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Poor Picture At Your Local Cinema? 178

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the just-make-everything-three-dee dept.
The Hub writes "Have you ever noticed that the picture in your local movie theater is too dark or grainy? The Boston Globe does some good ol' fashioned investigative reporting to find the culprit. Apparently, the cause is linked to some 3D digital projectors requiring a technically challenging lens switch for 2D movies that sometimes doesn't happen."
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Poor Picture At Your Local Cinema?

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday May 23, 2011 @02:26PM (#36220808)

    This is actually due to the fact that Sony digital projectors are so locked down with DRM that even changing the lens requires all kinds of password checks (which can potentially lock the camera down if not done correctly).

    Sadly, this is one of the problems that digital projectors were *supposed* to fix. For years, it was a infamous practice for theater managers to extend projector bulb life by reducing the power of the lamp. Since most people don't notice (having no idea how the movie is *supposed* to look), they could get away with it. Roger Ebert in particular complained about [suntimes.com] this practice for decades (even organizing protests at certain theaters engaging in the practice). When digital projection came along, one of the selling points was that it produced a much more consistent image (and managers couldn't futz with it--reducing bulb strength, etc.).

    Now, thanks to our good friends at Sony, it would seem like we're right back where we started from (maybe even worse, since this produces an even darker image than one of the celluloid projectors at half power).

    • by oh-dark-thirty (1648133) on Monday May 23, 2011 @02:40PM (#36220952)

      And it's not just picture issues, but as TFA mentioned there are sometimes sound problems that go uncorrected for long periods. I drastically reduced my movie-going years ago when I realized I could invest a few grand at home, and come pretty darn close to the theater experience, in some cases surpass it. If I'm paying $10-$15 for a movie ticket, I expect a properly calibrated projector and sound system. Oh and let's all be surprised at once that Sony locks down their pro equipment even tighter than the consumer shit.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        Not only that, but the advertisements have just become absolutely insane. I made the mistake of showing up to a movie on-time recently. And for the low-low price of a $10 ticket and $6 popcorn, I was treated to *20 minutes* of commercials and trailers (not including the slideshow at the beginning). After watching my second car commercial, I realized that I was giving up on theaters entirely. It's bad enough I have to skip through 6-7 trailers on every blu-ray I buy.

        • by PitaBred (632671)

          I don't even skip trailers any more. Got myself a copy of AnyDVD HD and all my Blu-Rays go straight to the hard drive as a feature movie. I'll watch the Blu-Ray once for special features, they're rarely worth it though, and even then... I can rip the out-takes as well and not have to dick with the annoying menus and trailers and crap on media that I paid to have available any time.

          • by shadowrat (1069614) on Monday May 23, 2011 @04:15PM (#36221904)
            maybe i'm weird, but i like trailers. In many cases, the trailers are better than the movie. You see a couple minutes of just the best parts and you get to use your imagination to weave together a cool story. I've often said i wouldn't mind sitting in a theater and watching an hour of trailers. I wouldn't want to pay for it though. If i could do it for free i think i'd find it preferable to seeing an actual movie. Actually i've done that plenty at home by piping hd quicktime trailers to my tv.
            • Trailers belong at the end.

            • by Combatso (1793216)
              there is a difference between a good movie promotional trailer and 10 minutes of toilet paper ads. If I wanted to see a bear wipe its ass I would go camping.
              • by emj (15659)

                Having spent an insane amount of time in bear infested forrests I can tell you that you are more likely to see a bear wipe its ass at the cinema.

            • by elrous0 (869638) *

              Trailers are fine. Car ads, deodorant ads, soda ads, etc, are not. I remember the first time they started showing those kind of ads in theaters (believe it was back in the early 90's, here in the U.S. anyway) and how the theater chains swore up and down that it was just a one-time promotional thing. Up until then they would just show trailers (and back in the 70's, you might even get a cartoon or short).

              Of course, I knew that once they got started, it would just snowball. They've made movie-going such a pai

      • by blair1q (305137) on Monday May 23, 2011 @03:12PM (#36221246) Journal

        When that happens, leave the movie, go to the manager's office, pound on the door, and raise a stink.

        • by couchslug (175151)

          "When that happens, leave the movie, go to the manager's office, pound on the door, and raise a stink."

          Fuck that, don't go to the theater in the first place. Sharing space with a bunch of screaming ghettoids, paying too much for crap food, and worrying about my ride getting broken into isn't worth it.

          I can't hit Pause when I need to shit, my fridge isn't handy, and there is nothing compelling about a theater experience.

      • by EdZ (755139)
        I've had missing channels, missing sub-bass (with everything turned up to the point of clipping to compensate), and one all-night film festival where the projectors were 4K, the source was BD, but everything was sent via 480p (i.e. one device in the chain had been configured incorrectly). What really pissed me off was that I actually went to the trouble of finding someone to radio the projection room and tell them both what was wrong and how to fix it, and have them do nothing.
    • This is actually due to the fact that Sony digital projectors are so locked down with DRM that even changing the lens requires all kinds of password checks (which can potentially lock the camera down if not done correctly).

      1) Camera?! er, not quite...that would be projector. 2) Why is this a DRM issue? It sounds like a (really bad) implementation issue. All the other projector models still have to deal with the same DRM (Hollywood is notoriously twitchy about this and there is no additional DRM on the Sony projectors that I've heard about...), but they don't have this issue when switching between 2D/3D films. The Sony 4K with Real D setup just isn't designed well from a usability point of view, and many modern multiplexes ha

      • by b0bby (201198)

        2) Why is this a DRM issue? It sounds like a (really bad) implementation issue. All the other projector models still have to deal with the same DRM (Hollywood is notoriously twitchy about this and there is no additional DRM on the Sony projectors that I've heard about...), but they don't have this issue when switching between 2D/3D films. The Sony 4K with Real D setup just isn't designed well from a usability point of view, and many modern multiplexes have shown they can screw up even the most basic of things.

        From TFA:
        "Sony provides projectors to the chains for free in exchange for the theaters dedicating part of their preshow ads to Sony products. Unfortunately, the 3-D boom took off in late 2009 and Sony had to come up with a retrofitted solution."
        Sounds like the bad implementation is due to a quick hack that they've managed to push out to the theaters.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 23, 2011 @03:57PM (#36221768)

      As someone who has actually operated a Sony 3D projector at an AMC theater, I can't believe a post this wrong got modded +5. DRM and lens changes have nothing to do with this problem; the 3D effect is created by an electronic polarization filter mounted on a dowel that swings in front of the projector lens to show a 3D movie. You can release the clamps and swing it out of the way in about 15 seconds.

      The real problem lies in the fact that AMC hires the least common denominator to operate movie projectors and pays them barely above minimum wage so they don't do anything crazy like take pride in their product. I got out of there as soon as I could.

      • by _xeno_ (155264) on Monday May 23, 2011 @05:21PM (#36222480) Homepage Journal

        Funny, because according to the article and a projectionist that actually offered his real name instead of posting anonymously, it's because of DRM.

        So why aren't theater personnel simply removing the 3-D lenses? The answer is that it takes time, it costs money, and it requires technical know-how above the level of the average multiplex employee. James Bond, a Chicago-based projection guru who serves as technical expert for Roger Ebert's Ebertfest, said issues with the Sonys are more than mechanical. Opening the projector alone involves security clearances and Internet passwords, "and if you don't do it right, the machine will shut down on you." The result, in his view, is that often the lens change isn't made and "audiences are getting shortchanged."

        That's right, according to James Bond, it's due to DRM.

        ...OK, so maybe saying "I'm taking the word of James Bond over someone who's anonymous" isn't quite the best way to phrase things, but well, that's really his name [youtube.com].

        Plus it's entirely possible you're talking about a different model of Sony projector, since this apparently affects only Sony projectors that were originally 2D-only but later retrofitted to be 3D.

      • That's a retofit method, used on 2k projectors. Projectors such as he SRX-R220, which is a 4k projector, and one that I have used, has a twin lens system that splits the 4k image in to two 2k images. Each lens have their own circular polariser so you loose brightness, as the image has been split in half each lens has to blow up the image to fill the whole screen, so you loose brightness again. When you sum up left and right lens on the screen, the brightness is increased. When it comes to 2D projection, the

    • by airjrdn (681898)
      They're Sony projectors? So it should be relatively trivial to hack them shouldn't it?
  • by sgt scrub (869860)

    But then, I might not be going blind from a lack of a girlfriend. jk

  • To save costs, most theaters do not have a projector operator on staff anymore. So little or no corrections are made for different films.
    • by kimvette (919543)

      And yet if you watch closely you will notice the advertisements are always in absolutely perfect critical focus, but the feature film is inevitably severely front- or back-focused,

      • by PNutts (199112)

        Back in the day when I was a projectionist, the lenses heated up and required refocusing a few times during the movie. If the beginning is in focus and rest not, the projectionist started the show, focused (or not), and never came back.

    • I worked concessions at a theater in Dallas in 1981. The professional projectionists went on strike, so they trained me and other popcorn servers the minimal amount to keep the movies going. I don't remember the details, but 6 months later we became the permanent projectionists and the pros were not seen again. That is the level of concern management gives proper projection.

      We still had to swap lenses and aperture plates depending on the film format. It was a simple mechanical release for the lens. I don't

  • by blair1q (305137)

    I read that story earlier. It doesn't sound so much like investigative journalism as it does like local projectionists raised a shitty on a reporter's answering machine and the reporter recast the rant in story form, plus a couple of phone calls.

    Investigative journalism would have got more out of Sony and the theater owners before going to press.

    And yes, Sony has been screwing the pooch on all fronts (audio gear, online security, production, projection) for the past several years. Their corporate culture

    • by plover (150551) * on Monday May 23, 2011 @02:51PM (#36221078) Homepage Journal

      Investigative journalism would have got more out of Sony and the theater owners before going to press.

      Did you even RTFA? Here's the relevant paragraph:

      Though the issue is widespread, affecting screenings at AMC, National Amusements, and Regal cinemas, executives at all these major movie theater chains, and at the corporate offices of the projector’s manufacturer, have refused to directly acknowledge or comment on how and why it’s happening. Asked where his company stands on the matter, Dan Huerta, vice president of sight and sound for AMC, the second-biggest chain in the US, said only that “We don’t really have any official or unofficial policy to not change the lens.’’

      They contacted people. The right people, in the case of AMC. All these people uniformly shut the hell up, because that's what corporate executives are trained to do when there's a controversy that would cost them money to fix (yes, changing the lenses would be a big expense for these theaters.) They've been given their chance, and now that they've established there's a stone wall of silence, it's time for the reporter to let the story out. If it pisses off the fickle moviegoing audiences even more, well, the theater owners had their chance to speak.

      Maybe this story will get them to set a policy to change lenses. Or maybe it won't. When you consider the dreck that so many of these movies are, counting on the taste of the moviegoing public to concern themselves over projection quality seems unrealistically optimistic.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blair1q (305137)

        The person who answers the phone at N places said "I can't let you speak to him" and one guy said "I don't know" in a fancy way.

        I did more "investigation" by opening /. this morning.

        The things I read between the lines of TFA were:

        1. this story is biased towards the rants of the projectionists (rightly or wrongly)

        2. the moviegoer can't tell without comparing, even if the difference is huge, and almost no moviegoer has a reason to try comparing; everyone forgets how we put up with 4:3 and NTSC for 60 years

      • Being that most of the theaters around me are either harkins or amc, I'd like a more comprehensive list of suspect theaters myself... maybe yelp, who knows.
  • Digital cameras are criticized for low dynamic range, especially in dark light scenes,
    lower spatial resolution, like smke or sharp edges,
    lower temporal resolution, like splashing water scenes, etc.
    A good camera man or director can work around these flaws.
    • I have to admit that I haven't checked the specs of commercial digital movie cameras but can tell you that with most CCDs the dynamic range is way bigger than with film.

      If they don't digitize with enough bits, or throw bits away, or the compression is too extreme, you can lose dynamic range.
      • by ZosX (517789)

        Its true, thought it must be said that digital is far more averse to highlight clipping, whereas film has a bit of a soft knee where it doesn't clip so harshly and abruptly. Much better shadow detail with digital however as well as a much wider range overall.

  • Why else would they be crippling themselves by making going to the movies even worse than it was before? It certainly can't be because they're making tons of money by showing the films to begin with. And it certainly isn't because of skyrocketing ticket and concession stand prices. Or that they're fighting to keep calorie counts [consumerist.com] off the menus.

    They'd have a good reason for making people not want to go, right? Right?

    • It's just the standard capitalist optimization process - find the lowest-cost solution - and thereby lowest quality - that people are still willing to endure, then run with that for best profit. The market does not optimize for best quality, but for the best quality/cost ratio that will be tolerated. Which, to no big surprise, mostly ends up being utter crap. The basic failure of the whole free market theory is that it assumes rational actors. People at large are not rational actors, though.
      • I would add that an efficient free market economy requires both the buyer and the sellers to have sufficient information about their activities that they can optimise their buying or selling according to their requirements... i.e buy and sell on cost, quality, quantity etc.

        However, many consumers are ignorant, and corporate sales relies on their ignorance and thereby charge for perceived value which is not actually there. For example, Monster Cable, who have been shown to offer no performance improvement

        • Well, yeah - that's what I am aiming at. You are absolutely right that besides the point of rationality I was talking about, complete information on both sides, in a symmetric manner, is quite essential to free markets to work. Obviously, that is not the case either.
          • "The Undercover Economist" is an interesting book to read and it discusses how lack of information on the buyer or the seller causes apparent pricing anomalies or perceived unfairness; whether in the second-user car market (often the seller knows a lot more about the vehicle meaning buyer cannot know risks) and health insurance (buyer understands their condition and knows the risks far better than the seller).
  • Pre-3D? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SilverHatHacker (1381259) on Monday May 23, 2011 @02:54PM (#36221092)
    How about explaining why the picture sucked at my local cinema before this 3D craze took off?
    • by blair1q (305137)

      Because projectionists, although they are presenting themselves now as a guild of skilled artisans, are really just one step above convenience-store clerks in their value as skilled labor. And theater owners haven't given a crap hardly ever.

      • It's sort of a bipartite thing: All those projectionists who are, in fact, a guild of skilled artisans were priced out and either fired or went indy. Their replacements are whichever of the convenience-store clerks who remain to sell tickets and popcorn seem least likely to damage anything important, with perhaps an outside contract call if something is simply too fucked up to ignore.
      • Because projectionists, although they are presenting themselves now as a guild of skilled artisans, are really just one step above convenience-store clerks in their value as skilled labor. And theater owners haven't given a crap hardly ever.

        That's true, the theater itself is really just an elaborate snack bar that happens to show movies. First run theaters make jack on ticket sales, it's all about the snacks.

    • by Tetsujin (103070)

      How about explaining why the picture sucked at my local cinema before this 3D craze took off?

      The article did mention another practice that was somewhat common at theaters doing film projection: extend the life of the projector bulb by not lighting it at full intensity...

    • How about explaining why the picture sucked at my local cinema before this 3D craze took off?

      Oh, that's easy.

      You've seen 1+ movies at that cinema, yes?

      And you paid money (i.e. they weren't free)?

      There you go. That's why.

  • by Craig Maloney (1104) * on Monday May 23, 2011 @03:00PM (#36221142) Homepage

    Gee, so on top of the projector problems, I have the various annoyances from people not behaving properly in the theater, possible sound-quality issues, and an overall sub-par experience. Or I could just wait for it to come out on DVD, and watch it at home, where I know the quality of the TV, DVD player, and sound system. And I can pause it if I need to take a potty break.

    So what's the benefit to me for seeing it in the movie theater?

    (And no, 3D is not a benefit because my wife gets splitting headaches from watching 3D movies).

    • So what's the benefit to me for seeing it in the movie theater?

      One benefit is not running the risk of having your friends, who did see it in the movie theater, spoil the big plot twist.

    • by _xeno_ (155264)

      This is why I don't go to theaters.

      I remember when the Dark Knight came out. I had just watched Batman Begins on Blu-ray, and it came with a preview of the Dark Knight which was basically just the opening bank sequence from the final movie.

      After seeing that on my somewhat crappy and small HDTV, you'd think that seeing it on the big screen would be a big improvement. Nope.

      The color was worse, the image was worse, and some idiot had decided that PG-13 movie was the perfect place to bring his young children.

      No

    • That's like saying "What's the point of going to the pub where they charge $8 for a pint of shitty tap beer when I can have my favorite beer at home for $3".

      Cinema is still a 'going out' experience. You go with friends, or maybe even a date (though on Slashdot, not sure how often that happens) as one of your activities amongst others (maybe hit the pub after, or a restaurant, or a host of other activities). The experience is being their with your friends, *not* just watching the movie.

      While I'm not saying t

  • by eth1 (94901) on Monday May 23, 2011 @03:10PM (#36221228)

    So, let's recap again:
    Home theatre:
    - Better sound (always in the sweet spot)
    - Better, cheaper food
    - Alcohol, if inclined
    - No cell phones
    - No lines
    - No noisy neighbors
    - Can pause for bathroom breaks and food refills
    - More comfortable seats
    - and now better picture

    Cinema:
    - New releases available immediately
    - Can go with large group
    - 3D (I already wear glasses, so this isn't necessarily an advantage)

    HT costs a lot up-front, but once you have it, you'll use it a lot - especially considering it works for TV and gaming. (My setup would take about 125 cinema trips for two to break even)

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      And while home theatre costs a lot up front, a basic TV / DVD player set does not, making the cinema an even worse deal. You may not get quite as zoned out as you would in your home theatre, but that's not really a bad thing.

      • by eth1 (94901)

        Not to mention that the biggest cost of a home theatre is good speakers, which, treated properly will last a very long time.
        My "next" home theatre will probably only cost 20-30% of the current setup.

  • It's a 2D copy-making port, it's where you attach the camera.
  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Monday May 23, 2011 @03:36PM (#36221520)
    The industry has decided to make this commitment for DRM (harder to copy in 3D theater with a video recorder) and margin reasons (higher ticket prices). The problem is that the 2D versions with the right lens look brighter and, in some cases, much better. The solution is never show the brighter 2D version. Of course, it cost money to change lenses, too. Bottom line, there in no incentive for the industry to go back to 2D anything, except that, maybe, people will not go to see dark screens.
  • This morning a group of us watched Thor & one member of our group who had seen the movie in 3D IMAX said our 2D version was horrible and dark, probably by 33%. We thought this team member was nuts & now this article pops up. Interesting.
  • I go to the local movie theater maybe once or twice a year, and every time I go I'm reminded why the trips are so infrequent. The 20-30 minutes of advertisements and garbage before the show are bad enough, but as far as I'm concerned, digital cinema looks like crap. It's a jagged, aliased mess that's nowhere near the clarity of good film, there's enough ghosting to be a distraction, and I swear I've seen what looks like compression artifacting in fast action scenes that are heavy on red/blue. And now you have these dumb brightness issues. I can get lousy picture quality in the comfort of my own home for much less than the cost of a movie ticket. Plus I can hit the pause button to get up and pee.

  • It's not "digital projection." It's TELEVISION.

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