want to introduce High Dynamic Range. So typically inside a movie theater the light level is set at 14 Foot-Lamberts and that is what all movie theaters are calibrated to. For Dolby Vision, we project at 31.5 Foot-Lamberts and its not necessarily about overall brightness but it allows the filmmaker to isolate parts of the image that need to be brighter that are either adding to the story or it’s a natural occurrence in the image. So the filmmaker is trying to reproduce something that looks as real as possible.
In Kong: Skull Island even though it was CGI, you have the Apocalypse Now Nod where you have that beautiful shot of the sun behind Kong and yet you can maintain the intensity and the brightness of the sun, but also maintain all the shadowing and detail of the fur structure of Kong in front of it. So you see all of the creases and indentations of his skin by being able to control that and have that extra level of brightness. Much the same way as if you are wandering around in the afternoon and you can see the sun glistening off certain things the level of light that the human eye can deal with is incredible. Our eyes can deal with 24 stops of dynamic range and our projector can deliver 20 stops technically inside of these theaters.
We are now providing the filmmaker the latitude to reproduce exactly what they have captured.
Because laser light has a wider color range, you can do a cool thing called wider color gamut. What that means is the color available from natural laser light is significantly wider than what we could normally reproduce inside of a movie theater and a lot of that stems from the transition from film to digital. So we kept the same color space because that is what filmmakers are inherently use to, digital allowed us to go a little wider, but we kept within this boundary of what film could do, but with laser light we could push that significantly out. We could have very saturated colors in red, green and blue.
Now you’re also pairing what with a custom Dolby Atmos install for Dolby Cinemas. How does that compare to other theaters that also have Atmos?
The difference between Dolby Atmos at a regular theater and one that goes inside Dolby cinema is that we actually put a higher density of speakers and amplification inside a Dolby Cinema, than we do inside a regular Dolby Atmos theater. Because the technology allows flexibility in how many speakers you put inside a room, we can use the technology in a way that allows the exhibitor flexibility as to how much to invest.
In general it’s a 360 degrees range of surround sound speakers.
The idea now is each individual loud speaker is amplified, so that we can isolate sounds. Over the audience we have put in two rows of overhead speakers, so typically they’re paired so wherever you see a speaker on the sidewall, then there is a pair in line with them on the ceiling. Now we can have flyovers where sound can go over the audience and we can reinforce that with surround speakers, we can localize sounds in the overheads.
A great example of this is I spent a lot of time in New Zealand with Peter Jackson on the production for the hobbit movie all three of them, when we did the first one there is a scene where the dwarves are in the cave and Peter liked the idea of placing individual snores and scattering them around in different loud speaker locations. So some people said that when they were watching the movie they thought someone was snoring behind them. I thought that his creative intent to have fun with the audience.
Finally what do you see as the future of exhibition?
So if you look at exhibition today, we have moved into the phase of what we call segmentation. Segmentation means that now when you go to a movie theater, you can have a restaurant there or a dining experience, you have the Dolby Cinema Experience, there are theaters that offer 3D, there are theaters that offer 4D etc. Maybe they even have their own premium format and that gives the theater goer a lot of choice and choice is good, in that you can choose how you want to invest your money and what you want for your experience. As we look at we have done we are in the beginning phase, we are 74 screening in North America with AMC and we’ll tap out at just over 100 at the end of the year.
The beautiful thing about these theaters is Dolby maintains them, they are regularly checked, regularly calibrated, its not like we sold you this bill of goods and away we go. This is an ongoing partnership and we look at technologies on the periphery that we can use these locations to help potentially deploy these technologies as well. If you look at Dolby as a company in history whenever we’ve developed a new technology several things have to happen, you have to get the creative community on board, then you have to get exhibitors on board and this is always a little bit of a chicken and the egg dilemma. Creators will be like this is fantastic how many screens do you have? And then you talk to the exhibition and exhibition is like this is fantastic how many movies will I have? There is always a little push and pull and it takes a little bit of time