Laser projection promises fabulous image quality, longer service intervals and the potential to reduce cinemas’ operating costs. It’s going to be a game-changer for the industry, and at Sony we’re exploring the exciting possibilities of this new and as-yet unproven technology. Get a glimpse of the future with an exclusive look at Sony’s 4K laser roadmap.
Lighting up tomorrow’s cinema screens
Cinema owners are discussing the potential for a new generation of projectors that use a laser light source.
A few manufacturers have tentatively announced plans for first-generation products. But today (January 2014) there are no commercially-available 4K laser projectors that meet DCI specifications – the benchmark for picture quality that every current Sony projector easily exceeds.
Compared with the traditional xenon lamp source found in today’s cinema projectors, laser promises some tempting benefits. Alongside consistently high brightness and a wide colour gamut, laser-based systems promise reduced running costs and reduced environmental impact.
In particular, the laser light source typically offers a longer operating life than conventional lamps. This is potentially as long as 10 years or more in normal commercial operation, compared with around 500-2,000 hours for xenon. Requiring less frequent replacement for effectively maintenance-free operation, this reduces the risk of ‘dark screen’ lamp failure and consequent lost revenues.
Sony Digital Cinema has been at the forefront of developments in laser from the beginning. As long ago as 2005, we demonstrated laser projector on a 50-foot screen in Japan. Then in 2012, we showed the viability of High Frame Rate 3D projection with a laser light source, using advanced de-speckling technology for high-quality images on a silver screen.
Tackling the technology challenge
The future looks very bright for laser projection. Nonetheless, there are some big challenges facing this as-yet unproven technology. Delivering high on-screen brightness levels from a laser light source isn’t easy. Cutting-edge semiconductor laser diode technology is still expensive, pushing the price of real-world hardware beyond most cinemas’ budgets. Other systems are under development that use fibre optic cabling. To date these remain commercially prohibitive, consuming a lot of power and needing costly chilling to keep the hardware cool.
Aside from the technology itself, cinema operators have to negotiate some tricky hurdles that govern the use of any laser-based system in a public place. The updating of safety regulations is under discussion in the many world regions. Today, however, strict laws still place the onus on exhibitors to obtain governmental approval before operating any laser projection system.
Getting ready for a bright future
At Sony we’re developing what will be a new generation of 4K cinema projectors. We’ll introduce these products to the market when the time is right. And certainly not any time soon, when the technology – and the business case for our customers – makes laser a compelling alternative to today’s proven solutions.
Sony already has a market-leading portfolio of (non-laser) 4K products in the marketplace right now, with a clear roadmap for years to come. So while you’re thinking about the future, ask yourself one important question. What do you have to gain by taking significant commercial risks with an unproven first-generation laser product from another manufacturer?
With today’s technology, Sony 4K already sets the world standard for brightness, efficiency, running costs, picture quality and support. And when we do bring DCI-compliant laser products to market – when the time is right – we’ll be raising the bar yet again.
Leading the industry with LIPA
Sony is a principal member of the Laser Illuminated Projector Association). Alongside other manufacturers and interested cinema industry parties, we’re actively working on the adoption of laser projection in the cinema industry, from both a technical and regulatory point of view.