Sony planning quad-HD digital cinema push

Martyn Williams
PC World
Thursday, April 26, 2007; 12:32 AM

Sony Corp. unveiled Wednesday a digital cinema projector that can display an image with four times the resolution of a high-definition picture across a 20-meter screen.

The projector, which was used earlier this month to project the "Spiderman 3" movie at its world premiere in Tokyo, is a giant. It stands more than 1.5 meters high, is 1.4 meters deep and 74 centimeters wide and weighs 300 grams.

At its heart sits a 4.2kW bulb (an average household bulb is about 60W) and light from here is bounced off mirrors and through a prism to be split into red, green and blue streams. Each of these goes through a 1.55-inch flat-panel display based on Sony's SXRD (Silicon Crystal Display) technology before being combined and magnified through a lens as wide as a man's hand.

The result, as Sony demonstrated on Wednesday, is a spectacular image that's a rank above what you might be used to seeing at the movies. The projector outputs an image with 4,096 pixels by 2,160 pixels resolution, which is double that of HDTV both horizontally and vertically to result in more than 8 million pixels versus about 2 million on HDTV.

The images shown, drawn from the movie "Mystic India," were crisp and clear and colors were vibrant. Seeing it for the first time was a similar experience to switching to HDTV after always having watched standard definition television.

Sony is using the rising popularity of HDTV as leverage to sell the system. With high-definition home theater systems in many a movie buff's home and broadcast HDTV being enjoyed by millions of people, it's becoming more difficult for movie theaters to entice customers based on picture quality. Sony hopes this pinch will push theaters to pay the roughly ¥ 1.5 million (US$12,651) per screen that it costs for the CineAlta 4K system.

For the movie industry, which must be persuaded to invest in higher-quality cameras so they can make movies for the system, Sony is dangling a tasty-looking carrot called security.

At the base of each projector sits a bay that accepts a large 19-inch rack-mounted box dubbed a "media block." This contains a RAID hard-disk drive array carrying a copy of the movie in JPEG2000 format. The breakdown of security on DVDs has taught the industry the damage that can be done when a digital system is hacked, so on the drives the movie file is encrypted.

A key unique feature for each system is used to decrypt the movie when it is shown and a system built into the projector ensures that the key is deleted should anyone attempt to remove the media block from the projector. In that way, anyone stealing the drives will be left with 300G bytes of encrypted data, said Sony.

Together the projector, media block and companion software make up the digital cinema system.

Sony launched its first 4K digital cinema projector two years ago, but it's only in use in four of Japan's roughly 3,000 cinema screens, the company said. With the launch of the new projector and companion media server, Sony hopes for a big expansion so that one-third of all screens in Japan are using the system by 2010.

Overseas the system is also being promoted, especially in the U.S., and Sony said that cinemas in Beijing and Shanghai will have the system installed in the coming months to showcase the technology in China.

In March Muvico Entertainment LLC said it plans to install Sony 4K projectors in all its theaters in the U.S. The company's new 18-screen complex in Rosemont, near Chicago, that will open in August will be first to get the system. It will then be rolled out at the chain's theaters across the U.S.

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