2021 AGM Highlights

Highlights from the 2021 LIPA Annual General Meeting Presentations

Held (virtually) on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, from 8am-12pm EST

15 speakers from 14 companies; 6 members, 2 previous-members, 6 consultants

Summary of Presenters

Speaker Company Title/Topic
Goran Stojmenovik Barco Chairman’s Welcome Message
Anabel Martinez AMSL – Admin Membership Summary
Wei Gu Appotronics Membership report/new member introductions
Mark Roslon Seiko-Epson New Communications Chairman
Bill Beck BTM Consulting Communications Committee Annual Report
Goran Stojmenovik Barco Regulatory Committee report and update
Karl Schulmeister Seibersdorf Laboratories New EU Consumer Laser Product Safety Standard EN 50689
Rosemary Abowd PMA Research Projector Market Overview – Pandemic Chain Reaction
David Hancock OMDIA Cinema Rebuilding after Existential (Covid) Crisis
Wei Gu Appotronics/ForMovie Ultra-Short-Throw 4K Laser Projection TV Market update
Brian Montalbano Nichia-USA Nichia Laser Presentation LIPA 2021
Caspar J.W. Ruan Foxconn On study of Multi-emitter RGB Semiconductor Laser
Dr. Yu Xin Appotronics Laser Phosphor Hybrids (PJs and Laser TV) technical update
Pete Ludé Mission Rock Digital Projecting the Future of Projectors (and other display options
Kristofer Oberascher Texas Instruments Phase Modulation for LIPs
Alberto Alfier Osram-ClayPaky Laser Illuminated Lighting Progress
Greg Niven Kyocera-SLD Laser Lighting Update from Kyocera-SLD

Denotes current LIPA member

Annual General Meeting (AGM2021) purpose is to provide membership with a formal update of LIPA’s activities progress for the year via reports from Regulatory, Communications and Membership committee members.

The meeting ran for 4+ hours and was divided into 4 sessions: LIPA/Committee updates; Market Updates; Technology Updates and “Blue Sky” Future View.  There were 43 “video visitors” – 35 members, 5 speakers and 3 guests.

LIPA 2021 Highlights –

  • Chairman Goran Stojmenovik of Barco welcomed all participants and highlighted the fact that LIPA celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding in May 2011 at a Video Meeting in May
  • Goran recognized fellow officers: Richard McPherson of SharpNEC – Treasurer and Tim Ryan of TI, Secretary
  • LIPA’s Membership Chairman, Wei Gu of Appotronics, welcomed 2 new members – Foxconn (Hon Hai) and Dolby Labs
  • LIPA introduced newly appointed Communications Chairman, Mark Roslon from Seiko-Epson
  • Bill Beck of BTM Consulting, reviewed the Committees activities and projects for 2021, including a number of regulatory bulletins, articles, blog posts, and a Global (virtual) Celebration of LIPA’s 10th Anniversary attended by over 80 participants: current and past members, founders and LIP pioneers going back to 1992
  • Goran, Introduced Takashi Ikeda of Panasonic as new Regulatory Chairman, who replaced founding member Hideyuki Kanayama, also of Panasonic, who retired recently
  • LIPA’s Regulatory Committee produced and published 3 new Bulletins in 2021
    • Laser Light Show (LLS) variances for Dealers and Distributors
    • FDA variance Separation Height (SH) requirement reduced from 3m to 2.5 m
    • Traditional Lamp Illumination regulation harmonized with Laser illumination based on Risk Group “Equal Footing” finally established
  • The Regulatory Committee updated the audience on the Small Source Task Force’s report to the FDA. Goal is to push for “no variance” classification Risk Group 2 for very small chip w/angular subtense under 5mrad

LIPA Formally Welcomes New Members at its Annual General Meeting

LIPA welcomes two new members, Dolby and Foxconn, at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on December 7, 2021.   

Dolby, Dolby Laboratories, Inc., engages in the provision of audio and imaging technologies. It transforms entertainment and communications for content playback in movies, television, music, and gaming.  Its products include Cinema Imaging, Cinema Audio, Dolby Conference Phone, Dolby Voice Room, and Other Products. The company was founded by Ray Milton Dolby in 1965 and is headquartered in San Francisco, CA.

Dolby Cinema is an emerging premium large format (PLF) standard that combines Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for an experience that offers the best in sound and imaging. Dolby Cinema uses dual laser projectors that integrates Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range (HDR), for better contrast, truly deep black levels and a more consistent and vibrant image. Dolby Atmos takes Dolby’s traditional 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound setups a step further by adding a third, overhead dimension.

LIPA welcomes Dolby knowing it will bring its AV industry experience and know-how to create unique, Laser-illuminated visual experiences.

Foxconn, Hon Hai Technology Group (aka Foxconn) is the world’s largest electronics manufacturer. Foxconn is the leading technological solution provider. It continuously leverages its expertise in software and hardware to integrate emerging technologies with its unique manufacturing system.  

Foxconn operates a leading projector ODM business.  It co-developed and mass produced the first laser/LED hybrid projector. With several projector production lines and specialized equipment/instrument, Foxconn’s yield capability can go up to 1 million units of DLP projectors per year.

The multi-emitter semiconductor laser market is emerging as an important resource for LIP companies.  Foxconn has entered this market segment thanks to the knowhow of Sharp, one of  its subsidiary companies. Their industrial processes could lead to useful breakthroughs in laser package manufacturing and useful modeling for projector optical design.

LIPA welcomes Foxconn and its cutting edge laser diode technology in the Laser illuminated projector industry. 

LIPA 2021 ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

LIPA 2021 ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING – PRELIMINARY PROGRAM

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7 – 5:00-9:00AM PST

This year, LIPA’s Annual General Meeting will again, by necessity, be virtual.  We have assembled an outstanding mix of topics and presenters covering industry progress, challenges, and opportunities ahead. 

The program will run for about 4 hours and be divided into 4 sections: LIPA; Markets; Technology; BlueSky.

We will start with a welcome and introduction by our Chairman, Goran Stojmenovik from Barco; then review the progress of each of our major committees: Membership, Communications and Regulatory. We’ll conclude this session with a guest speaker, Dr. Karl Schulmeister, reviewing new European Laser Regulations for Consumer Products.

Rosemary Abowd of PMA Research will begin session 2 with Projection Market Overview – “Pandemic Chain Reaction”.  David Hancock, of OMDIA, will update all on the status and trends of the Global Cinema Market.  We’ll conclude the market session with a talk on the application of Laser Illumination to the rapidly growing Ultra-Short Throw 4K TV market.

Session 3 will include comprehensive updates on Laser Devices and Packaging by Brian Montalbano of Nichia; New Device Packaging, by prospective new LIPA member, Foxconn and a review of advances in LaserPhosphor + RGB Hybrid technology by Wei Gu of Appotronics.  The session will close with a talk on the applicatons of LaPh Hybrids and other advances to projection technology by Rich McPherson of LIPA founding member, Sharp/NEC.

We’ll conclude the presentations with a “Blue Sky”, forward looking session starting with LIPA-founder and past Chairman, Pete Ludé, entitled “Projecting the Future of Projectors”, a review of emerging technologies such as DVLED, that will compete with classical projection going forward. Next, Kristofer Oberascher of Texas Instruments, will preview work his team is doing on Phase Modulation, enabled by Laser Illuminations and its application to image projection.  Next, Alberto Alfier of LIPA member Osram/ClayPaky will present an update on Laser Illuminated Show Lighting and the impact of bright, controllable, and safe laser lighting for events. The program will close with a presentation by long time LIPA supporter and past Chairman, Greg Niven, of Kyocera-SLD.  Greg will review novel ways Lasers, fiber and phosphors are addressing specialty, high performance lighting applications.

Watch for detailed registration instructions in to be emailed to members this week.  Please invite interested colleagues from your team or other parts of your company.  Be sure they register individually.  New members will need to set up their own LIPA accounts.

We hope to “see” you all on TUESDAY the 7th of December.

For LIPA, Best regards,  Bill Beck – The Laser Guy

LIPA CELEBRATES ITS 10TH ANNIVERSARY – SESSION HIGHLIGHTS

Introduction

LIPA Celebrated its 10th Anniversary in May; having achieved much progress and many milestones.  As an in-person gathering was still out of the question, we held two, two-hour GoToMeeting sessions.  We enjoyed the inputs and memories of about 80 members, past and present; colleagues and friends.  We even had some surprise guests from the earliest days of Laser illuminated projection.

The idea was to bring together many of the industry’s pioneers, visionaries, technologists and LIPA members to review, acknowledge and reminisce about the history and progress, the challenges and future trends of this radically different lighting technology.

The Sessions

The two sessions were divided into 6 topics: The Early Days, Digital Cinema, Technical Breakthroughs, The Regulatory Story, Commercialization Progress, Status and Future Developments. 

We still don’t know for certain when the “first” LIP was contemplated or built, but we all learned a lot more about how early work began.  We had several pioneers from COLOR, an early R&D shop that built and installed demo LIP systems in museums, sports arenas and even to project images of tanks on “disposable screens” at the US Army’s gunnery range…all in the 1990s!!

We learned about the impact of the Cinema industry’s change from Film to Digital, that enabled the use of narrow-band RGB laser light to generate the millions of colors in the Digital Cinema Initiative’s (DCI) specified color gamut.  The DCinema conversion was both a blessing and curse. One the one hand, it provided a solid, if difficult to achieve, global specification and a huge (future) addressable market. This enticed a few intrepid investors to “go back into” laser technology shortly after the telecom bust of 2003. On the other hand, delays in the financing of the Digital Cinema conversion, (indeed, a global financial crisis in 2008-09), greatly delayed the expected time to market for DCinema LIPs.

The commercial availability of Blue Laser Diodes from Nichia and the extensive Laser-pumped phosphor technology from Appotronics both accelerated DCinema development and enabled a host of new, lower lumen LIP segments and applications.

Although the focus of the sessions was on Laser technology, LIPA founding members, TI and SONY provided the essential Spatial Light Modulator (SLM) technology that enabled the application of Laser illumination to high performance projection.

LIPA’s core mission, in fact its “raison d’être”, is to rationalize global Laser safety regulations to assure risk mitigation while not unduly impeding the adoption of the technology.  The audience learned what a great challenge this was for LIPA, that it took years of meetings and millions in dues and in-kind contributions from members and their expert staff to achieve what would be required for robust commercialization.  LIPA was able to contribute greatly to the understanding of optical hazard and risk; how to quantify it and to establish a global framework that now evaluates laser and lamp illuminated projectors the same way.

Given the magnitude of the challenge and the prerequisite of the US FDA/CDRH to start with a peer-reviewed article on the optical hazards of LIPs, it is (in retrospect), no surprise that it took so long to establish a new and more structured regulatory regime.  In fact, with the help of LIPA’s Regulatory team of member experts, laser safety consultants and yes, lawyers, LIPA adopted a strategy to utilize the International Electro-Technical Commission (IEC) regulatory framework and its updating opportunities to make progress much faster outside of the US. Eventually, with the IEC formally on board, it was much easier to convince the FDA/CDRH to “conform” to new IEC global standards than to start from scratch.  But it still took a long time, and success was never assured.


Ten years ago, high lumen “flagship” Cinema LIPs were demonstrated by several LIPA members. This really put the pressure on LIPA to establish a mechanism to bring these amazing systems into commerce.  Initially, “Laser Variances”, that is, individual FDA authorizations were required to deploy these specialized projectors in large screen, typically 3D-capable theaters.  These early variances provided the template for future global regulatory requirements.

The consensus is that commercialization of Cinema LIPs started with a series of demos and product introductions in spring of 2014 by several LIPA members.  At the same time, the brightness levels achievable with Laser Phosphor technology began breaking records every quarter. People wondered: would they every hit 10,000 lumens…? They did, and have gotten much brighter since.

As of now, LIPs are available at all brightness levels from “Pico” to 75,000 lumens; in nearly every category, from the classroom to the boardroom; from Ultra-Short Throw 4K Laser TV to gigantic, multi-projector mapping systems.  Laser engine architectures now include often complex hybrids of RGB diodes + custom phosphors, optimized for the required mix of image quality, color space, power efficiency and lifetime. 

Market data suggests that LIPs are now the dominant illumination technology on a dollar value (if not unit) basis.  Some major projector makers have moved to all laser or all solid-state illumination, eliminating lamp-based designs from their new product offerings. (Later this year LIPA will publish a formal update on LIP Market penetration.)

The sessions wrapped up with a view to the future.  The consensus was that as the global economy and in particular, Cinemas, “open up”, LIPs will lead the charge.  Many multiplexes were built as or upgraded to “All-Laser” during the pandemic. And many LIPA members have developed new LIP products and product families during the past 18 months. 

LIPA still has much work to do.  As new designs are developed and brightness levels increase, new regulatory cases continue to emerge.  Our long-term mission to assure user safety and promote business success continues, and now that mission covers nearly all projection categories, not just the cutting edge of premium Cinema.

Session Takeaways

  1. The development and commercialization of LIPs …TOOK A LONG TIME – at least 30 years.  It took many visionaries, technologists, companies, investors, Hollywood gatekeepers…and LIPA to put all the pieces together.
  2. LIPA, founded in May of 2011, by about a dozen companies, developed and achieved a global regulatory rationalization strategy that has enabled very rapid adoption and no known injuries since commercialization of high brightness LIPs in 2014.
  3. As of 2020, all high brightness (Risk Group 3) projectors are regulated by the same standard, irrespective of light source technology – Laser and Lamp illuminated projectors are finally on the same footing
  4. Over time, LIPs have “paid off” all of benefits of laser illumination, predicted since the 1990s: higher brightness, better image quality, amazing color saturation, ultra-long light source lifetime, higher power efficiency (lm/watt), lower heat generation, quieter operation, remote light delivery via optical fiber and lower cost per usable lumen
  5. As a result of the above advances, LIPs have in ten years become the dominant projection illumination technology with a strong trend toward a fully “lamp-less” future.

Introduction to Laser Illuminated Projector Efficiency Metrics

Introduction

Laser Illuminated Projectors (LIPs) provide both image quality and economic benefits to a wide range of applications.  New laser packaging technology and more sophisticated thermal management subsystems continue to improve the energy efficiency of LIPs for both cinema and non-cinema applications. 

Part of LIPA’s mission is to establish best practices and to educate our members, purchasers and users of LIPs.  With the widespread and growing adoption of Laser illumination, our industry needs a consensus “Figure of Merit” (FoM) by which LIPs can be directly and accurately compared, “in use”.  The goal of this blog post is to propose a well-defined FoM that can provide the basis for comparing, tracking and continuously improving the efficiencies of this increasingly dominant, solid-state illumination (SSI) technology. Furthermore, it will touch on strategies to further increase base efficiencies and extend operating lifetimes.

LIP Overall Energy Efficiency

The Energy Efficiency of a LIP is simply the projector’s output in lumens divided by its wall-plug electrical power consumption. The metric is “lumens per wall-plug watt” or lm/WElectrical.  This is the most comprehensive and straightforward definition, as it is the measure of what the user “gets” for the quantifiable power utilized (and billed) – at the wall-plug (Mains) source.

This metric should be included on LIP data-sheets, so the customer does not have to calculate it.  It quantifies the efficiency of the projector per se, and allows the user to compare different models and to calculate the hourly power cost to operate the LIP for a given electricity price in $/kW-hr.

Simple yes, but…

This Figure of Merit becomes reliably comparable, when several consensus conditions are met and included in the definition of the proposed metric.

  1. The wall plug POWER in watts must include all requisite laser, optics, electronics and cooling, whether on-board (inside the projector) or off-board, in a chiller or radiator.
  2. The wall plug POWER in watts includes all the power needed for electronics, processing, fans, content interfaces and storage etc., not just the laser light source.
  3. The wall plug power is that which is required to deliver the specified lumens, with the appropriate definition. Examples:  Maximum lumen output; Typical lumen output, Maximum lumen output at calibrated white-point; efficiency at output and power level leading to maximum lifetime.

We see that for any given Projector, one may arrive at different efficiencies levels using the standard FoM [lm/W]. All efficiency values can be valid, comparable and useful if they are clearly defined.

To illustrate how the FoM can be used to compare LIPs in several different modes we can take a hypothetical LIP that delivers a maximum of 20,000 lumens and consumes 2,000W (2.0kW) of wall-plug power to do it.  FoM = 10 lm/W.  When the projector is calibrated for its intended White-point/color space, the output may drop to 18,500lm FoM = 9.25 lm/W.  If the projector is set for maximum operating life, it may produce 15,000 lumens at 1.8kW power consumption FoM = 8.33 lm/W.  The figure of merit is the same, but the value is different when measured and calculated under different operating conditions.

Finally, in comparing operating efficiencies of LIPs, one must also consider the power consumption of any HVAC cooling when the projector’s exhaust heat is “externalized” to the venue operating environment.  For example, the heat dissipation in watts of an operating projector if merely the difference between the wall-plug watt input and the optical power output in watts (not lumens) out of the lens. The design of the projector may seek to maintain a constant Laser (and optics) temperature via the use of a chiller or by air-cooling the whole projector to “the ambient environment”.  In either case, “the environment” still has to dissipate the heat.

In cases where the heat load is large, this cost must be borne either way, but it is NOT included in the Projector efficiency FoM.  Technically, this is true of all LIPs, but for most lower lumen LIPs, the additional HVAC power consumption is de minimis, so can be left out of the calculation.

In conclusion, the simplest efficiency metric, lm/Wwallplug can be used and compared, as long as its measured wall power consumption corresponds to the stated operating condition (maximum, typical, calibrated, average).  In some special cases – ultra-high lumen output and/or ultra-long operating lifetimes, external heat dissipation costs should also be considered in selecting the right projector and operating conditions for the most efficient combination of output level, lifetime and power consumption.

Future LIPA posts and articles will discuss the range efficiency levels and how they are measured and achieved.  

CELEBRATE Laser Illuminated Projection and the 10th Anniversary of LIPA’s Founding

May, 2021, marks the 10th Anniversary of the founding of LIPA, the Laser Illuminated Projector Association (www.LIPAinfo.org).  LIPA was born out of a perceived need to provide “one voice” to update and rationalize the regulation of digital projectors that would incorporate Lasersinstead of Lamps, as their projected light source.

At the time LIPA was conceived and founded, a number of companies involved in Cinema Projection and companies developing the lasers and laser engines to power them, had already begun doing demonstrations to various future stakeholders, known collectively as “Hollywood”.  This group of LIPA Co-Founders wanted to be sure that existing laser safety regulations would not impede the development and commercialization of this new technology.

But the story of Laser Projection began long before LIPA’s founding…so we have invited you all to help recall and complete the story, celebrate the progress and “tell the future” of LIPs.

WHEN:  Thursday, May 27th, 2021 

  • Session 1: 4-6AM NY / 10AM-12PM Brussels / 4-6PM Beijing / 5-7PM Tokyo
  • Session 2: 7-9AM San Francisco / 10AM-12PM New York / 4-6PM Brussels              

WHY:   The goal of these sessions is to inform, recollect, ponder, excite and CELEBRATE what has turned out to be a huge step forward for projection. All of you have made contributions to this massive change in projection illumination – invention, development, forecasting, education, gatekeeping, investing, exhibition – guardians of image quality, economics and safety. Many of you continue to do so!

WHAT:  Each session will consist of a two-hour GoToMeeting.  Participants are encouraged to participate as they wish – anecdotes, questions, answers, stories, mysteries, clues – all with the goal to more completely inform the group as to what happened, when, how, why and “who dunnit”.  The audience will include 10-20 “Pioneers” – many LIPA members, some not – to guide various topics such as:

  • When did laser projection start?
  • What lasers were used in the early days?
  • Were there any products or demos in the 90s?
  • What was the impact of the conversion from film to Digital on the development of LIPs?
  • Why did it take so long to get from concept to commercialization 1995 – 2014?  – Beck and Niven dialog
  • What companies Co-founded LIPA? How much was invested to get the regulations right?
  • How did the broader financial markets impact (and impede) development and commercialization?
  • How were the conversions from film to digital Cinema and the development of LIPs intertwined?
  • How did DCI and Hollywood act as guardians of image quality for Digital Cinema
  • What impact did 3D have on LIP development?
  • What were the biggest Regulatory challenges and how were they overcome?
  • What technical breakthroughs enabled development of laser projection?
  • What is the current status of LIP vs. LAMP regulation?
  • What is the future of LIPA (Current Members speak)

HOW: Any participant can enter the discussion live, send questions in advance (billbeck59a2@gmail.com) or send questions (or answers) via the GoToMeeting Chat box. All interested in LIPs are welcome. 

**REGISTRATION**: https://www.lipainfo.org/aro/meeting/lipa10years

Any questions please email us at info@lipainfo.org

LIPA’s 10 Year Anniversary

What: Celebrate LIPA’s 10th Anniversary with members and Laser Projection Pioneers – past and present. The sessions will be informal and a great opportunity to learn some history, find out more about LIPA’s past successes and current work!

When: Thursday, May 27, 2021

Two Differnt Times: Session 1: 4:00AM-6:00AM New York / 10:00AM-12:00PM BRUSSELS / 4:00PM-6:00PM BEIJING / 5:00PM-7:00PM TOKYO
Session 2: 7:00AM-9:00AM San Francisco / 10:00AM-12:00PM NEW YORK / 4:00-6:00PM BRUSSELS

Where: A GoToMeeting. Invitations with topics and login details over the next 2 weeks. All are welcome, including anyone who wants to learn more about the history, evolution and future of Laser Illuminated Projectors.

Want more inforamtion about the meeting? Email us at info@lipainfo.org or subscribe to our mailing list below!

LIPA Board of Directors Elects New Officers for 2021

The Laser Illuminated Projector Association, also known as “LIPA”, has announced its officers for calendar year 2021.  Nominations were made in December and LIPA’s Board ratified the nominations listed in the table below.

Position 2021 Officers 2020 Officers
LIPA Chairman Goran Stojmenovik, Barco Goran Stojmenovik, Barco
LIPA Vice Chairman Hideyuki Kanayama, Panasonic Tsuneharu Nomura, Sony
Secretary Tim Ryan, Texas Instruments Tim Ryan, Texas Instruments
Regulatory Business Chairman Hideyuki Kanayama, Panasonic Hideyuki Kanayama, Panasonic
Membership Chairman Wei Gu, Appotronics Richard Miller, Seiko Epson
Finance Chairman Richard McPherson, Sharp-NEC Pamela Lothman, Christie Digital
Communications Chairman Goran Stojmenovik, Barco Goran Stojmenovik, Barco

Goran Stojmenovik continues as Chairman of LIPA for 2021.  Goran will also serve as the ad-interim Communications Chairman until a nomination is made and approved.

Hideyuki Kanayama, an early pioneer in the development of laser illuminated projection and an expert in international regulations, has been elected Vice Chairman of LIPA. He will continue to lead LIPA’s regulatory efforts as Regulatory Business Chairman in 2021.

Tim Ryan continues as Secretary of LIPA for 2021.  Tim represents Texas Instruments, a founding member of LIPA and long-time supplier of DLPÒ Chips to the digital projection industry.

Wei Gu of Appotronics Co., Ltd, has been elected Membership Chairman and will take over for Richard Miller of Seiko Epson.  Wei will help expand our membership, and in particular, increase our outreach to Asia/Pacific companies.  He will also help us develop stronger communications channels to LIPA’s existing and new members.

Richard McPherson, of Sharp-NEC Displays, is also a long-time member of LIPA.  He has been elected Finance Chairman for 2021 and will continue as a contributing member of the Communications Working Group.

Laser Projectors Go to the Drive-In

The International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA), in conjunction Box Office Pro magazine, presented a webinar entitled “Back to the Future – How Drive-Ins and Pop-Up Cinema Complements the Movie Going Experience in the Covid-19 Aftermath.”  Moderated by Frank Tees, VP of ICTA, the group presented five “interviews” describing innovative approaches to exhibiting movies…outdoors.  Yes, ‘Back to the Future’ is right.

I logged in for two reasons:  first, I wanted to see how the exhibition business is finding new (or dare I say “re-imagined”) ways to get movies on the screen for its patrons in the “time of Covid” lockdowns – and second, to see if high brightness Laser Illuminated Projectors (LIPs) are playing an enabling role.  I was not disappointed in either case.

Some background for the youngsters in the audience:  Drive-in Theaters were all the rage in the 50s, peaking at 4,063 outdoor screens in 1958.  Yes, with film projectors and those tinny speakers you hung on your partly rolled down window.  Due to factors both cultural, competing entertainment options and economic, increased real estate values for alternative land uses, screen counts declined continuously from the peak leaving only 549 screens at 305 locations last year. 

But then along came Covid and the lockdowns.  Exhibitors went from a record-breaking start in the first two months of 2020 to dead stop by the end of March.  But then some enterprising exhibitors looked back and decided they could update 50s Drive-ins, build new Pop-Ups or hang “parking lot screens” on the sides of their now-closed multiplexes, keeping their brands alive and patrons happy.

The 5 presenters ranged from seasoned Drive-in owners to “indoor theater” managers desperate to stay connected to their loyal local and summer tourist patrons to a creative neophyte who had never himself been to a Drive-In as a kid.  Lots of cleverness and “learn as you go” – but all animated by the love of Cinema and the spirit of “can do”.  Even new, “inflatable screens” (Yes, big ones! Even two-sided ones) have been deployed to bring outdoor Cinema to some unlikely places – like this one in Venice for the VFF. Not your backyard cinema!

Photo courtesy of AirScreen

But what about Lasers at the Drive In?  Joe De Meo of Cinionic interviewed Rick Cohen, CEO of Transit Drive-In Theatre in Lockport, NY, near Buffalo, a five screen multiplex run by his family for 3 generations since they acquired it in 1957.  No amateurs here!  All the time I spent pushing laser cinema (since 2003), I always thought that Drive-Ins could profit from the benefits of Laser Projection:  Double the brightness of the best Xenon PJ; better color and contrast, power savings – the best for the biggest big screen. But it took a while.

Rick described how they “saw the demo in Rochester ten years ago and wanted laser”.  They held out until 2012, hoping they could go digital and laser at once, but they ultimately decided to convert to digital and wait a bit longer to go Laser.  They “pulled the trigger on Laser this year and installed a 60L in May”, just in time for the lockdown. 

The results?  “Phenomenal.  Unimaginable brightness – on a 100’x41’ screen”.  So, his first laser screen, the biggest of the 5, went from being the dimmest to being the brightest.  Patrons that used to compare pictures for years – the biggest Xenon screen had the dimmest picture.  Laser has flipped this and now the expectation is set.  Transit will soon be the first “All Laser, Drive-In Multiplex” – bringing the benefits of Laser Illuminated Projectors to all 5 screens.  Back to the Future, indeed.

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