3-D high frame rate projection was featured at ShowEast. Notably, the only ones talking about it were the manufacturers. Neither Cameron nor any other director was on-hand to entice exhibitors into the upgrade. No panel discussions were held. No seminars.
A few months ago, it was explained to SMPTE by a Warners exec that a study effort was needed for high frame rates, and that it couldn’t take place fast enough. The study effort was formed, SMPTE management quickly set up the email reflector and calendar. But not one email has been sent. Not one meeting or conference call has been scheduled. The inactivity appears to be due to a combination of leadership issues combined with a lack of appropriate funding to stage the extensive tests required.
In the meantime, Christie Digital stopped just short of announcing in the press that it invented high frame rate projection. Christie has made it well known that it offers a software upgrade to enable high frame rate 3-D in its projectors. But it failed to take note of the fact that the software upgrade was provided by TI, and that all TI licensees offer it. Taking a more productive step, Christie staged a live high frame rate broadcast at ShowEast with satellite broadcaster IDC.
The only public demonstration of movie-grade high frame rate 3-D material was from Barco and Dolby, who jointly presented 48fps 3-D and 60fps 3-D using a single media block and projector. The media block was from Mikrom, in Berlin, who is slated to supply Dolby’s first IMB. The 48fps and 60fps 3-D content was encoded at an impressive 450Mb/sec bit rate. Barco gave this presentation with no pitch to buy, and with free beer. High frame rates were also discussed during the ICTA presentations at ShowEast, but only as an educational topic, and not as product pitches. There were no demonstrations of high frame rate 3-D at the ICTA event.
(Readers will want to hear that the images encoded at the 450Mb/sec rate looked good. But without the ability to compare different clips at higher and lower bit rates, it’s not possible to draw a conclusion from this demo as to whether 450Mb/sec is enough.)
Exhibitors are slowly figuring out that their Series 1 projectors won’t be able to do it, and that none of their outboard servers can do it. Some manufacturers are showing sensitivity about this. Not all projection systems will be able to play high frame rates, and no distributor will limit the footprint of a movie to a technology. Even 3-D movies play in 2-D cinemas. Notably, early adopters, including entire cinema chains, won’t have the right gear. The high frame rate pitch is for those in the market for new equipment. Give it to those who invested as recently as six months ago, and the result will be not-so-happy customers. Unlike “normal” 3-D, the lineal frame rate required of high frame rate 3-D is not supported by the DCI spec. In practical terms, it means that the exhibitor can’t simply buy “add-on” technology to enable the feature. This is a major distinction of high frame rate technology from DCI-supported 48fps 3-D.
As exhibitors get used to thinking that their projectors are like iPads, with a new model having new capabilities always on the horizon, the question that remains is what was DCI thinking when it sent out a questionnaire to manufacturers to further examine high frame rate-capable equipment? The story is probably as simple as the desire of Wendy Aylsworth, then chair of the DCI Technology Committee, whose studio is saddled with distributing “The Hobbit” in high frame rate 3-D, to learn and share the information privately among her peers. That’s not the sexy twist you’ll hear from the manufacturers, who fantasize that the DCI spec will change, but it’s more likely to be the truth.