3D lenses making 2D films up to 85% dimmer

Senior Editor
05.23.11 13 Comments

In addition to being a mostly pointless gimmick to jack up ticket prices, it seems 3D is now ruining 2D screenings too.  According to a recent report in the BostonGlobe, an unacknowledged consequence of the Sony 4K digital projectors used to screen 3D films in many theaters is that projectionists often aren’t changing the lenses between 3D and 2D screenings, leading to 2D screenings that are up to 85% darker than intended.

For 3-D showings a special lens is installed in front of a Sony digital projector that rapidly alternates the two polarized images needed for the 3-D effect to work.
“When you’re running a 2-D film, that polarization device has to be taken out of the image path. If they’re not doing that, it’s crazy, because you’ve got a big polarizer that absorbs 50 percent of the light.’’
They’re not doing that, and there’s an easy way to tell. If you’re in a theater playing a digital print (the marquee at the ticket booth should have a “D’’ next to the film’s name), look back at the projection booth. If you see two beams of light, one stacked on top of the other, that’s a Sony with the 3-D lens still in place. If there’s a single beam, it’s either a Sony with the 3-D lens removed or a different brand of digital projector, such as Christie or Barco.
The difference can be extreme. Chapin Cutler, a cofounder of the high-end specialty projection company Boston Light & Sound, estimates that a film projected through a Sony with the 3-D lens in place and other adjustments not made can be as much as 85 percent darker than a properly projected film.

Most theaters made a deal with Sony that got them the 4K digital projectors for free (the only type of 3D projectors that require the complicated lens change, according to the article), in exchange for showing commercials for Sony products before screenings.  None of the theater chains officially acknowledge the problem of 3D lenses on 2D films, but their canned PR responses speak volumes:

Asked where his company stands on the matter, Dan Huerta, vice president of sight and sound for AMC, the second-biggest chain in the US, said only that “We don’t really have any official or unofficial policy to not change the lens.’’

And if the “vice president of sight and sound” (awesome title, btw) doesn’t have a position on it, you can bet the dude running the projector between trips to the methodone clinic isn’t taking it upon himself to do the work.  Adding to the problem is that the lenses themselves have an encryption system:

Opening the projector alone involves security clearances and Internet passwords, “and if you don’t do it right, the machine will shut down on you.’’

Sure, but imagine if you didn’t have to remember six passwords to run a projector. Think of the consequences!  Why there’d be people running black market 3D theaters in the streets! Cats and dogs, living together, the sky raining lizards — MASS HYSTERIA!  Having to remember the maiden name of the first person your grandma kissed doesn’t seem so bad now, does it.

After multiple requests, Sony declined through a spokesman to respond to questions about its digital projection equipment. Executives at the major theatrical chains are equally unwilling to discuss the matter. When contacted for this article, a spokesman for Regal, the nation’s largest multiplex operator, e-mailed the following statement: “Patron response has been overwhelmingly positive toward digital cinema and all of the associated entertainment options provided by this technology.’’

A spokeswoman for Norwood-based National Amusements, the ninth-largest chain in the country, responded to detailed questions by saying “We are not experiencing any issues with the Sony 4K systems.” [BostonGlobe]

Having had such a job myself, I know some people make their living writing vague PR responses.  But on Earth, responding to specific complaints by citing general positivity towards your “associated entertainment options” is about a thousand times more infuriating than just saying “our bad, we’re working on it.”  What if there was an angry shirtless patron banging a flaming tree branch against your office window?  Would that be an “associated entertainment option?”  F*ck you.

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