Do movie theaters 'compress' and 'level' sound?

Discussion in 'Home Theater Projects' started by Kenneth Harden, Jan 8, 2006.

  1. Kenneth Harden

    Kenneth Harden Screenwriter

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    Saw King King today. Picture was focused, no laser pointers or cell phones, and the sound was 'fine'. Nice movie, but anyway.

    I really wonder, do (some) movie theaters process their sound from what comes on the reel? The sound at the theater was clear, clean, and accurate, but compared to my home systems, something seems different.

    For one, loud is never really loud. Some of the loud parts of the movie just didn't seem to get loud (is was certainly not mechanical limitations of the amps or speakers, no distortion or compression). Do they run a cap or compressor of some sort to keep the peaks from pushing the system? Sounds like a awesome way to use smaller speakers and amps in a big theater without blowing them or causing distortion to the audience. When Kong roared, it just was not impressive, just 'ROAR'...

    Also, the quiet parts seemed a bit louder and the loud parts a bit quieter - might be a result of the first thing, but it seemed like there was not a lot of dynamics in the film.

    At home, peaks in the film are LOUD, they are a lot louder than the regular stuff, and it is still clean (big speakers, big amps, and proper setup/calibration). In the theater, it just doesn't seem to be as dynamic.

    In this theater, I have no doubt it was setup by an engineer and nothing has been messed with - everything was dialed in very well.

    Any insight?

    Thanks!
     
  2. rob-h

    rob-h Second Unit

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    I think everybody feels like that. I went to the theater with my nephew and al he said afterwards was "It's not the same......its just not he same." This was the day after he watched 2 movies in my home theater. It's hard to drag my wife to the movies now. She just wants to wait till the come out on DVD. She is a HUGE movie nut so thats saying something.
     
  3. Kenneth Harden

    Kenneth Harden Screenwriter

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    I'm not folling the meaning of your first line - as you saying it is, or it just feels like that? I know it cartainly was not as dynamic as my cheap Pioneer/JBL HLS speakers, let alone my big Klipsch system.

    The theater I was in was nearly 500 seats. According to JBL/Crown, adding subwoofers (I am sure it did not have any) would cost somewhere on the order of $15,000 (calls for 4, dual 18" bins and amps for each). That is a lot, especially with 16 screens! However, it would seem on the same note, getting away with the next bracket down in speakers and amps could yeild the same savings. Saving $10k per theater is $160,000 in savings, saving $30k per theater (lets say no subs and smaller speakers/amps with compressors) would mean almost a HALF MILLION in savings.
     
  4. Scott Simonian

    Scott Simonian Screenwriter

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    I think what is happening is that the overall playback level has dropped. More people complain about loud playback at the movies so they (movie houses) lower the volume. Now to make sure the quieter stuff isn't lost, [rant]some sort of dynamic compression is enabled.[/rant] This is what we are all hearing.
     
  5. JohanD

    JohanD Stunt Coordinator

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    Ah, the greatness of HT. You control the volume.

    It does seem like theaters have quieted down over time..
     
  6. Kenneth Harden

    Kenneth Harden Screenwriter

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    Again, its not the VOLUME, but the dynamics.
     
  7. Mattak

    Mattak Stunt Coordinator

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    Is your observation with respect to the entire frequency range or a more limited range?
     
  8. Kenneth Harden

    Kenneth Harden Screenwriter

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    There was not a lot of difference between people talking - and sounds during the climatic scenes - it was like TV speakers, everything is about the same level. Nothing to really do with the frequencies.

    No sounds really made you 'jump' - the sound was not 'alive'
     
  9. Scott Simonian

    Scott Simonian Screenwriter

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    I "ranted" out the key note in my last post.
     
  10. Kenneth Harden

    Kenneth Harden Screenwriter

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    That makes sense.

    I also think from a business perspective, being able to use smaller speakers in a bigger theater would be a huge plus.
     

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