High-frame rate projectors a highlight at ShowEast
COW Library : : Debra Kaufman : High-frame rate projectors a highlight at ShowEast
High-frame rate cinema is coming, and Digital Cinema system manufacturers are getting ready. At ShowEast in October, Barco and Dolby teamed up to present a variety of different frame rates and resolutions, utilizing a single Barco DP2K-20C projector with a prototype 2K/4K Dolby Integrated Media Block (IMB) and Dolby DSS200 cinema server. Barco and Digital's demonstrations showed 2D 2K footage at 48 frames per second; 2D 4K footage at 24 fps and 2K footage at 48 and 60 fps per eye for 3D. Christie also showed its new IMB, which works with any of its Solaria Series 2 projectors and comes in three different versions to play high-frame rate Digital Cinema.
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Barco and Dolby's impetus for joining together to create a high-frame rate Digital Cinema projection system started before CinemaCon earlier this year, where director James Cameron announced his plans to shoot Avatar 2 and 3 at 60 fps. Director Peter Jackson is already shooting the first film of the planned two-part The Hobbit at 48 fps, (with plans to direct the second film also at 48 fps). The Hobbit is scheduled for release in December 2012, the first high-frame-rate feature to debut.
Dolby also shot its own high-frame rate footage, with the ARRI Alexa. The resulting footage, "Carousel," shows people getting onto and off of a fairground ride. "We had all the actors wearing bright, contrast-y clothing, with lines and patterns," says Bowling, who says they tested the content at 24 fps, 48 fps and 60 fps. "This way we could appreciate what's happening at high frame rates and see how we were eliminating issues of juddering and strobing." Dolby's high frame rate-ready IMB is slated for release in 2012.
Although Barco and Dolby are nominally competitors, the two companies have also partnered in Digital Cinema ventures over the years. "Dolby and Barco have done a lot of work together, especially on their 3D system," says Hoddick. "Dolby has been very innovative, especially with the Chicken Little 3D roll-out with Barco projectors in 2005." Bowling also notes the Chicken Little rollout six years ago as being the beginning of a close relationship with Barco. "There are definitely synergies between the companies," he says. "We do have competition in different areas we operate it, but we also have a strong history and mutual respect." Or, as Haddock terms it, the two companies are in "co-opetition." "High frame rate Digital Cinema won't just be done by a projector or an integrated media block," he says. "It requires both and it was our pleasure to do this with Dolby."
Also at ShowEast, Christie unveiled its new integrated media block which, paired with its own Solaria Series 2 projectors, comes in three versions: The basic model runs 2D/3D footage at 2K in standard frame rates. An upgraded version adds 48 fps and 60 fps, and the third, most high-end version will run those frame rates at 4K resolution. Christie's IMB will be installed inside the projector. Christie also upgraded its Solaria Series 2 projectors to playback frame rates as high as 60 fps in 3D and 120 fps in 2D. Christie's high frame rate integrated projector/IMB solution will be available sometime in 2012.
Dolby's Bowling points out one of the remaining hurdles to adopting high frame cinema. "SMPTE standards are not yet fully ratified because high frame rates is so new," he says. "We showed 3D playback at 48 and 60 fps at 250 megabits per second, which is the standard for the industry. We also showed that we're capable of delivering beyond that, at 400 megabits per second."
Backwards compatibility with existing DCI equipment is another issue. Theatre owners that have already made the expensive upgrade to Digital Cinema will be loathe to switch out projection systems they just bought.
In an industry focused on the challenges and issues surrounding 3D capture and distribution, high-frame rate cinema opens up a new arena of research and discussion. Although deployment of high-frame Digital Cinema may not achieve widespread distribution in the near future, as Barco, Dolby and Christie have shown, the companies that manufacture the gear that makes its projection possible are ready for action when The Hobbit opens.