One 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.