Emerging Technologies: Innovation in the cinemas is far from over

Over a century on from the Lumière brothers inventing the cinematic experience, the world of film continues to innovate. 
The digitization of cinema has not only shifted the projection environment but created a landscape characterized by impressive technological evolution. While advancements in the areas of 4K and HDR are continuing to evolve the viewing experience today, there are also cutting-edge technologies emerging that will set the stage for the further future of cinema.
Boosted by a blockbuster summer, and an incredible four films breaking a billion dollars at the box office this year, the film industry’s future is bright. Yet to remain a destination audiences keep returning to, and drive future growth, cinemas must recognize the importance of creating great experiences through innovative technology.
Where we are today: Ultra High Definition 
We’re living in the age of 4K. Consumer adoption has accelerated, in some cases faster than the move from standard definition to high definition, to the extent that 100 million 4K TVs are expected to be sold globally in 2018 alone.
When it comes to the audience experience, the benefits of 4K in the theatre can’t be understated. Pixilation is a risk in cinemas, particularly for those sitting at the front of an auditorium, and the distraction created by jagged edges or blur simply won’t cut it for today’s viewers who have come to demand crystal-clear, lifelike images. Indeed, in some European markets, 81% of viewers have stated they would prioritize 4K film screenings over 2K.
With an ever-growing slate of titles being captured, distributed and promoted in the 4K format, the onus is now on cinemas to meet growing consumer demand for greater resolution. 
Currently, around one-third of cinemas in the U.K. are 4K-capable. It’s a strong start, but as cinemas compete to retain their rightful place as the ultimate movie-watching destination, engage audiences and differentiate their content, 4K capabilities could be just the ticket they need to future-proof their business.
…and beyond 
While 4K adoption is paramount to meeting and exceeding audience expectations around image quality, it’s not the only ingredient in the recipe for an incredible visual experience. High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology provides vivid, lifelike colors, closing the gap between the range of colors the human eye and the screen can reproduce and detect. On top of this, great contrast ratio—the ability to display deep blacks—is essential to lifelike pictures. 
This is all particularly pertinent today. As the move to digital took place well over a decade ago, and cinemas migrated to 2K digital projection in the decade following, many exhibitors are understandably now looking at what comes next. The current era will not necessarily be defined by novel experiences—such as 3D—but on refining the most important element of cinema—the image. By arming themselves with today’s leading 4K, HDR-capable projection technology, exhibitors will be set for years to come. 
The cinemas of tomorrow 
Across the industry, laser projection will continue to grow in popularity thanks to its combination of incredible picture quality, ease of maintenance and long-lasting lifespan. Yet with screen technology constantly evolving, we’re also seeing a diversification of the types of screens entering the cinema environment. 
Crystal LED is one emerging technology that offers a scalable solution while having incredible color reproduction, and in some cases near 180-degree viewing angles. As the Premium Large Format sector continues to grow, new forms of screen technology, such as Sony’s Crystal LED, will become a further option for those looking to offer the largest, most immersive Premium Large Format screens.
Beyond the image itself, we can expect to see experimentation with technologies such as augmented reality. By allowing viewers to interact with the big screen through their smartphones using gamification, for example, some cinemas are exploring the potential for AR applications to alter the cinema experience. Others, meanwhile, are placing screens on every wall of the cinema, filling the viewer’s peripheral vision, or offering “4D” experiences incorporating movement and physical feedback into cinema chairs.
Where do we go from here? 
Screen technology is just one important factor when it comes to the future of the cinema. Operators must also consider high-definition formats for audio and immersive sound, expand and differentiate their content and find new ways to generate exciting new revenue possibilities through diversifying the use of their space. In short, cinemas need to keep reinventing themselves as high-end entertainment destinations in their own right. 
Just as we savor incredible new releases every year, part of the joy of the cinema industry is seeing the technology evolve. While the cinematic experience may have progressed a staggering amount from when the Lumière brothers hand-cranked the first minute-long short films to an audience in Paris, the days of cinematic innovation are far from over—and the time for cinema owners to look ahead is now!  
For more information, go to pro.sony/4K-cinema-projectors.