Today’s the day when tech companies — especially in projection and audio — will make their big sales pitches to theater owners at their annual convention in Las Vegas. But one of the more intriguing developments in the industry is taking place in a private screening room in LA: Last week IMAX began showing execs from Sony, Paramount, Warner Bros, CAA and overseas movie chains a prototype of its new laser projection technology, incorporating the patents that it bought last year from Kodak. IMAX execs say that the process, which sends digital images through two 4K projectors, offers a much brighter picture than conventional IMAX print and digital projectors do, and with richer color saturation — including ultra dark blacks. That’s a big deal for IMAX: It’s trying to appeal to fanboys by scheduling lots of dark and brooding action films including Warner Bros’ upcoming The Dark Knight and Fox’s Prometheus. Unlike projectors that use bulbs, images from the laser technology don’t fade at the far reaches of the frame — and don’t dim over time. As a result, “we can now build screens that are larger than any screens that exist in the world,” says Greg Foster, president of filmed entertainment for IMAX. CEO Rich Gelfond adds that new process, to be rolled out beginning in late 2013, “is going to usher in the age of laser technology in a broader way.” IMAX is already looking at building screens that are about twice as wide as the 70-foot wide ones it frequently uses for digital projectors. With today’s technology the images become too dim on screens larger than that. That’s been a problem for IMAX; it has had to keep using conventional prints at its screens that run larger than 70 feet. Since ordinary IMAX film prints can cost as much as $50,000 apiece — as opposed to $175 for a digital print — it has been uneconomical for the chain to frequently swap films in and out of some of its biggest theaters.
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