At the recent CinemaCon trade show, a panel of industry experts discussed advancements in laser light technology, along with the issues and hurdles which need to be overcome before laser projectors become mainstream for cinema and large-venue applications.
Laser projection promises to usher in a new era in immersive cinema, especially for 3D movies, where the chief complaint of viewers has been that they are too dark. Barco demonstrated a 55,000 lumen laser projector and the 3D portion of the demo was impressive. Past concerns with speckle have been put to rest as well. Representatives from Barco, Christie, NEC and Sony are all in agreement that speckle is a “non-issue” at this point. Laser projection technology has come of age. From a production standpoint, lasers are still cost prohibitive. Lasers are expensive to manufacture and desired economies of scale have not yet been reached. Each manufacturer is working with their partners and components manufacturers to meet the production cost targets needed to make laser projection a commercially viable reality.
Other hurdles will take longer to resolve. Government regulation is the big one. Currently laser and projector manufacturers are operating under a set of 35 year old guidelines – written by the FDA for rock concerts and laser light shows. These guidelines don’t really apply to lasers being developed for digital cinema projection, since the laser illumination is inside the lamp-house. The outputs of three primary-color lasers are combined to create a normal white light source similar to that produced by Xenon lamps. In other words, the laser technology is internal to the projector, with conventional light exiting the lens. But, the wheels of government move slowly and a blanket FDA approval may take some time.
Exhibitors are excited by the fact that Laser lamps are expected to last up to ten times longer than Xenon lamps, run cooler and more efficiently, and remain steady in brightness. But, they are worried about the expense of upgrading to laser projectors.
Projector market research firm Pacific Media Associates has been following the digital cinema market since theaters first began “going digital” and will continue to follow trends in this, and other projector markets.