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Future of theaters and quality control


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#1 of 63 Mike Huey

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Posted June 15 2008 - 03:34 AM

As far as projection and sound go, could Digital delivery help eradicate problems that are plaguing most theaters now in terms of presentation? While projection problems for me have been few and far in between, I most often encounter a myriad of sound problems with levels set too low. It would be great if the studios could somehow encode a signal on the digital product that would only allow it to be played back at the level intended by the filmmakers and dubbing team.

What is some action/development that you think studios/filmmakers could do in the future to ensure quality presentation everywhere? (strictly talking about sound/projection, not audience problems or bad vs. good films).

#2 of 63 Adam Lenhardt

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Posted June 15 2008 - 04:47 AM

An all-digital 13 screen theater opened in my area recently. Both the sound and focus are phenomenal. But when I saw The Happening last night, the projecter was skewed, and so everything was at a 10 degree angle.

I enjoy the quality, but it sometimes feels like watching a REALLY big screen TV instead of a film.

#3 of 63 Leo Kerr

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Posted June 15 2008 - 07:07 AM

there are several problems with trying to "standardize" sound levels.

1. A "seat" in the auditorium is designed to have the absorption characteristics of 33% of an average human. An empty house will be much "louder" than a full house. Or, a full house will be much quieter. Take your pick.

2. As long as there are power-amplifiers accessible anywhere, the volumes will.. vary as different people monkey with the controls.

3. Studios themselves aren't particularly consistant about how they master things - look at trailers and advertisements, often vastly louder than the features.

As far as "maintenance" of the picture, well, digital "prints" won't degrade as fast as the film-based ones. (I've heard that officially, a print is only supposed to be projected about 100 times.) But what about the rest of the equipment? DLP pixels do fail over time. LCoS panels do degrade over time. Don't even mention transmissive LCD, even with the inorganic panels. Prism blocks fail; and lamps still need to be replaced on time.

Some projectors are more expensive than others. Some have much higher maintenance costs than others. And some theater operators are cheaper than others.

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#4 of 63 Edwin-S

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Posted June 15 2008 - 11:06 AM

The first thing theatre owners could do is actually bring back real projectionists into a lot of these theaters, instead of having undertrained, poorly paid ticket takers and concession stand helpers operating the equipment. On Kung Fu Panda, I could swear the vertical framing was out. The tops of heads were being cut off and the end credits had the top half of titles being cut off by the top edge of the screen.

The second thing theatre owners could do is make sure that their sound equipment actually works. I remember recently watching a film where the sound appeared to be coming from only the front, right hand speaker. The theater I go to is not that old, so broken sound equipment should be non-existent.

Studios should make sure that they produce high quality prints. I cannot believe how blurry some of the shots look in these prints. Close ups do not look out of focus, but a lot of long and medium shots seem to lack a lot of detail. Kung Fu Panda is a good example: close ups looked good, but a lot of scenes with "wide" shots looked like you were looking through a window coated with gelatin. On a CG animated film like KFP, scenes shouldn't be detailess, blurry messes. I know my eyes aren't as good as they used to be, but.....WOW......the PQ of KFP was abysmal.

Edit: Added a comment that came to mind immediately after posting.
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#5 of 63 DaveF

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Posted June 15 2008 - 11:29 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Edwin-S
The first thing theatre owners could do is actually bring back real projectionists into a lot of these theaters, instead of having undertrained, poorly paid ticket takers and concession stand helpers operating the equipment. On Kung Fu Panda, I could swear the vertical framing was out. The tops of heads were being cut off and the end credits had the top half of titles being cut off by the top edge of the screen.
A friend gave me the nickel tour of the theater she manages. I was amazed to learn that a single, open projection "booth" spans all the screens. One, perhaps two, people manage the projectors for all 12 screens at this particular multiplex (one of the big chains). And they are consistently watching all the projectors; there's a good deal of auto-pilot involved. And the manager checks on it periodically. My understanding is that they have trained projectionists: it's not the popcorn kid also doing the movies. But costs are cut by minimizing the labor required for the job.

As for digital projection: there are no prints to wear out and no reels to splice correctly. No physical audio tracks to wear out, lose tracking and drop to stereo from surround. But, as observed, all the basics remains. Simple framing and focus problems are not cured by this. Damaged screens won't go away. Futzy audio connections and blown-out speakers will remain.

It seems it should be an improvement, but no panacea.

#6 of 63 Jonesy

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Posted June 17 2008 - 04:30 AM

It's easier to screw up film than digital projection, but when done right, film looks better.

If you are worried about the future of theaters and quality control:
  • Support the better cinemas in your area, even if it means driving a little farther. If it's a fantastic theatre, buy some concessions.
  • Tell others (and take them) to the better theatres. Spread the word! Write reviews of them in the "best theatres" sticky thread at the top of this forum.
  • Complain politely but firmly if there is a problem.
Jonesy
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#7 of 63 Malcolm R

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Posted June 17 2008 - 05:12 AM

I'd hope there's some kind of improvement in the future. Last weekend I sat thru a double feature of "Prince Caspian" and "Iron Man" in two different auditoriums. Both sounded like the sound was coming from one of those little box speakers at an old drive-in, no surround at all and mostly mono. This is a fairly new theater that supposedly has Dolby Digital in all auditoriums. But this sound issue has been a repeating occurrence with this theater.

I really like the people and popcorn at this theater, and it's in a nicer location, but I think I'll have to start going to the other area theater that has DTS. I've never had a bad presentation there.
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#8 of 63 Jon Lidolt

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Posted June 17 2008 - 05:22 AM

After seeing what the picture looks like at my new local AMC, I cast my vote for digital over film. All 24 auditoriums are equipped with Sony 4K projectors and the images on their giant screens truly have to be seen to be appreciated. Nothing is shown even slightly out of focus, out of frame or in the wrong ratio. This way I don't have to wait for the Blu-ray to see what the movie really looks like.

#9 of 63 ThomasC

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Posted June 17 2008 - 06:05 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Lidolt
After seeing what the picture looks like at my new local AMC, I cast my vote for digital over film. All 24 auditoriums are equipped with Sony 4K projectors and the images on their giant screens truly have to be seen to be appreciated. Nothing is shown even slightly out of focus, out of frame or in the wrong ratio. This way I don't have to wait for the Blu-ray to see what the movie really looks like.
That all still depends on maintainance. I remember watching The Interpreter in an 24-screen AMC multiplex a few weeks after the release, and the film print and presentation was perfect. In my experience, AMC knows what it's doing, at least in the Columbus area, except for the older multiplex with no stadium seating.

#10 of 63 Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 17 2008 - 06:06 AM

I may be in the minority, but I don't think digital is necessarily the answer or the cure-all. Digital does have advantages but it's not foolproof either, and when it comes down to it, most of the problems I experience at movie theaters have to do more with management not caring enough and less with the actual quality of the print itself.

For instance, I see movies misframed or poorly framed all the time. Doesn't matter if something is being shown on film or a digital projector, it can still be misframed. I don't remember which movie it was, but I saw a movie in digital that was supposed to have a 1.85:1 aspect ratio but was being cropped to fit a screen that was masked as 2.35:1. It was misframed because someone wasn't paying close enough attention, not because of the medium it was being presented on.

It's all about having properly trained people who are required/encouraged by management to do a top-notch job. The truth of the matter is also that any business will try to get away with the lowest cost/quality of service while charging the highest prices they can. How often do people complain if the sound quality isn't what it should be, if the movie is misframed, if a speaker is out? Sure, you grumble about it to the person sitting next to you, but the majority of people either don't notice, don't care, or are indifferent, and they're not complaining, which means theaters have no incentive to improve quality.

I'm the exception in that I will complain, but I'm not naive enough to believe that my puny little voice is enough to affect any changes here. But on the flip side of that, when I go to a couple of the independent theaters in my area and see a film properly presented, I try to take a minute or two to email or send a letter to the theater's management to let them know their efforts are appreciated.

Digital might make it easier to standardize further some aspects of exhibition, but at the end of the day, I think a good movie going experience technically has everything to do with the people running the theater and very little to do with what medium the movie is being shown on.

#11 of 63 ThomasC

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Posted June 17 2008 - 06:12 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Josh Steinberg
Digital might make it easier to standardize further some aspects of exhibition, but at the end of the day, I think a good movie going experience technically has everything to do with the people running the theater and very little to do with what medium the movie is being shown on.
Ditto. Great post, Josh. Posted Image

#12 of 63 Steve_Tk

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Posted June 17 2008 - 08:23 AM

When you guys say a "digital" theater opened in your area, does this mean HD theater? I recently had an HD theater open in my area and someone told me there are only about 10 in the nation? Is this true? I have not had a chance to go to it yet, because when i say my area, I meant about 30 miles away.

#13 of 63 ThomasC

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Posted June 17 2008 - 08:37 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve_Tk
When you guys say a "digital" theater opened in your area, does this mean HD theater? I recently had an HD theater open in my area and someone told me there are only about 10 in the nation? Is this true? I have not had a chance to go to it yet, because when i say my area, I meant about 30 miles away.
The "HD Theater" he's talking about is probably 4k projection. Wikipedia states that there are only a dozen theaters with Sony 4k projection equipment.

Digital cinema - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

#14 of 63 RobertR

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Posted June 17 2008 - 10:16 AM

Quote:
It's easier to screw up film than digital projection, but when done right, film looks better.
Agreed. When I saw KOTCS, I saw obvious computer stairstepping on titles. That screamed "it's video!" to me.

#15 of 63 NeilO

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Posted July 19 2008 - 05:51 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Josh Steinberg
most of the problems I experience at movie theaters have to do more with management not caring enough and less with the actual quality of the print itself.

For instance, I see movies misframed or poorly framed all the time. Doesn't matter if something is being shown on film or a digital projector, it can still be misframed. I don't remember which movie it was, but I saw a movie in digital that was supposed to have a 1.85:1 aspect ratio but was being cropped to fit a screen that was masked as 2.35:1. It was misframed because someone wasn't paying close enough attention, not because of the medium it was being presented on.
I just came back from seeing Hellboy II and I was quite confused. It seems that it was not properly framed or something weird was going on. Throughout the whole movie I could see about one foot or more of movie above and below the screen frame. You could see part of light scenes distorted on the ceiling. Anyone have any idea what was actually going on? How do I tell them what is wrong and how to fix it?

Note that during the previews they started with Hamlet 2 and it was quite stretched out for a few seconds then they brought curtains in from the left and right and corrected that. I can't remember whether all the previews fit on the screen or not.

Thanks,

Neil

#16 of 63 Malcolm R

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Posted July 19 2008 - 01:49 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by NeilO
I just came back from seeing Hellboy II and I was quite confused. It seems that it was not properly framed or something weird was going on. Throughout the whole movie I could see about one foot or more of movie above and below the screen frame. You could see part of light scenes distorted on the ceiling. Anyone have any idea what was actually going on? How do I tell them what is wrong and how to fix it?

Note that during the previews they started with Hamlet 2 and it was quite stretched out for a few seconds then they brought curtains in from the left and right and corrected that. I can't remember whether all the previews fit on the screen or not.

Thanks,

Neil
When I saw "Signs" in the theater years ago, it was framed incorrectly because boom mikes were visible throughout the film. I complained, but they said it was set up exactly as it was supposed to be. Apparently they thought M.Night screwed up and framed his movie wrong. Posted Image

I thought the ratio for HB2 was very narrow. I almost felt like it was 1.66, but it was probably 1.85. There was some overlap on my screen too, but not as drastic as you describe.

I don't know the technical details of projection, but it sounds like there was a gate or something that they forgot to close up on your screening, to mask the top and bottom of the frame so it wouldn't project on the ceiling and such.
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#17 of 63 Douglas Monce

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Posted July 21 2008 - 03:27 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveF
A friend gave me the nickel tour of the theater she manages. I was amazed to learn that a single, open projection "booth" spans all the screens. One, perhaps two, people manage the projectors for all 12 screens at this particular multiplex (one of the big chains). And they are consistently watching all the projectors; there's a good deal of auto-pilot involved. And the manager checks on it periodically. My understanding is that they have trained projectionists: it's not the popcorn kid also doing the movies. But costs are cut by minimizing the labor required for the job.

As for digital projection: there are no prints to wear out and no reels to splice correctly. No physical audio tracks to wear out, lose tracking and drop to stereo from surround. But, as observed, all the basics remains. Simple framing and focus problems are not cured by this. Damaged screens won't go away. Futzy audio connections and blown-out speakers will remain.

It seems it should be an improvement, but no panacea.


When I was a projectionist, we had one booth with 8 projectors (it was an 8 screen house) We had dedicated projectionists, but one projectionist was handling those 8 projectors.

Honestly with a platter system that is not too big a job for one guy. I would typically go around to each screen about every 15 min and just check the focus and sound. I would also typically do one auditorium check of all 8 screens each night at the start of my shift.

I'm not sure I would be comfortable with one projectionist for some of these places that have 25 or more screens however.

Doug
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#18 of 63 Douglas Monce

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Posted July 21 2008 - 03:30 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertR
Agreed. When I saw KOTCS, I saw obvious computer stairstepping on titles. That screamed "it's video!" to me.

That was probably an 1080p resolution DLP projector. Most theaters now use those for the pre-film advertisements, but some are still calling them "DIGITAL PROJECTION" in spite of them being not much better than what you can get at home.

Doug
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#19 of 63 Douglas Monce

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Posted July 21 2008 - 03:37 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by NeilO
I just came back from seeing Hellboy II and I was quite confused. It seems that it was not properly framed or something weird was going on. Throughout the whole movie I could see about one foot or more of movie above and below the screen frame. You could see part of light scenes distorted on the ceiling. Anyone have any idea what was actually going on? How do I tell them what is wrong and how to fix it?

Note that during the previews they started with Hamlet 2 and it was quite stretched out for a few seconds then they brought curtains in from the left and right and corrected that. I can't remember whether all the previews fit on the screen or not.

Thanks,

Neil

It sounds like the film was not framed correctly and you were seeing above the 1.85:1 top line in an area that was not intended to be seen.

Films shot for 1.85:1 are actually shot full frame (like old 4X3 movie) and then a mask is used in the projector to cut the top and bottom of the frame off to get he wider aspect ratio. So in this case the film was either framed too low, or the wrong aperture plate was put in the projector. The 1.37:1 plate that is normally used for Anamorphic films might have accidentally been left in.

Doug
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#20 of 63 Russell G

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Posted July 21 2008 - 04:45 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Edwin-S
The first thing theatre owners could do is actually bring back real projectionists into a lot of these theaters, instead of having undertrained, poorly paid ticket takers and concession stand helpers operating the equipment..

I completely agree. Saw "HELLBOY 2" this weekend with the same problem of having the top and bottom over projected. I knew the guy who used to be the projectionist, they cut them all back so they didn't have to pay them. now they basically just go in, do a set up, and leave it to the theaters to run the films. It's a real shame.


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