It would not have been unreasonable to look at Samsung’s push into digital cinema – marketing fine pitch, direct view LEDs as an alternative to screens and projectors – as an interesting concept, but not one that would see much adoption because of cost.
I saw a proof of concept at a special booth at ISE 10 months ago, and while it looked good to me, I didn’t have the trained eyes of exhibitors to know whether the display tech would truly suit cinemas.
But Samsung’s Onyx LED screens have now been installed around the world, not only in the motherland of Korea but through partnerships with Pacific Theatres in Los Angeles and Arena Cinemas’ Sihlcity theater in Zurich. Now the product is in a second generation – with a 14-meter wide, 3D-ready screen that just lit up in Beijing, at Capital Cinema.
The first Onyx went live in July 2017 with a model measuring roughly 10 meters (33.6 feet) wide. Responding to consumer demand for ultra-large screens and business demand to drive higher profit and ticket sales, says a press release, Samsung’s new Onyx model stretches 14 meters (46.2 feet) wide. The new Onyx variant is 1.4 times wider and features nearly twice the surface area of the original model, providing movie-goers with an unprecedented immersive, high-end cinema experience.
The pitch with Cinema LED is 4K resolution, HDR and brightness levels 6X that of standard projector technologies. The pitch is 2.5mm, which in digital signage terms is about the most coarse resolution for fine pitch (you can buy sub 1mm). But people tend to sit well back in cinema to see the big screen, so that pitch works.
Using also removes the need for projection rooms, opening up more seating rows in theaters – which means more potential ticket sales and concession revenues to pay for the screen.
The cinema LED screens, particularly when bundled with high-end audio systems, are going to be seven-figure budget items – more expensive than laser projection systems and way more than traditional lamp-based projection systems. The Samsung site suggests there are about 13 theaters globally that have made the conversion.
I really don’t know, but it would make sense that Samsung would have subsidized installs at target locations (like Hollywood/LA) to function as real-world showrooms.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.