Picture Show: Showcase Cinemas – Cutting-edge Digital Presentation, Eliminating Traditional Film

May 11, 2011
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Showcase Revere managing director Ken Jones programs the theatre's new Sony 4K digital projection system recently. In a behind-the-scenes change, the theatre has eliminated fi lm from their presentations and gone to a cutting-edge digital system made by Sony.

Put away the movie reels and pack up the old film because the movies have gone digital, and the Revere Showcase Cinemas on Squire Road is on the forefront of the latest technology – allowing the theatre to show its films with the most cutting-edge picture and sound available.

It may not have been readily apparent to the untrained eye, but starting last fall, the Showcase Cinema in Revere went completely digital – ending the era of 35mm film and moving into an era of fully computerized movie presentation.

Now, every screen in the theatre is on a digital system – the cutting edge Sony 4K system – and gone are the days of stringing real 35mm film onto projectors and running them long distances down the projection corridor so the same movie could be played at the same time in multiple theatres.

A lot of moviegoers may not have known that went on behind the scene, but it certainly did and it was anything but an exact science.

That system has been replace by the click of a mouse.

Instead of loading, stringing and taking down reels of film, one person sits at a large computer module and chooses which movie to play in which theatre simply by clicking a button. In fact, the entire theatre’s weekly schedule can be programmed in an hour by one person sitting in front of the computer.

By the end of the year, Showcase executives said that they plan to have their entire location converted like the Revere chain. It’s a change that not only effects the business operations of the theatre, but also improves the experience for moviegoers.

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“When you go into one of our theatres, the quality of presentation of our film is just as good the 100th time as it was the first time,” said Steve Horton, vice president of U.S. operations for National Amusements, Showcases parent company. “Film tended to get damaged over time and didn’t look as good once it had been played over an over. Also, the light on digital is steadier. Those are the main advances for the viewers and they are big changes. You know, 35mm was great to us for 75 years or so, but digital is exciting for us and gives us opportunities to do 3-D and alternate content like operas and concerts and other things.”

In a world where movie theatres are no longer kings of the hill, keeping costs down has been paramount. Likewise, theatres have been competing to up the quality of their presentations to compete with increasingly sophisticated home theatre systems.

With Sony 4K, Showcase said they believe they can accomplish both tasks.

“It certainly has reduced a lot of work and time in putting films together and trailers together,” said Horton. “Someone had to put those all together physically by hand and feed it onto the projectors and then take it all down. Digital has reduced all that time.”

Another cost savings comes with reduced shipping costs – a major expense that moviegoers may not have realized was driving prices higher.

The new system simply ships an 8-pound computer hard drive to the theatre each Monday. That drive is loaded with all of the new movies, which are then saved to the theatre’s main computer.

Compare that with shipping two cans of film that weigh a combined 150 pounds for every single movie, and one can see that the savings can build up.

“When you’re done with the hard drive, you ship it back and they load something else on it,” said Horton. “It’s a lot less expensive once you’ve made the digital conversion.”

Showcase officials in Revere and at the main office said that the Sony 4K technology shouldn’t be downplayed.

Digital conversion for theatres has been on the horizon since 2001 when Disney’s “Chicken Little” movie premiered in 3-D. In order to show 3-D, theatres have to have a digital system. Now, with more and more 3-D movies coming out, theatres have had no choice but to push on with the end of the 35mm film era.

Some theatres, though, have invested in 2K technology, which is good, but not on the cutting edge, Horton said.

Showcase has invested in Sony’s innovative 4K system.

“The difference is the amount of pixels on the screen and the more pixels there are, the better the resolution and picture,” said Horton. “The 4K system actually has four times the amount of pixels as the 2K system. It’s not just double. It makes a big difference. The easiest comparison would be looking at the quality of a DVD versus the quality of a Blu-Ray disk. The 2K is a fine projector, but the 4K is noticeably better. We chose to go with Sony because they only make 4K technology.”

By the raw numbers, the Sony 4K system displays 8.85 million pixels, which is more than four times that of standard HD technology.

Additionally, the Sony 4K projector and computer scheduling system recently was given the stamp of approval from Hollywood – with the studio’s governing body giving the system one of the first approvals for a digital system.

In all, that means that Showcase in Revere will present movies that will be on the cutting edge when it comes to picture and sound – much better than anything one could view at home or at another theatre.

“We hope that this gives us a leg up,” said Horton. “It’s a market value as well. Digital is expensive. We’ve spent millions in this conversion and believe it’s worth it.”