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Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Jun 6

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6/6/2011 11:41 AM  RssIcon

It began with an article on Boston.com criticizing the digital projection at AMC Loews Boston Common on Tremont Street for its supposed gloomy, underlit images drained of color on eight of the multiplex’s 19 screens. Those just happen to be the same theaters using new Sony’s new 4K 2-D/3-D digital projectors.

The problem of poor images, said the website, is widespread — affecting screenings at AMC, National Amusements and Regal cinemas. It suggests a lack of consistent education on proper operational processes among theater operators.

Boston.com blamed the problem on the 3-D lenses that it said many theaters have made a practice of leaving on the projectors while playing 2-D films. One Boston-area projectionist — who spoke anonymously to the website due to concerns about his job — said for 3-D screenings a special lens is installed in front of a Sony digital projector that rapidly alternates the two polarized images needed for the 3-D effect to work.

“When you’re running a 2-D film, that polarization device has to be taken out of the image path,” he said. “If they’re not doing that, it’s crazy, because you’ve got a big polarizer that absorbs 50 percent of the light.”

Dan Huerta, vice president of sight and sound for AMC, the second-biggest chain in the United States, told Boston.com that “we don’t really have any official or unofficial policy to not change the lens.’’

Sony Digital Cinema responded that their projectors are not the blame for the poor image quality. It may be more that real projectionists are largely missing from the theaters today and theater employees leave on the 3-D adapters because it’s easier and most customers don’t complain.

Sony’s defense is that projectors do not alternate between images rapidly. Changing the 3-D lens takes less than 20 minutes, and 3-D filters only reduce light output by only 20 percent. And even if the lens is not changed, it still can play films within the recommended specs.

As to what was wrong, an expert on Sony digital projectors said the biggest issue he runs into is a lack of training within the theaters. Theater personnel are initially trained, but these days so many untrained people go through the projection booths and make unauthorized adjustments.

“I think the biggest problem digital cinema faces is that the operations departments of most chains think we can take a hands-off approach to this equipment, and that is not currently the case,” said a Sony rep. “Proper lamp maintenance is crucial in any theater, but even more so in digital. Five-to -10 years from now when the laser light sources are in the field, no one will ever have a need to go in the booth outside of cleaning the port glass, and the maintenance calls me and my cohorts perform.”

In the meantime, it’s up to moviegoers to police theaters. If a film looks too dim or the color is washed out, audience members should complain to management.

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