Dolby Laboratories has teamed withInfitec, a German provider of virtual reality technologies, to bring a new 3-D system to the digital cinema.
The new technology could arrive in theaters by spring of 2007, in time to meet the schedules of 3-D films slated for release within the next two years, Tim Partridge, senior vice president and general manager of Dolby’s professional division, told TechNewsWorld. Dolby Labs will develop its 3-D systems as an add-on feature to its digital cinema platform.
Infitec’s technology advances will enable the system to project a 3-D image directly onto exhibitors’ existing white screens, without the need for special silver screens, as the system from 3-D cinema companyReal D requires.
Another competing system requires expensive battery-powered glasses, whereas Dolby’s solution will allow moviegoers to wear lightweight, inexpensive, comfortable glasses, which Partridge maintains have no unpleasant side effects.
“Old 3-D system quality wasn’t that great. You were trying to trick your eyes and brain, and the effects were [that] people felt they were getting a headache,” he explained. Today’s systems are much better but could still use improvement. “As we looked at the space, we saw the implementation of 3-D had various drawbacks. We evaluated the environment and saw a demand for a new experience, and tried to create a product that satisfies that demand.”
Dolby had the opportunity to taste the latest in this type of technology last year when it worked with Disney and Real D to convert 100 theaters to digital 3-D for Disney’s “Chicken Little.” Just last week, Steven Spielberg’s 3-D animated film “Monster House” enjoyed box-office success, speaking to consumer demand for the offering, Partridge said.
“Per-screen attendances for 3-D digital screens have been more than double those of traditional showings,” he said. “Big name filmmakers like George Lucas are talking about how 3-D can enhance the experience of the film. Our [goal] is to provide a more engaging presentation so the audience is more immersed in the film.”
The most obvious way to enhance viewer experience is by improving quality. Today, most of the movies that audiences see are 35mm films, which lose quality quickly, Partridge said. “[A 35mm film] can look just like a premiere on opening night, but after a week or two, it collects dirt, which appears as little black specks on the screen, and scratches, which appear as dark vertical lines. It suffers from wear and tear and colors fade,” he said.
With digital, on the other hand, “every night is just like opening night. The pictures are crystal clear, the colors are always vibrant, and the sound is digital quality.”
Films today are often recorded with digital cameras and, to a large extent, produced using digital technology, Partridge said. At the end of that chain, however, digital films are being converted back into celluloid prints so they can be shown on 35mm projectors.
Making that last mile digital, as well as transitioning to a digital form played on a high-resolution projector, is Dolby’s goal. This also helps filmmakers in terms of cost, as film prints cost roughly US$1,000 each and the industry spends $2 billion to $3 billion each year on them, according to Partridge.