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A reel lesson in theater technology

Channelside Cinemas’ Sony Cinema 4K digital projector, with a special RealD adaptor, brings top-notch 3D images to moviegoers.

Luis Santana/tbt*

Channelside Cinemas’ Sony Cinema 4K digital projector, with a special RealD adaptor, brings top-notch 3D images to moviegoers.

Digital. 3D. RealD. IMAX. These days, a trip to the movie theater requires a lesson in cinematic technology. Forget choosing a movie simply on the plot and stars, or even stadium seating. It's about the picture quality and overall movie-watching experience. Here's a primer.

What's so special about movies shown digitally?

Most major cineplexes have a few screens that show digital movies. Digital movies have better picture quality than traditional 35mm films and don't break mid-picture or sound scratchy. Digital movies are typically shipped to theaters on hard drives, resulting in cheaper shipping charges than movie reels.

Why don't theaters convert all their screens to digital?

Cost. Digital projectors can cost $75,000 to $80,000. For a chain with hundreds of theaters, that can add up quickly. Channelside Cinemas and the CineBistros in Hyde Park Village and Wesley Chapel are among the few area movie houses that have gone completely digitally.

What's up with 3D?

The huge success of Avatar put Hollywood in high gear to make more three-dimensional movies, which give the illusion of things jumping into your face. To show a 3D movie, theaters generally must have a digital projector with an adapter that projects two copies of the movie onto the screen in quick succession. One image gets processed by the left eye and the other one by the right eye.

What is an IMAX theater?

It's a premium theater with super-sized screen that offers better resolution and superb sound. Most local IMAX theaters can show 3D films. The IMAX at the Museum of Science and Industry is the area's only dome-shaped IMAX theater.

Does 3D need a special screen?

It depends. Theaters that use RealD, such as AMC and CineBistro, have silver-colored screens that reflect more light so you don't lose any contrast while wearing the polarized 3D glasses. Theaters that use a Dolby 3D system, including the Beacon 10 in Brooksville, can show 3D movies on a regular white screen.

Why charge more for 3D?

The entire 3D process, from making a movie to showing it in a theater, costs significantly more. Adding a few dollars to the ticket price — typically $2 to $4 — helps theaters recoup the extra costs.

Why do I have to wear glasses?

Films made in 3D are shot with two cameras or a special camera with two lenses. In the theater, the two versions are projected simultaneously. The eyeglass lenses filter the light and color waves so that one eye sees one copy and the other eye sees the other. The brain receives the two images and fuses them into one three-dimensional image. Without the glasses, the movie would look blurry.

What happens to the 3D glasses after they are worn?

Most theaters send them to a recycling center that cleans, sanitizes and repackages them for future use. A few theaters have commercial-grade dishwashers to clean the glasses on site.

What's playing in 3D now?

Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon, Clash of the Titans and Phish 3D.

What's coming soon in 3D?

Shrek Forever After (May 21) and Toy Story 3 (June 18)

What's the next big thing?

Look for more theaters to start receiving movies via satellite. This eliminates shipping costs and allows theaters to present live concerts and sporting events in 3D.

Sources: Patrick Corcoran at the National Association of Theatre Owners; Matt Pezzullo at Channelside Cinemas; David Audet, director of the Ybor Festival of the Moving Image; the International Cinema Technology Association; Wikipedia;

A reel lesson in theater technology 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 6:23pm]
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