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Alamo now rocks cutting edge digital 3D!

The day before Christmas Alamo technical guru Andrew McEathron and I got on a plane to Los Angeles for a side-by-side comparison of digital technologies.  We've been toying around with the idea of a digital conversion for years, but frankly, we weren't thrilled by what we had seen to date with the standard digital cinema projectors.  Word in the nerd circles, however, was that Sony's new system had been blowing the doors off the competition in side by side tests, and that's what we were flying to LA on Christmas Eve to see.

I'm going to get a bit technical here on the details...  In 2005, the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI), a joint venture of the six major studios published a system specification for digital cinema.  Among other things, they established a minimum standard of "2K" resolution at 2048x1536 pixels, a little bit less than twice the horizontal pixel count of home HD televisions.  Until this Friday, that is as crisp as you could see in Austin. Furthermore, the 3D process for 2K resolution left a little to be desired.  Constrained by the native resolution of the projector, 2k digital 3D flashes a left eye image and then a right eye image to give the illusion that the images are being projected simultaneously.  Some viewers have complained of a flickering quality to the light, a lack of brightness and eye strain.

Intent on being the industry technology leader, Sony developed a 4K digital cinema system with a native resolution of 4096x3072 pixels.  That's four times as many pixels as the DCI digital standard used by everyone in Austin (until this Friday!).  Also, at the end of last month, Sony announced it's partnership with RealD, the industry leader in 3D technology.  This is the first digital cinema system that uses two dedicated lenses to simultaneously project the right eye and left eye images. It's the first truly 3D digital experience and the brightness and clarity improvement are striking.

That's it for the technical bit.  Now back to Los Angeles.  Within 45 minutes of landing in LA, Andrew and I were whisked into a screening room which had two projectors running simultaneously, one a top of the line 2K projector, professionally tuned by a third party installer, and the other a Sony 4K digital machine.   We watched still images, movie trailers, action sequences, 2K content interpolated up to 4K, and also the Lawrence of Arabia 4K digital restoration.

The magic number for this test was "2 screen heights from the screen".  If we sat closer to the screen than that, we could see in the 2k image: pixelation, weird digital patterns in areas of complex detail and jagged edges in the quick action/motion scenes.  The difference in quality with the 4k projector was stunning.  All of the 2k issues disappeared.  I could only see pixels if my face was immediately in front of the screen, step back 2 feet and the pixels disappeared.   At several of our screens at the Alamo, "2 screen heights from the screen" comprises half of the auditorium.

After the test, our minds were made up.   Sony had finally delivered a system that we could accept and could bring to our audiences with pride.  We are extremely excited to be bringing to Austin the new standard in digital presentation.  The new Sony 4K digital experience rolls out on all four screens this Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, and one one screen, you will get to see the new standard in Digital 3D with Monsters Vs. Aliens.  This is the first installation of it's kind in Austin and only the second in Texas.  We are also in the first wave of national rollout for the RealD 4K 3D system.

We will still be keeping a 35mm film projector at Village for special repertory events, but starting this Friday, all first run features at the Village will be presented digitally.  And not just digitally, my friends, the best dang digital that money can buy!

Tim League
Founder
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

News Categories: General News, Austin

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