Jay Ankeney /
07.07.2004 12:00 AM
Sony Cracks the 4K Barrier
New digital projector is the first to meet DCI specification

HOLLYWOOD

A major milestone in the progress of digital cinema was reached last month when Sony Electronics Inc. gave its first public demonstration of a true 4K digital cinema projector, the SRX-R110, at the Digital Cinema Laboratory in Hollywood.

"We want to help the motion picture industry make the move to digital cinema by following the guidelines and specifications set forth by the Digital Cinema Initiative," said Tom Mykietyn, director of content creation for Sony Electronics.

"One threshold the studios have specified is 4K, or 4,096- by 2,160-pixel digital projection resolution, which will be vastly superior to what a consumer would be able to achieve in their own home theater. This demonstration at the Digital Cinema Lab proves we have finally accomplished that goal," he said.

When the Digital Cinema Initiative released DCI Technical Specifications Version 3.0 last November, the bar for digital projection was raised to a hierarchical architecture approach, with the goal of making a practical 4K resolution delivery system that would also be compatible with existing 2K projectors.

THE HOLY GRAIL

A 4K delivery system is the image resolution level that the DCI members, including Disney, Fox, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros. Studios believe will provide a picture quality that will at least equal-if not exceed-the resolution of 35mm film prints. Several companies, including JVC with its own DI-ILA technology, have been giving 4K projection demonstrations at trade shows during the past year, but Sony is the first to do a public exhibition of a working model to the Hollywood production community.

"A 4K projector has long been considered the holy grail of digital cinema," said John Scarcella, president

of Sony Electronics' Broadcast and Production Systems Division. "This is what the industry has been waiting for."

The SRX-R110 is a 10,000 ANSI lumen projector built around an SXRD (Silicon X-tal [crystal] Reflective Display) imaging device that is Sony's adaptation of LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) technology. The 4K projector puts out nearly four times the pixel count of conventional HD displays at a current contrast ratio of 1,300:1, ultimately to become 2,000:1 when the SRX-R110 ships to theaters by early next year.

SXRD TECHNOLOGY

With SXRD technology, pixels are set at a pitch of 8.5 micrometers from the center of one SXRD pixel to the center of the next with an inter-pixel gap of 0.35 micrometer. This removes the crosshatch pattern sometimes seen from digital projectors of lower resolution, even when the picture is projected onto a large screen.

A narrower pitch and thinner gap translate into a quicker refresh rate, which smoothes out the appearance of moving images. During the demonstration at the Digital Cinema Laboratory, a project of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC (ETC), the images from the SRX-R110 were seen on a 39- by 20-foot screen with no visible pixelization at a normal viewing distance.

The 4K projection demonstration included images from the DCI/American Society of Cinematographers Standard Test Emulation (StEM) footage developed as a standard for testing digital cinema projection. Test footage can be downloaded in various resolutions from the DCI Web site, www.dcimovies.com

OTHER USES

The Sony engineers also presented production footage shot on a 65mm Panavision film camera with Kodak 5218 stock, which was processed in Technicolor. Those images were scanned at 6K resolution on a Northlight scanner at 70mm Inc., an IMAX company, and resized to 4K resolution at EFILM in Hollywood. Sony also projected a sample set of 4K still images acquired from a 4K digital still camera.

"Some of the total system design that will enable practical digital cinema presentations to rival theatrical film delivery and projection depends on finalization of the DCI specifications, including the method of delivering the digital files to individual theaters," Mykietyn said. "Until then, we are supplying the projector from JPEG2000 compressed files generic off-the-shelf, high-definition servers, and are focusing on the projection side."

In addition to digital cinema, the SRX-R110 projector is also suitable for a variety of large venue installations, including live events, simulations, auditorium staging or command-and-control applications, since they are capable of simultaneously displaying multiple high-definition images. In normal operation, the full 4,096 x 2,160 pixel image is typically projected onto a single theatrical screen. In dual-screen mode, two 1,920 x 1,080 images are projected and that resolution is maintained when four 1,920 x 1,080 images are projected in quad-screen mode, making the SRX-R110 suitable for simultaneous high-definition presentations.

The SRX-R110 4K projector is slated to sell for $80,000 (plus $15,000 for the lens) when released in January. Sony will also be releasing a 5,000-lumen SXRD projector, the SRX-R105, selling for $60,000 and recommended for screen widths of up to 25 feet.


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