Really High-Def Cinemas

There’s an entertainment arms race that’s been underway just about as long as there has been television. The challenge has been for the movies to offer a better experience than you can get in your living room, in order to entice you to part with your cash in order to watch a movie at your local cinema. Color gave movies an advantage for a while, and then it was multitrack sound. Then it was the widescreen, immersive viewing experience. But now we’ve got big, widescreen flat panel TVs and home theater surround systems that rival anything that the theaters could produce. Yes, theaters are now having some success with 3D movies, but it is likely that once this reaches a critical mass, demand will pull it into our living rooms. (Many rear projection TVs are already equipped for 3D images, so it’s already available in many homes.)

So what can theaters do next to gain an edge? AMC Entertainment thinks that the answer lies in pixels; lots of them. Last week, the company made a joint announcement with Sony Electronics to convert all 4,628 screens in 309 theaters across North America to digital projection systems. And these are not the typical “2K” systems that you find in most digital cinemas these days. Those have a resolution of 2,048 by 1,080 pixels (just slightly wider than a 1080p HDTV). Instead, these new projectors will have “4K” resolution: 4,096 by 2,160 pixels. That’s four times the resolution of a 2K cinema display. And that added detail will result in breathtaking detail that you’re not going to get at home.

Where’s the content coming from? Sony Pictures Entertainment has already committed to shooting most of their productions using 4K technology. Sony also is developing a complete line of digital 4K cinematography production equipment. This higher resolution is a future-proofing choice by AMC, which should help them keep a step ahead of the average home entertainment system.

Now if the cinema owners could just do something about the cell phones ringing and audience members talking through the movies, that would be a major accomplishment.