There has been a lot of talk lately about eliminating the projection booth and moving the projector into the auditorium. It’s the kind of idea that architects love to play with. If you’re not familiar with the concept of hanging a projector from a hoist, it’s worth taking a look at the Elifts site. Eliminating the projection booth can open up ceilings and give the architect more room to play with. But there are considerations one should take into account before tossing out the projection booth in your next build.
Maintenance, noise, and flexibility are issues that come to mind. Digital projectors require substantial exhaust, as with film lamp houses, and systems must be attended to when problems arise. What may not be obvious is that, as time goes on, more and more electronics associated with the screen projection system will go into the physical projector itself. For example, the MikroM 4K media block introduced at CinemaCon has a System-On-a-Chip (SOC) option which can run the entire server. It won’t be long before someone adds audio processing. The reason more and more electronics will merge into the projector is simply due to Moore’s Law. Deeper integration of functions will be possible because more powerful chips will allow it. It’s one of the evolutionary methods for reducing system costs.
Flexibility in an emergency should be considered. If you have a booth and a screen goes down, there’s the option to roll in a neighboring system to get back on the air, while shifting down time to a lower revenue auditorium. That might be easier said than done, but it’s an option, and it could save the day if opening a blockbuster.
3-D adds to the complexity of the problem. Cameron’s demos at CinemaCon all used two projectors to get image brightness up. The brightness problem only gets worse as frame rate increases. Laser light sources could possibly add brightness to a single projector, but if one listens to Barco, there are unacceptable light losses when laser light is distributed over fiber optic cable. So this also points to caution if considering elimination of the booth.
But here’s the clincher. The advantage of eliminating the projection booth is a one-time reduction of building cost. Since the booth space is normally built on top of corridor and concession areas, it’s questionable as to how many seats are really added by its elimination. There’s also the fact that office space and an equipment room are still needed, which, if on the ground floor, could reduce seat count. If not adding seats, then there’s no benefit in revenue generation. So the potential to increase long term revenue is questionable, and that has to be weighed against potential revenue loss when a maintenance issue arises, or when flexibility is limited as new formats are introduced.
But then, there’s always the early adopter who’ll do it simply for the cool factor. After all, that’s how digital cinema started.