In case you missed it over the weekend, the Boston Globe published an article stating that the misuse of 3D lenses on Sony 4K projectors is drastically reducing the amount of light and color in digitally projected 2D movies. Sony Digital Cinema has finally responded with a list of "The Facts" that reiterate information some readers have posted in our comments and that we've obtained from individuals working as projectionists. They claim that contrary to the Globe's information, the projector technology used as described isn't to blame for poor picture quality. Notable items on the list are that the Sony system does not alternate between two images rapidly, changing the lens takes less than 20 minutes, the RealD 3D filters only reduce light output by 20% (not 85%), and if the lens can't be changed, then it's still capable of playing back content at 14fl (foot lamberts) which is within the recommended specs for brightness.

All of these go directly against information from the original "Deep Focus" source, although it still doesn't explain why they could see such a marked difference between films in the same theater being projected digitally or on film. However, simpler explanations like an old and weakened bulb, a film projector set outside the specs, or unintentional misconfiguration could account for all of that. Until this is sorted, all we can recommend for your summer movie viewing is that if you do see anything out of order, don't let that jumbo tub of popcorn and Icee slow you down -- complain to management loudly and quickly to get the picture fixed. Check after the break for Sony's claims, as well as more detailed information from a projectionist we spoke to that broke down just how the technology works.


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The projectionist that Boston.com spoke with clearly has little to no understanding of how the systems work and is likely a manager that also works in the booth to start shows, the projectionists of yore are long gone in most cases. While the 3D lenses in the Sony are polarized, the images do not alternate, they are projected at the same time and split through a prism system in the lens, but really that's besides the point. All of the 3D systems we have installed have been selected based on a number of variables such as screen size and auditorium length. Based on that information we can determine if the Sony projector will be able to light the screen to SMPTE spec. The SMPTE specifications on light are very clear and the DCI specification for digital equipment follows in line with that. Basically 2D digital projection should have 14 footlamberts (a measurement of reflected light) at the center of the screen, in comparison 35mm spec is 16fl of light through an open gate (meaning no film and no shutter movement) if a projector is installed to meet that spec the light output of the digital will be seen to exceed that of film. in any house where we cannot make the required light we use a bigger system, most recently these have been made by Barco.

In addition to the light levels the digital projectors are color corrected to within ±.005 of the DCI color spec. This means that when we correct with the polarizers in place on the Sony system for 2D movies that the color will be virtually identical to that seen on a DLP projector without a polarizer in the light path.

They also fail to mention some of the advantages of the way the Sony system works, such as reduced eye fatigue. DLP systems alternate images as implied in the article, they do so by electronically shifting the polarizer state for the left and right eye 3 times per frame per second. This ultimately results in the same situation you find with shutter glasses in that there is flicker that causes headaches and sometimes motion sickness, the difference is that the glasses do not actively perform this task, but close on eye while watching a 3D film ad you may see it (you may not, the system is projecting 144fps or 72 per eye, though make no mistake the content is still 24fps). The Sony system does not have this issue as it splits the 2K image across the top and bottom of the chip and then overlays them on the screen, the dual polarizers on the Sony are completely passive with not electronics involved.

To give a brief background of my knowledge base, I have been a technician for going on a decade, I have been installing digitals since the first "wide" roullout of 100 screens that Disney purchased for Chicken Little 3D. I have industry certifications through Sony, Barco and Dolby on D-Cinema equipment as well as my department's highest level of internal certification and I am Net+ and A+ certified.


As far as why the film and digitally projected showing had such a difference, I think it's likely one of two things, the 35mm could have been way above spec, which can happen easily due to the way the lamps are adjusted in many cases or the lamp in the digital was not adjusted properly. The biggest issue I run into is a lack of training within the theaters. I do my best to train when the systems are installed or when I am onsite for service calls, but these days so many people get rotated through the booth that should a lamp go out Friday night they just slap one in without making any of the necessary adjustments.

I'd like to know what was wrong with the management of that theater though, how do you host a premiere without making sure everything is perfect first? I myself haven't done any due to my location within the country, but I have talked to a number of my coworkers about them and they are on site days before they happen making sure every detail is perfect. In fact many directors want to specify special color corrections for their premieres in digital or ask that sound be tweaked out of spec and so on.

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. Proper lamp maintenance is crucial in any theater, but even more so in digital. 5-10 years from now when the laser light sources are in the field no-one will ever have need to go in the booth outside of cleaning the port glass and the maintenance calls myself and my cohorts perform.




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Sony Digital Cinema 4K projection system information: The Facts

Sony projection systems are designed to deliver a bright image, with stunning resolution, for the moviegoer.

Hopefully, the below information will clarify the inaccurate information that is currently circulating on the web.

General:

Sony projection systems are capable of both 2D and 3D projection with a 3D lens or 2D with a 2D lens.
3D projection utilizes RealD technology.


Lens technology:

Sony projectors do not rapidly alternate two images. Our system displays both left and right eye images at the same time, all the time.
Polarized glasses allow the viewer to continuously see the left image with the left eye and the right image with the right eye, thereby mimicking the way our eyes naturally see in 3D.
Some other systems alternate the images, but Sony systems do not.
Sony 3D systems are not the only ones with two beams of light. Any double-stacked system would have two beams, as would a RealD XL cinema system on other projectors.


Lens change:

It takes less than 20 minutes for a trained technician to change the lens.
Sony has a system in development to make the change even simpler.
If there are cases where it is not possible to change the lens, the 3D lens will play back 2D content.
If the system is setup for 4.5fL (studio recommended) in 3D, it will play 2D content at about 14fl without glasses and filters, which falls well within the SMPTE spec of 14fL +/- 3flL.
RealD filters for Sony systems only reduce the light by about 20%, because light out of the Sony projector is already polarized, unlike our competitors.
Removing the 3D glasses has the most effect on the visible light.
Changing a lens does not require entering the projection system. Lenses are changed from the front of the projector.
There is no security risk, nor is there danger of shutting down the system.
Projector operators are required to login, on all digital cinema systems, by the DCI Specification.


Financing:

While we are not at liberty to discuss the details of specific customer transactions, most of our customers work with integrators, using the well-known Virtual Print Fee (VPF) model.
We sell our projectors to those integrators.
Sony is also an integrator, offering VPF agreements directly to exhibitors.
We do not negotiate the exchange of projectors for pre-show advertising.

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