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).