Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Dimness of the Cinema

Birmingham IMAX Tour - Film Ready to GoWhat, in your opinion, is the best place to critically watch a film at?
If your answer is “the cinema” then we’re at odds, you and I, because I really can’t see how a cinema can compete with a home theater experience utilizing Blu-ray technology. By definition, a cinema – a large venue where many spectators need to share the experience – has to provide a compromised environment if it wants to satisfy both the viewer sitting at the center as well as the one sitting on the side. A home theater environment, on the other hand, can be optimized so that the one possible hotspot – the best seat of the house – can be as good as it can ever be.
Traditionally speaking, the cinema’s main advantage used to be its larger screen. That advantage is no longer the case when screens creating the same viewing angles are affordable, not to mention the sheer quality advantage a properly calibrated modern day high definition screen possesses over the cinema screen.
Sadly, it seems as if cinemas have been made worse still by the recent development of 3D (read here). I recently discussed my views on the poor state of 3D affairs for the home (here), but as it turns out there is more to it than meets the eye: by leaving the polarizing lens required for 3D projection on the projector even after going back to 2D, cinemas are making 2D presentations much dimmer than they need to be.
If you read the linked article you will see this can happen due to laziness, but it also happens because of Sony. Yes, that company that specializes in giving your private information away also does DRM that makes life harder for the projectionist, so instead of taking risks and potentially locking the projector (thus not being able to project a thing), projectionists prefer to take the safe option: they often avoid touching the projector and leave it set on 3D mode.
As Roger Ebert points out (here), there are further issues at hand. For example, 3D presentations require the image to be projected to a silver screen in order to prevent the picture aimed at one eye from infiltrating to the other. However, silver screens are pretty crappy compared to normal screens when it comes to picture quality; yet often enough the cinema won’t bother switching between the two screens when moving from a 3D presentation to a normal 2D presentation.
Perhaps you’re lucky and the cinemas you attend make sure to have the right lens on and the right screen up. However, given the way most multiplexes are run I doubt this is the case. I accept that cinemas are a nice place to go out to for social reasons, but as far as watching a movie properly, the way it was meant to be seen, the home environment is the one with the best fulfilment potential.

You may regard the above as an indictment of cinemas, and in many ways it is. However, I would like to point out the above is also a celebration of the potential for modern day home theater to deliver wonderful experiences at generally affordable prices.
I consider the point worth making after I noticed how [too] many people interpret my generally critical way of looking at things to be a generally negative way of looking at things. There is a difference between being critical and being negative.

Image by William Hook, Creative Commons license

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