Cinema chain lures audiences with immersive, multi-projector screens

Unlike traditional theatres, ScreenX uses multiple projectors to blend several images into one 270-degree view.<br />Courtesy: AP
Unlike traditional theatres, ScreenX uses multiple projectors to blend several images into one 270-degree view.<br />Courtesy: AP(WTVY News 4)
Published: Aug. 14, 2018 at 4:18 AM CDT
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They tried 3D glasses, they tried wobbling chairs and spurts of water. Cinemas' latest effort to tempt audiences from their sofas is a multi-projector panoramic experience, called ScreenX.

UK-based Cineworld Group, the world's second largest cinema operator, has announced plans to install the new screen tech across 100 theaters in the UK, the US and further afield.

It's claimed to be the "world's first multi-projection cinema technology."

Using several projectors, the movie bursts from traditional cinema screens, across the theater's side walls.

The aim? To create an immersive, 270-degree experience that fills audiences' peripheral vision.

ScreenX was originally launched in South Korea in 2015, Cineworld is now bringing it to audiences in the UK, the US and further afield.

The cinema chain has announced plans to install the screen tech in 100 theatres, the first being at London's The O2 entertainment complex, formerly the Millennium Dome.

Unlike traditional theatres, ScreenX uses multiple projectors to blend several images into one 270-degree view.

"It works by using multi projectors to extend from the main screen, out on the side walls," explains Kelly Drew, an operations director for Cineworld Cinemas.

"The walls themselves have special fabric, which allows the brightness and the colour on the side walls to closely match what you see on screen in front of you."

The effect is a gaze-filling experience intended to be more immersive than traditional screens.

"If you're in a car scene and the car's going round the corner, you're going to feel like you're slightly moving within the car," explains Drew.

"The imagery around the side of you is going to make you really feel like you're there in the heart of the action."

It's probably not suitable for all genres: perhaps fast-moving action movies, rather than romantic comedies.

One challenge may be the lack of content. Film crews must use special camera setups to capture the wide-angle footage required for ScreenX presentations.

Drew says Cineworld is currently offering two films in ScreenX - Marvel Studios' 'Ant-man and The Wasp' and shark attack thriller 'The Meg' - upcoming horror flick 'The Nun' will also be available in the format.

"As ScreenX continues to expand across the world, we're going to see more titles coming in," says Drew.

In recent years, cinemas have touted IMAX, 3D screenings and, most recently, the chair-wobbling, water-spurting 4DX as the "must-see" cinematic experience.

Film journalist Robert Mitchell says cinemas are trying to offer an experience that viewers can't rival in the home, at least for now.

"You can't get a screen as big as IMAX, you can't - at the moment - get wind machines and seats that quake and things like that in your own home," he says.

"Some of that technology may come, but unless you have a giant mansion, you're never going to have a screen the size of a ScreenX or an IMAX screen.

"So, that is offering something you genuinely cannot get in the home. And so for the right films, that will bring people in. More and more, as the studios focus on blockbuster films, those are the films that lend themselves to this sort of technology."

ScreenX is the latest effort by cinemas to tempt audiences away from their sofas - and Netflix accounts - to their local movie theatres.

The growing popularity of online subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime continue to threaten cinema's dominance. Disney plans to launch its own streaming service next year.

According to a June 2017 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, internet video revenue will surpass box office revenue in the UK by 2021, hitting 1.4 billion British pounds (approx. $1.79 billion USD).

Last month, Netflix said it had around 130 million subscribers worldwide.

"They were worried when TV came in, they were worried when VHS came in, I think they have a legitimate reason to be concerned about subscription VOD (Video on demand) and those sort of services," says Mitchell.

"But at the same time, cinema offers experiences that you can't get in the home. And that's sort of the point of these new technologies like ScreenX and 4DX, they're offering something unique."

In February this year, Cineworld Group completed the purchase of US-based Regal Entertainment Group, boosting the company's business to over 9,500 cinema screens across the US and Europe.

Before Cineworld's announcement, ScreenX was available in about 150 theatres globally, 84 of those in South Korea, four in the United States and two in the UK.

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