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Could RED's Projector Save Indie Theaters (and 3D)? Reactions From the Luke Scott Film 'Loom'

04.20.12 @ 8:03PM Tags : , , , , ,

Earlier in the week I was able to watch the short film Loom, directed by Luke Scott and produced by his father, Ridley Scott. The entire futuristic sci-fi film was shot on Epic in 3D, and it was being projected on RED’s (not new) Laser Projector and RED Ray. Both of those products were announced a long time ago but RED may finally release them this year. Unfortunately at the beginning of the week the projector was only displaying 2K 3D in each eye, but it’s actually capable of 4K in each eye. I went back later in the week to see if it had been fixed but they were still working on the system, so I imagine at some point it will be 100% working as it ships late this year (hopefully). But the real question is: can 3D make a comeback with RED’s projector? Will the lower cost be beneficial to the survival of independent theaters or will this projector not be adopted by theaters at all?

One of the big worries about 4K is that it is leaving independent theaters in the dust. They can’t afford the upgrade to digital even with the Virtual Print Fee. The VPF increases the cost of a digital print and gives some of the money to theater owners to subsidize the cost of 4K projectors. It’s a great idea in theory, but all it does it help the large theater chains, because they can actually afford the projectors. Small independent theaters that show second-run films usually have 30-50 year old 35mm projectors that still work as well as they ever have since they are completely mechanical. Hollywood is making this situation worse by refusing to show certain movies in anything but digital.

But a lot of people (me included) think that the RED 4K projector could be the saving grace for independent theaters. They could say goodbye to most Hollywood films and work directly with independent producers to show their films without the unnecessary cost of a DCP. If RED succeeds with their plans, they could create a new standard for digital projection – and since it can work with DCP, it can greatly reduce the cost and increase the quality of digital projection. But it hasn’t been released yet, and so this is all wishful thinking. What I can tell you is that the RED projector achieved something I never thought it could: it made me like 3D.

I’m not a fan of 3D – in fact I’ve never been. The old style 3D with the red and blue glasses was always a complete gimmick in my opinion. James Cameron tried to change that with his film Avatar. The script of that film was questionable at best, but it used 3D in a way that I’d never seen before, and it was the type of movie that deserved a different approach to visual storytelling. But that was a heavy effects piece, with very little live-action. I haven’t seen Hugo yet, but I feel that Avatar was the best use of 3D I’ve seen so far. The only problem is that it puts heavy strain on the viewer’s eyes. Watching a 3D film is very hard on the eyes, and more often than not I would take off my glasses to give my eyes some rest. RED has solved this problem with their laser projector.

Both eyes will receive a 4K 3D image when this guy finally hits the market, and even though I only saw 2K in each eye, I was absolutely floored by the quality. There was not a moment of strain in the entire 20 minutes or so that I was watching the short. There’s no doubt I could watch an entire 2 hour feature and not feel any fatigue in my eyes. That’s not the only impressive part – the 3D with this projector felt more life-like than I’ve ever seen in a projection. The film didn’t do anything gimmicky with the 3D – it was pretty straightforward – and that’s why I liked it. It gave just the right amount of third dimensionality to allow you to feel like you’re in on the action – actually sitting in the room with the characters. This might seem like hyperbole, but trust me when I tell you that it is not. The color fidelity and quality of the lasers is phenomenal. This technology is extremely difficult to get right and that seems to be the reason that the projector has been in development for so long.

I’m not on board with 3D being the next frontier for filmmaking – I think it’s lifespan is going to be extremely limited – that is unless this projector can be used in all theaters showing 3D films. That’s most likely not going to happen, however, based on the fact that Sony has poured so much money into their projectors and they have very solid relationships with the theater chains. Do I think the RED projector will be unfairly pushed out of the cinema space? Absolutely, it’s a disruptive technology and only RED stands to gain from it. This projector is brighter and it lasts longer, and it’s calibration should be much, much better than standard technology. That’s saying something. The other big product that will be included with the projector is RED Ray, which is a media player that plays compressed 4K at around 15mbps. RED claims that RED Ray can reproduce the quality of a DCP. I believe them, because the quality of picture was absolutely outstanding – as good as the 4K projection at Canon’s booth. This is the type of technology that change the face of independent distribution. At around $10,000 or so for the complete package, it could help save independents from the ridiculous and unnecessary costs of distribution. We could all work directly with smaller theaters to show our films and we could save hundreds of theaters from going out of business.

We need this type of technology sooner rather than later, but it just so happens that a company like RED will be the first company to actually release a working product (possibly).


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Description image 46 COMMENTS

  • It’s not about quality with DCP. It’s about compatibility.

    Studios will only distribute DCP, so if the RedRay isn’t compatible, then it’s a super high-end home theater, not theater-grade. For a cost effective theater solution they need something that can project studio archive films digitally, otherwise it will only be usable for indie 4k films that aren’t working within the mainstream DCP system, which is rather limiting it’s usefulness…

    Another example of RED missing the point of all the burdens of the system… You can’t just go around it, what you gain in one aspect you lose in another, and that’s compatibility.

    • RebelPhoton on 04.20.12 @ 8:40PM

      1. Connect a standard SMPTE-compliant DCP server’s HD SDI outputs to the Red Laser Projector inputs. Ignore the Red Ray player.
      2. Boom. DCP Red Laser Projector.

      Modularity is good!

      • Getting beyond my working knowledge, but I believe the DCP compatible servers send the HD-SDI out encrypted with a sort of DRM to prevent it being stolen. The projector needs to be able to decrypt it, requiring it to have some sort of DCP compatibility built-in.

        That’s the premise as I understand it at least, I’ve only used DCP in closed systems so I have no personal experience with that specifically but I know half the purpose of DCP is protecting the content so I can’t imagine they would allow clean HD-SDI out…

        • That’s a bingo. Otherwise someone could split the SDI signal (or just not screen the movie) and rip the whole thing as it plays.

    • Guys from Red confirmed on Reduser that RedRay indeed will be compatible with DCP, though native codec of the player is their own R3D.


    They aren’t ‘disrupting’ the industry in a bad way, they are pushing it forward into the digital realm. It’s almost like RED is begging the industry to move forward by basically forcing people to come up with better technology.

    • This does nothing many other projectors on the market cant already do, it’s price and lack of DCP are really it’s only pioneering impacts anymore. When they started the project it would have been a first for many things, but it took too long to get to market.

  • Nepotism.

  • I read somewhere that there will be a more expensive version for screens larger than 15′ (theaters). Whatever it’s priced out, it will still be much more affordable for indie theaters than the current offerings…

  • If they finally manage to deliver full 4K 3D in each eye for $10K min. and to work at least 5-7 years, I think it could save indie cinema theaters.

  • Most people perceive 3D to be a much higher resolution than it is (which is why, on top of bandwidth restrictions, 3DTV’s and blu-rays run on half-res each eye). I have enough trouble understanding the push for 4K in 2D let alone 3D, but I can’t imagine 4K in each eye… what for? I know discrete eyes are the standard delivery format for 3D cinema but still, in 4k it would be so overkill.
    I think very few theater goers care about the resolution of what they are watching, especially in your smaller independent theaters where it’s all about the niche hard-to-find film market. People are there for the story, not gimmicks like 3D or 4K, and I think independent theaters are smart enough to know that. What they need to be able to do is just show archive and 2nd run films, and if this projector isn’t compliant with the DCP standard it’s not going to be very useful to them even if it is 4k in each eye.

  • Speaking from experience, film festival programming ,film events and art house distribution the 4K $10k RED projector is bigger news than the Black Magic camera. This will no doubt in my mind democratize independent film distribution and filmmaking worldwide in the very near future.
    For one the costs of 35mm prints to print and ship are astronomical. I work with an indie theatre in South Africa and the expense has become prohibitive to acquire and distribute the last decade. Events or any art house distribution has to be screend off DVD’s, Blu Ray or off hard drives but the audience silently grumbles.

    As rumors become fact that the studios and all the mini-majors will begin in the next several years to ship just hard drives with security keys and begin the process of winding down 35mm print shipping the $10k 4K RED for 2nd run theatres worldwide will begin a trend for projector manufacturers to make cheaper theatrical projectors. At the moment 2k projectors systems being installed in mainstream theatres in South Africa are costing theatre chains a fortune as the 4k Christies ($80k x 8 exchange rate here, do the math) are way to expensive for hundreds of screens.

    Technical specs I see this RED version for 15ft screen for 4k industry type 60 seater screening facilities but I think (it was mentioned) a upgrade will make it adaptable to larger screens say 25ft which is fine for most indie theatres worldwide.

    As for art house 3D filmmaking I see this as a massive win. Only two 3D art house films have been made and distributed but have been hampered by the simple fact that its tough to find a theatre willing to take Werner Herzog’s Cave Of Forgotten Dreams and Wim Wenders dance documentary Pina for a decent run.

    Imagine the opportunity this would give to art house or documentary filmmakers wanting to experiment with 3D? A 3D version of March of Penguins or Baraka would be huge hits.

  • “They could say goodbye to most Hollywood films and work directly with independent producers…”
    Independent theaters could do that right now but they won’t…because they are interested in living off the massive marketing campaigns that studios mount for their product.
    With the exception of mission based arthouses, which are a minority of independent theaters, most of them are just bottom-feeders…and their impending extinction at the hands of DCP is welcome and unavoidable.

  • The reason a a 3d movie like Avatar or Tintin, the 3D will always look better than a stereo shot live action is because the animators have total control of the camera settings like the convergence point distance, the framing and cuts are worked and re worked over and over to get the best 3D feeling you could possibly have within this current technology.

    In a live action you have a technician on set who controls this convergence distance manually and he doesn’t have an undo button, needless to say that they will always choose the best acting take over the best convergence one. The same applies for the editing. In a CGI world you pretty much have the ability to hit the home run in every sequence if you wish or have the right budget.

    I’ve worked in many 3d live action movies, in one of them one of the cameras slid a tad from the rig and they didn’t notice on set, it was a huge nightmare to fix that in post, the final result also suffered.

    Hence, in a computer based movie, the 3D effect tends to be smoother and more polished than the live action ones, still it doesn’t make me like wearing 3d glasses :)

  • Why would indie theaters invest in a 4k projector when most indie films aren’t 4k or won’t be for a few years? 4k is marketing hype at this point.

    • It’s overbuying now, but future-proofing for 5 years from now. I know a number of indie features that have been and are shooting on cameras like the RED One because deals can be pulled with rental houses and owner/operators. 4K, as a projection format is a bit self limiting in theaters of normal size; the screen distance/size/resolution all factor in to where projection lenses are reaching the resolving limit.

      It’s also not just 4K, but has the ability (at least on paper) to pump out high framerates; as sad as it is, I do think you will see more action movies or 3D films in 48+ fps.

    • Also, as a business with a huge investment in something like projectors, you kind of have to make sure that they can, for the most part, work and last for 5-10 years.

      • So it has been accepted that RED cameras are constantly in beta and shooters are ok with this trade off as they have the potential to capture high resolution footage. But what about theater owners? Do they also have the same philosophy toward their equipment? Are they going to be committed to the RED experience, the constant updates of firmware, the troubleshooting through forums?

        As one has to assume that their projectors will be on the ‘bleeding edge’ of technology and carry the same issues as their cameras. I’ve screened my films at indie theaters that are pretty up to date with their digital projection tech, the problem has been, and to put this nicely, the projectionist hasn’t exactly been knowledgeable on the equipment.

        • Get out of here man their cameras are not in beta, they are simply always improving through firmware updates. If they were in constant beta their would be no hobbit, amazing spiderman, prometheus, girl with the dragan tattoo etc shot on red.

        • I don’t think that’s lost on Red…there’s obviously a big difference in technical ability between people shooting movies, and those with a low paid job showing them. The fact that one of the big selling points of the Red projector is that it needs no calibration should indicate where they’re heading…

        • 4K is here to stay as a filming format and, eventually as a projection format. Whether you agree with RED as a company is kind of a moot point as there are other major motion picture cameras (Sony F65, Dalsa Origin, etc.) that can capture a 4K pipeline and other companies that provide 4K projectors. DCP files from 35mm film are routinely provided as 4K as well; no lack of 4K content now or in the short term.

          Market pressure from RED will also lead other other projection manufacturers to follow suit. Sony, already offering a 4K digital cinema projector will, for instance, feel the pressure from the lower end of the market. It’s rarely a bad thing to have a company force others to make cheaper, higher quality, products.

          Sony offers this white paper that argues the benefits of 4K projection in a surprisingly neutral point of view.

          Another point worth discussing is beyond the “theater experience”, what is a 2K projector giving you in terms of picture quality that an HD TV or HD projector isn’t? Theaters have to stay paced in front of the home market or else where are the distributors likely to go?

          And, again, there are benefits to 4K projectors being futureproofed for faster frame rates. One of the things that might kill the RED projector is how good/bad it handles the up-rezzing of 2K material, as Sony and other 4K projector manufacturers have some advanced scaling algorithms.

          • yup, nice Angelo. My advice to distributors who often are bamboozled by a lot of this tech stuff is hold tight, not panic and wait for a few years to NAB 2014, check back in on technology, prices, trends . Making costly projection purchases to soon might be a bad financial decision. What is clear to me from the $10k 4K projector is that an $80K Christies projector is now clearly overpriced for the future market.

    • Daniel Mimura on 04.28.12 @ 8:42PM

      I think the best reason indie theaters should have 4k is because for the last century, they have always had what the big corporate theaters had. The big theaters had 35mm…and so did the little guy.

      Now you’re asking the indies audiences to downgrade their experience. (True, indies have rarely had the sound quality of the majors), but as far as visuals, it was a level playing field. A standard. 4K is becoming a “standard” fairly quickly.

      I think I saw someone mention that Sony pro-4K propaganda piece (which I have sited from as well)… 4K would be especially beneficial for smaller indie theaters (that could afford them—if not from Sony/Barco/Christie than Red or some other future more affordable projector manufacturer). Many indies have non-standard sized screens and/or theater shapes and viewing distances. The indie theater (The Grand Illusion in Seattle) next door to the cafe I’m in right now has the front seats just in front of the screen. In 35mm this is fine b/c the screen isn’t exactly Cinerama-sized…so the grain is still manageable and the image holds up…but when it’s pixels, it is way more distracting.

  • all 3d is in the first place is the studios and majors trying to win audiences over with sheer production cost(notice!- not production value!). It is simply unfeasible to make a 3d film as a new up and coming filmmaker or independent (well unless ur dad is ridley scott). And thats just the way they like it. 3d adds nothing to ur cinematic experience, alienates everyone whose vision is just slightly impaired (which is roughly 30% of the US market if not more) and it wont ever be immersive unless technology will make those stupid glasses redundant.

    • not true Pat , read my above post…… two great filmmakers Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders have both made amazing 3D documentaries. That they have’nt been much distributed is because of art theatres not equiped for 3D. Give bold, experimental filmmakers a chance and you will see the format explode with new projectors.

      • I’m not sure that we can term Herzog and Wenders as “New up and coming filmmakers” – independent, maybe. But I doubt either of them have as much trouble finding financing as, say, you or I. I think his point was that 3d is a way for studios to create the impression of greater expense without making better films.

        I for one am a big fan of 3d, but consider this to be the nascent days. The format is maybe 50 or 100 films deep (not counting conversions) and many of the films are still using 3d terribly. As innovative filmmakers get to approach 3d in new ways, it will grow just as the language of 2d has grown over the last 2,000,000 films.

        I can personally think of three movies where 3d added to the thing: Coraline, Avatar, and the few minutes of 3d in Superman (yes, the movie sucked, but seeing miles deep into the fields of Kansas really worked.) It will be years before these few pioneers really translate out and get iterated by everyone else.
        And I have not seen either Herzog’s or Wenders’, though I probably could have here in Seattle. Neither just really interested me much, 3d aside.

  • shaun wilson on 04.22.12 @ 10:55AM

    Joe, quick question – if a theatre decks out in a 4K Red projection system, would it then just use DCPs only or are there multiple file options that the system can play?

    • Internally it can play Redray and mp4′s, and externally it can play content from a DCP server and anything over HDMI (so you could hook a blu-ray player up, or a regular computer, or whatever). It can also play stuff via the internet.

  • It is not camera or projection resolution which causes eyestrain during stereoscopic 3D. It is improper interaxial distance, convergence positioning, and gen lock of cameras during shooting which causes this.

    • That’s interesting. I always assumed that it had to do with the projection resolution.

    • Daniel Mimura on 04.28.12 @ 8:28PM

      I think it is neither. It’s the fact that you’re only seeing 12fps per eye (or an interlaced image, with half going to one and half going to the other.) It’s so much more obvious during action than characters standing around…unfortunately, almost everyone uses 3d for action-y things, so that is a huge cause of eye strain.

      And another reason for strain…is b/c your eyes are converging at distances other than your personal occular distance between your two eyes…(no, not because of “improper convergence positioning”, unless by that you mean that it’s not converging at the exact distance your eyes are converging from your individual seat in the theater to the screen and what is lined up with that distance is the right convergence point of the scene in the 3D movie.) It’s unreal and it makes your brain kind of explode.