If 2009 was TI’s year of blunders, 2010 is its year for making amends. Nancy Fares, former Manager for DLP Cinema, left TI for an executive opportunity in a niche semiconductor company, and Dave Duncan, former right-hand man to Doug Darrow, stepped up to fill the role. Dave’s new position is welcome news. He has great knowledge of the industry, and he’s well liked. And fortunately for Dave, TI has already made the hard decisions, and now has only to deliver.
Among the deliverables are open subtitle and captions in the Series 2 projector, both Interop and SMPTE distribution formats, and support for SMPTE 428-7 Subtitles in the Series 1 generation of projectors. These features are either in development or now being tested. Of course, the big ticket item will be the DLP Cinema 4K light engine, for which prototypes are due out end of this year.
While TI’s OEMs are having a difficult time meeting deliveries, there isn’t much TI can do about it. The backlogs are largely due to long lead times for optical components, and inadequate forecasting on the part of the OEMs.
Barco is one of three OEM suppliers of DLP Cinema projectors. Over the past year, the company stepped up to the plate by bringing in supplemental funding for Cinedigm’s deployment operations. Through KBC Bank NV, Barco has arranged a credit facility for Cinedigm of $8.9M. In addition, Barco is supplying all projectors for Cinemark, with a projector count of approximately 3700 units. When complete, Barco’s screen count should place it alongside Christie for the US market.
As with other DLP Cinema manufacturers, Barco is facing delivery problems for the Series 2 design.
Barco’s home office is in Kuurne, Belgium.
Christie is another of the three OEM suppliers of DLP Cinema projectors. Its digital projector division was purchased from Electrohome in 1999. Christie played its cards well in 2005 when scoring a partnership deal with Cinedigm (then AccessIT), providing vendor financing through Cinedigm’s Christie/AIX Phase 1 unit. This led to the present day installation count of over 5000 Christie projectors in the field, nearly 4000 of which were sold through Cinedigm. Christie also supplies projectors for IMAX screens, where it provides two electronically aligned digital 2K projectors per IMAX MPX screen, including IMAX’s digital 3-D screens.
The company operates a network operations center (NOC) for monitoring system health, and opened up a new enhanced facility for network monitoring in May. Christie also maintains a trained maintenance field staff for supporting not just its projectors, but for the entire digital cinema system, providing both NOC and maintenance support in Cinedigm’s Phase 1 installations.
It’s biggest challenges today is the delivery of Series 2 projectors. Christie appears to be hit hardest, with up to six months of delay in deliveries that customers are not accustomed to. Christie is also bringing up a new factory in China.
Christie is owned by Ushio of Japan. Ushio is diversified as a manufacturer of industrial light sources (Ushio is a major supplier of bulbs for cinema projectors) and automation machinery. Christie main manufacturing line and R&D center is in Kitchener, Ontario. It’s main sales office is in Cypress, California.
NEC Display Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of NEC Corporation, now is the home for NEC’s digital cinema product line. In the US, NEC sells to the theatre market through Ballantyne of Omaha (aka subsidiary Strong International). Ballantyne has sales rights in North America, South America, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
NEC has many resources, including its network and broadcast divisions, giving it the potential to build out additional products and services in the cinema market. NEC is rumored to be developing its own in-projector media block.
Whatever its resources, NEC made some smart moves over the past year. While its competition wrote it off as being in last place in the ramp up to the Series 2 design, it has outshone all in its ability to deliver Series 2 projectors to customers around the world.
Sony Electronics departs from other projector companies in that it utilizes an LCOS (Liquid Crystal On Silicon) display device, and not DLP. Sony is currently the only company on the market with a 4K projector, the maximum resolution allowed by the DCI specification. Sony projector sales and digital cinema deployment sales have combined under one roof, managed by Gary Johns, VP Digital Cinema Systems Division.
Sony’s fortunes in the cinema market may be facing several challenges in the coming years. As TI’s 4K technology wows exhibitors, Sony’s LCOS 4K may lose its shine. More troublesome is its commitment to digital cinema deployment deals and the required 10 years of warranty. Unlike TI’s DLP imaging array, Sony’s LCOS imaging array is unlikely to last 10 years. It could incur significant loses if having to replace projectors 5 years or so down the road. Such anticipated problems could lead to a repeat of its SDDS fiasco in the mid-90’s, when Sony senior management decided that it wasn’t making the margins needed in cinema, and shut down sales of its digital audio-for-film products.
A problem that Sony faces today is that of brightness for 3-D images. 3-D needs all the light that can be thrown at it when lighting up big screens. But Sony’s projector is only capable of 2/3 the light levels of a DLP Cinema projector. This has caused exhibitors such as Regal, who is otherwise committed to Sony, to deploy Barco projectors in its larger 3-D theatres.
For Sony the electronics giant, the push for 4K is part of a strategy that goes beyond its well-staffed cinema division. Sony wins even if TI populates the world with 4K projectors. A world of 4K projectors will generate the demand required to upgrade production workflows to 4K, and in turn, create demand for future 4K cameras. This is what brought Sony to 4K cinema. It’ll make more money selling high-margin 4K production equipment than it will in selling, financing, and maintaining, and warranty replacing 4K projectors. While it is in no position to pull out quickly, its longevity in cinema exhibition remains to be seen.