The future of IMAX: Laser projectors, smaller cameras, and more movies

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Courtesy Yahoo

March 25 is going to be a big day for superhero movie buffs. It’s the opening of Batman v. Superman, the first time those characters have ever appeared together in a live-action movie. (It will also be the first feature-movie appearances of Wonder Woman and Aquaman.)

It’s a big movie, opening on 30,000 screens worldwide, in every format known to box-office humanity: 2D, 3D, 4DX, and IMAX 3D.

Filmmakers use a huge camera containing huge spools of a film (or huge hard drives for digital video) to capture video that projects into really huge screens.

In the old days, you’d see 40-minute IMAX nature movies at science museums. These days, IMAX is a way to get people out of their home theatres and into real theatres to see big-budget blockbuster movies on enormous screens with unbelievable resolution.

To celebrate the opening of Batman v. Superman (and to scratch a few curiosity itches of my own), I recently spoke with Brian Bonnick, the chief technology officer of IMAX, to talk about the technology.

David Pogue: Is IMAX still that gigantic-format film and those gigantic cameras?

Brian Bonnick: Actually, it’s changed like you wouldn’t believe.

The film-based projectors haven’t really changed a whole lot. They got better and a little bit cheaper, but in their core design, they didn’t really change.

But we moved over to digital [in 2008], and that’s gone through multiple iterations. We’re constantly updating the computers powering the systems. They’ve become more and more powerful, which means that we can do more things with it.

Recently, we launched our laser projection system — a ground-up development of a next-generation system utilizing lasers.

Most of the other players out there use laser illumination as a way to improve brightness. That’s great. But we were trying to address three key problems that plague digital projectors: lack of brightness, lack of contrast, and lack of sharpness.

This all tied back to the prism. The light bounces into this prism and bounces off of three chips to create the red, blue, and green pixels. But now you’ve got this stray light hitting each of these chips. That degrades the image contrast quite a bit.

So we threw away the prism. We incorporated what we call a frame design. Instead of having these chips mounted to a chunk of glass, we mounted them on a frame in the right positions. By removing the glass, we got rid of any cross-reflection, so our contrast took a giant jump upwards.

And then, by going with this open frame, we use invar [a nickel-iron alloy], one of the most thermally stable materials on the planet. So while we still have expansion and contraction, all of the components expand and contract at the same rate relative to one another. Combined with changes to the optics of the system and our own custom designed lenses, we are getting unbelievably sharp images on the screen. In my opinion, it now exceeds that of what used to be the world benchmark, which was IMAX 15/70 film.

We use dual projectors. One of the artifacts that all digital projectors have is the “screen-door effect,” which is where you see the little black lines between the pixels. The dual-projector system immediately cuts that down 50%.

2 COMMENTS

  1. .. Image projection technology is always evolving , hopefully quickly get this technology to Indonesia . I as moviegoers certainly do not want to fall behind with consumers in countries – developed countries . Regards. Sewa Bandung

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