Christie introduces world’s first 4K 60 fps projectors

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UPDATE: These projectors are actually part of Christie’s Pro AV series; intended for business and large screen applications, not for the cinema. Don Shaw, Christie’s Senior Director of Product Management, explains:

These are not cinema projectors… they are actually intended for our ProAV markets.

With that said, they have similar light engines and optical characteristics as a cinema projector, but totally different electronics that are not compatible with cinema security protocols and movie playback equipment.

As a stretch, you may be able to use them in film post-production, but only for unencrypted content; perhaps for reviewing dailies and for DI processing.

So although 4K HFR in the the movie theater is still beyond the horizon for now it’s encouraging that projector light engines, optics, and data storage / transfer are good to go in terms of 4K HFR.  Now we just need to wait for exhibitors and motion picture engineers to provide updated theatrical distribution protocols and infrastructure.

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Christie Digital has announced the world’s first 60 fps capable 4K (4096 x 2160) projectors: the Christie D4K2560 and D4K3560.

“Christie is the only manufacturer providing full 4K (4096 x 2160) resolution at 60 Hz and the reliability and image clarity of 3-chip DLP® all in one package. Both projectors are a quantum leap forward in video image processing and a breakthrough in high frame rate and high resolution video projection,” said Mike Garrido, senior product manager, Business Products, Christie.

The projectors, which replace the Christie D4K25 and D4K35, are available now for pre-order. They are priced at $125,000 for the 25,000-lumen DK2560 and $161,000 for the 35,000-lumen D4K3560, according to Engadget.

It’s great that Christie has pushed the boundaries with these projectors, but this announcement may be only one piece of the puzzle that has to be completed before we get to watch even 4K 2D movies at 48 or 60 fps.  Christie Senior Director of Product Management Don Shaw told me back in January that the infrastructure for handling such high bandwidth doesn’t yet exist, and may not arrive for quite a while:

“A 4K HFR [3D] projector would require up to 4X the input bandwidth of our current cinema projectors (up to 120 fps total)… this would be a forklift upgrade (i.e. new projector) and the reality is that none of the current cinema infrastructure (IMBs, servers, routers, content delivery systems, etc) can handle this bandwidth. It will be a long time before we see 4K HFR in theaters and we currently have no plans for building such a projector for general Cinema usage.”

Maybe things have changed since January?  At least, maybe infrastructure capable of feeding a single 60 hz 4K projector now exists.  If this is the case, I’d imagine a theater could achieve 4K HFR 3D by having two of everything (server, IMB, etc).  Such a setup would be quite expensive, but wouldn’t it be cool if a few select cinemas show The Desolation of Smaug in glorious 4K 48 fps 3D?

Editorial: The movie industry needs 4K projectors that are capable of 3D and HFR

4KOne thing I learned from my interview with Christie Digital’s Don Shaw is that projecting HFR 3D (48 fps or 60 fps) at 4K resolution would not only require a “forklift upgrade” to the projectors, but that the rest of the ecosystem (servers, integrated media blocks, routers, and content delivery systems) are nowhere near ready to handle the massive bandwidth required for 4K HFR 3D. In other words, as of now 4K HFR 3D is not in the near future.

But what about 3D projection at 4K resolution at standard (24 fps) frame rates?  You might be surprised to hear that even this is impossible for now without two separate 4K projectors.  And of course the great majority of theaters who have sprung for 4K projectors don’t have the budget to purchase two 4K projectors for each cinema screen to enable 4K 3D.

The lack of a suitably fast 4K projector is also hurting IMAX.  I’ve been to a good number of IMAX Digital shows over the past 3 years, and in all but one instance I’ve suffered through a very pixellated image; the widely known “screen door effect” of seeing the spaces between the pixels.  IMAX Digital uses overlapped 2K images and some kind of IMAX special sauce to increase brightness, but it is crystal clear that a 2K image is hugely insufficient when stretched over the larger screen sizes of even the smaller (compared to real, 70 mm IMAX screens) IMAX venues.

For a company that prides itself in providing the very best in terms of audio and visual presentation, you may think it ridiculous that IMAX doesn’t use 4K projectors for their digital presentations. And they may have a good reason in that 4K projectors capable of even standard frame rate 3D don’t yet exist. But of course IMAX could simply purchase two 4K projectors for each of their screens, and it’s a valid criticism to point out that they aren’t already doing this.  Even using a single 4K projector would be an improvement over IMAX’s current setup as it would cut down on the screen door effect even if the source image is only 2K.

With 4K “Ultra HD” TV sets making a big splash at CES this year the movie industry simply has to up their game in order to continue to offer people a viable reason to leave their homes to see a movie.  We need 4K projectors with high bandwidth and commensurately powered integrated media blocks, servers, and content delivery systems. If the images we see at the theater can’t even match the resolution of the TVs we have at home, then that is a pathetic situation.

Interview: Don Shaw of Christie answers HFR 3D projector questions; talks future of HFR, collaborations, new demo

The hype surrounding The Hobbit‘s 48 fps release has naturally generated numerous questions about the technology behind HFR 3D and the future of high frame rate movies. There’s a lot of murky information out there, and answers regarding the details of HFR projection have been in short supply.

I’m therefore very happy to have had the chance to talk to Don Shaw, Senior Director of Product Management at Christie Digital, the company that has been the biggest trailblazer regarding HFR 3D projection. Don is someone who knows digital projection technology inside and out and has been at the forefront of Christie’s HFR initiatives.  See below for details on Christie’s HFR projectors, collaborations with filmmakers, the HFR marketplace, future upgrades, and more:

James Cameron and 3 Christie executives at CinemaCon 2011, where Cameron used Christie projectors to show the first ever HFR cinema content to the world.

1) How do you expect industry projection standards to evolve? James Cameron seems to still be shooting for 60 fps 3D for the Avatar sequels, and is reportedly shooting them at 4K+. Do you think there is an ultimate “endpoint” for both resolution and frame rate for film projection? NHK in Japan is working on 8K capture and display and Douglas Trumbull has talked about making a 3D movie at 120 fps. How far ahead does Christie look in terms of it’s R&D?

Don Shaw: I think the industry projection standards will evolve rapidly over the next few years, but I’m not convinced that exhibitors can afford another large-scale technology evolution just yet, except in their “premium experience” theaters… these will be spectacular. We are actively engaged in research with James Cameron’s team, Peter Jackson’s Post House (Park Road Post), and directly with Douglas Trumbull on a number of frame-rate related initiatives. I can’t say much right now, but watch for an exciting HFR demo from Christie at the upcoming NAB and CinemaCon tradeshows.

2) Some of my readers are asking whether any digital projectors (or dual projector setups) are capable of showing a 48 fps 3D movie at 4K resolution (in other words, a 48 fps 3D movie where both the left and right eye images are at 4K). From my readings it seems no current projection systems from any company can project a movie at both 48 fps and in 4K due to bandwidth limitations either in the IMBs, the projectors, or both. Please correct me if I’m wrong. If 4K per eye at 48 fps / 60 fps is not yet possible for either single projectors or Christie Duo setups, what would be required to enable it? How soon could we expect it?

Don Shaw: You are absolutely correct, there are no cinema projectors capable of exceeding 30 fps (total) with 4K content for the precise reasons that you suggest below. That means that you would need two 4K projectors to play 4K 3D just at standard frame rates. Obviously, a 4K HFR projector would require up to 4X the input bandwidth of our current cinema projectors (up to 120 fps total)… this would be a forklift upgrade (i.e. new projector) and the reality is that none of the current cinema infrastructure (IMBs, servers, routers, content delivery systems, etc) can handle this bandwidth. It will be a long time before we see 4K HFR in theaters and we currently have no plans for building such a projector for general Cinema usage. With that said, all of our 4K projectors can take 2K HFR content (up to 60 fps/eye) and will upscale to 4K. While this does not produce as sharp of an image as a true 4K source, it does provide some additional benefit and also goes a long way to reducing the “screen-door effect” that is seen when you are close enough to the screen to perceive individual pixels.

3) What has been the demand from theater owners for HFR 3D capable projectors and Integrated Media Blocks (IMBs)?

Don Shaw: Demand for HFR 3D equipment had been solid among exhibitors (globally) leading up to the Hobbit. However, I think this will calm down over the upcoming months and will probably ramp up again when we next see another HFR film release.

4) Which Christie projector models are capable of projecting at 48 fps 3D?

Christie’s latest digital cinema projector – the Christie Solaria One – which comes with the pre-installed Christie IMB.

Don Shaw: All Christie Solaria projectors (CP2210, CP2220, CP2230, CP4220, CP4230, Solaria One/One+) are capable of HFR at 48/60 fps/eye, assuming that a suitable IMB is installed.

5) In terms of how Christie’s products are sold to theaters, are there any projectors which are sold with HFR 3D-enabling IMB’s pre-installed, or do theater owners purchase them separately?

Don Shaw: Currently, only the Solaria One/One+ projectors are shipped with a standard IMB. All of our other projectors have an option slot where one can be easily installed by the customer or their integration partner.

6) Will future Christie projectors have the software update required for HFR 3D pre-installed?

Don Shaw: All Christie cinema projectors currently have the HFR-enabling software installed at the factory. Also, any older Series 2 Solaria projectors in the field can be upgraded with the latest software free of charge. With that said, however, you still need an HFR capable IMB.

7) I read in this The Hollywood Reporter article that Christie has an upgrade program to make older “Series One” projectors HFR capable. Could you elaborate on this? The article didn’t really explain how this works. Has it been a popular solution for Series One owners?

Don Shaw: This is incorrect information, there is no way to upgrade a Series 1 projector to HFR. At one point we explored this notion, but after realizing the huge number of parts, including all of the electronics, that needed to be redesigned/replaced, we determined that it was simply a better option (technically and financially) for our customers to replace their entire projector with a Series 2 projector.

8) What was your personal response to seeing The Hobbit in HFR 3D?

Christie Duo configuration in use at Hoyts Australia and other theatres.

Don Shaw: I loved the effect of HFR 3D for the Hobbit… especially for all of the panning landscape and mountain range scenes that really helped the audience see something that was never before possible in a movie theater.

9) What do you think is the future of HFR? Will it be relatively niche, or will everything (from Youtube to TV to movies, etc) begin to adopt it as a standard?

Don Shaw: I can really only speak from a cinema perspective and I believe that the future will see growth in HFR. However, this will require effort from the entire movie ecosystem, including studios, exhibitors, filmmakers, and equipment suppliers; everyone needs to come together to ensure HFR always means a spectacular experience and then figure out how to really educate the audience about this, rather than just throw the 3-letter acronym at them.

10) Is Christie still working with James Cameron on HFR tech? Any updates on this collaboration?

Don Shaw: Yes, we continue to work with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment on HFR. Unfortunately, I have no further updates at this time.

11) If HFR at 4K isn’t in the near term future, is there anything you can say about what what Christie is working on for their upcoming products?

Don Shaw: We are focusing on three main areas:

a. High value solutions for small market cinemas and emerging market economies. As you know, with the looming end of film, all cinemas are being forced to go digital or shut out the lights; we are doing everything we can to help these guys out.

b. Total system solutions – ranging from IMB to TMS to audio processors and everything in between. We aim to become the only “total solution” cinema equipment manufacturer; leading to greater system integration, simplicity, enhanced support, and overall better value for the exhibitor.

c. Ultra-Premium cinema solutions (i.e. laser projection).

Many thanks to Don Shaw, and David Paolini at Christie for arranging this interview.

More about Christie: Christie Digital has been at the forefront of digital projection since the beginning: they helped spur the 3D revolution and are now pushing high frame rate tech forward.  As some of you may know, Christie partnered with James Cameron at CinemaCon 2011 to facilitate the presentation of footage (medieval feast and sword fighting) at 24 fps, 48 fps, and 60 fps. See this reaction from FirstShowing.net for a representative example of the universally positive response to Cameron’s demo.

In September 2011 Christie extended its partnership with Cameron with a five-year agreement to “exchange research, testing, development and technical support on the industry’s most exciting new technology.” This will include technical assistance from Christie in Avatar 2 and 3.