Tampa’s Channelside Cinemas go all-4K

The movie theater industry has historically been plagued by periodic cycles of prosperity and hardship. After the initial boom of grandiose theaters in the 1920’s, which gave us fabulous movie houses like Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood (1927), the Paradise Theater in Chicago (1928) and the Tampa Theater in downtown Tampa (1926), the depression hit and, like it did to so many other segments of the economy, created a dramatic decline in revenue for theater owners. The adoption of the widescreen film format helped things slowly improve for the movie theater business until the advent of color television in the mid-1950s, which influenced more families to stay home to watch the talkies. Another movie boom came in the mid-to-late 1970s when revolutionary films like Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) sent patrons back to the theaters in droves. For the next decade or so, theater owners rested on their laurels and allowed their movie houses to become outdated and, in many cases, in a state of disrepair. Consequently, many theater owners again found their businesses in jeopardy. THX certification, digital sound formats and improved architectural and aesthetic designs improved things for movie theaters in the mid-1980s and 1990s.

In the 21st century, we now have 3D presentations, Dolby Surround 7.1, IMAX screens and 4K digital projection. In looking back, it’s easy to conclude that it’s generally been two things that have continually saved movie theaters from going under – a quality story and a quality presentation. Sure, the fancy coffee machines are nice and the self-serve butter dispensers are a welcome enhancement, but what is it that you really remember about going to see a movie? Undoubtedly it’s whether or not you enjoyed the film. Everything else is either a small enhancement or a small nusance. And this brings us to Channelside Cinemas in Tampa installing Sony 4K digital projectors for all of their screens.

First, let’s clarify all this 4K projection talk. 4K is simply a description of the resolution these new theater projectors can display. If you have an 1080p HDTV and a Blu-ray player at home, you can enjoy presentations at a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. This provides you with 1920 horizontal pixels representing a slightly-less-than-2K display. Sony 4K digital projectors display images at up to 4096 x 2160 pixels or just beyond 4K, which is over 4 times what your 1080p display is giving you. And you thought Blu-ray was nice! For reference, not quite half of the movie theaters in the U.S. have made the transition from film projection to digital projection. And those that have are mainly using 2K projectors.

Most successful theater owners are able to recognize trends and advancements in theater presentation and periodically make investments to their facilities to keep up with current standards. I’ve found that most theater owners are strictly interested in generating revenue and making improvements to their theaters is mainly for marketing purposes. Unfortunately, very few theater owners and managers actually care about the quality of the presentation and make improvements for the sake of providing better quality picture and sound. Back in the mid-1990s, I had lengthy conversations with the theater managers at AMC Crossroads 8 in St. Petersburg and AMC Hyde Park 7 in Tampa about why they didn’t actively promote the fact that each of them offered two THX-certified screens at their locations – the only locations in the area at the time that offered the improved quality of THX. One of them didn’t even really know what THX was and the other, while more familiar with film presentation quality standards, seemed more interested in informing customers about the new selection of flavored popcorns they offered than why those looking to see a film exactly as the directors intended should seek out their THX screens.

So, back to Channelside Cinemas installing these Sony 4K digital projectors in all their screens. Whether the theater owners and managers at Channelside installed the upgraded projectors for marketing purposes, quality improvement purposes or both, there is no doubt a benefit to the patron. At Channelside, 4K is no longer reserved for blockbusters or special screenings. Regardless of what you decide to see at Channelside, you can be guaranteed that you’ll be seeing it in the highest resolution currently available, provided the movie studio whose film you’re seeing decided to release the film in 4K digital, which is a whole other story!

I applaude Channelside Cinemas for taking a proactive approach to enhancing their facilities and offering the best presentation for moviegoers. Now, the next step is to educate the customer and promote the fact that you’re the only all-4K theater in the area! The “if you build it, they will come” approach doesn’t always work – you have to tell people why they should come to your place. Otherwise, you may end up like AMC Crossroads 8 (razed and replaced with a KFC and a Japanese steakhouse).


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9 Responses to “Tampa’s Channelside Cinemas go all-4K”

  1. Michael Says:

    Excellent write-up!

    Watch 4K televisions enter living rooms soon!

    follow us on Twitter @4KTV

  2. Jorgito2001 Says:

    I just saw Megamind in what I THOUGHT would be an IMAX presentation (the logo is still in the Giant Screen theater entrance)…and yet, that HUGE screen was only about 50%-60% used…and the sound wasn’t as “loud” like when I saw actual IMAX movies at this theater like Polar Express and Batman Begins several years ago.

    The new ‘Lounge’ looks unique…but I brought my kids this day mainly for the Giant Screen selling point & walked away dissappointed…despite the screen itself not being as large as Channelside’s Giant Screen, at least Veterans 24’s IMAX “feels” like an IMAX & not a slightly bigger Real 3D presentation. I’ll probably stick to Veterans or Regency for big screen presentations.

    • digitalmediaservices Says:

      And here’s where additional format confusion comes in. The original IMAX format utilizes 70mm full frame film projected at 24 or 48 frames per second with a magnetic or digital 6-channel surround soundtrack. This allows the films shot with IMAX cameras to retain their quality when presented on the huge IMAX screens. Batman Begins and The Polar Express were up-converted to the original IMAX format using the IMAX DMR technology.

      However, we now have a new IMAX format that utilizes two Sony 2K digital projectors. This format has nothing in common with the original IMAX format but the company does not make any differentiation between the new IMAX and the original IMAX. From the get-go, I knew this would be an issue. I have no problem with the new IMAX format; I just wish it was named IMAX Digital or something similar to inform audiences that it’s not the same as the original IMAX.

      Magamind IMAX was presented as the latter IMAX format; a 2K digital presentation as opposed to a full-screen original IMAX presentation. The only two feature films that have actually used 65mm IMAX cameras for portions of their productions have been Batman: The Dark Knight and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Each of these two films had select sequences shot in IMAX. Both films had their remaining 35mm portions up-rezed to true IMAX using IMAX DMR and presented on full-sized IMAX screens. If you watch the Blu-ray disc of The Dark Knight, you can actually see which portions were filmed in IMAX and which portions were filmed in 35mm because the aspect ratio changes depending on the camera format. It’s an interesting view.

      Now days, with the rare exception, the majority of feature films branded as IMAX will be the 2k digital projection version that is not of sufficient resolution to fill a traditional IMAX screen. So, in the case of Megamind, the theater did show an IMAX presentation; it just wasn’t the kind of IMAX you’re used to. Hopefully documentary and nature filmmakers will continue to use the traditional IMAX format for their films meant for screening at science centers and the like. It’s still an amazing format.

      Branding the new IMAX format as IMAX Digital would solve all confusion, in my opinion.

  3. cohasset handyman Says:

    You picked a good topic for this post and you wrote about it well. I have seen several other websites with similar content but no 1 has completed a better job than you on writing about it.

    • digitalmediaservices Says:

      Thanks very much for your kind words. All the various production, projection and soundtrack formats make it difficult for the movie-going audience to know what to look for. And now that 3D is all the rage, it’s even more confusing.

      Unfortunately, we can’t just trust that our local cineplex owners keep all of their equipment and presentation standards up-to-date thereby allowing us to just pick the show we want and know that we’re seeing it as the filmmakers intended. An all-4K, all-THX multiplex would solve all of our woes, for now, anyway.

  4. mst3kpimp Says:

    I just saw Tron Legacy at the channelside Imax but left confused as I did’nt feel it was an Imax qaulity presentation. We were given “real 3-D” glasses instead of the goggles you got with Avatar Imax. The picture looked more like a standard film rather then the crisp bright picture that I saw with Star Trek and Avatar. To be fair it doesnt say “Imax” on the listing or ticket but rather “Channelside Sony Giant Screen Digital”. The Imax theater in St. Pete is using the Imax Experience label. Why would’nt Channelside give the proper Imax presentation when they have in the past fo other films? Is this some new way to save money?

    • digitalmediaservices Says:

      Your comment brings up another interesting source of confusion. TRON Legacy is playing at Channelside IMAX in the RealD 3D format on a traditional IMAX screen. As Channelside has installed Sony 4K digital projectors for all of their screens, any of their movie houses can show a 3D film. But they use the RealD 3D system, not the IMAX 3D system. So the only thing IMAX about the Channelside showing was that it was shown on a large, original format IMAX screen. In fact, Channelside IMAX has not installed an IMAX (digital) 3D system so they can’t advertise their screenings as “The IMAX Experience,” which seems to be the branding phrase that IMAX has chosen to use for their digital IMAX screenings.

      Muvico Baywalk & IMAX, on the other hand, like AMC Woodlands 24 & IMAX, among other Tampa Bay area theaters, has installed the digital IMAX projection system, which includes a special screen, a special sound system and a special dual 2K projector configuration. The IMAX systems use their own 3D system that’s not compatible with the RealD 3D system. To add to the confusion, Dolby has their own 3D system which has been stated by some to be even better than the IMAX 3D or RealD 3D system. Unfortunately, there aren’t any Dolby 3D theaters in the immediate Tampa Bay area for comparison.

      So, the bottom line – for now, anyway – is this…choose the Channelside Cinemas 10 theater if you want to see a RealD 3D presentation or any standard 2D digital presentation in 4K, want to see a presentation on one of the larger screens in the bay area (on their single original IMAX screen) or want to see an original IMAX presentation or a feature film that’s been up-converted to the original IMAX format using IMAX DMR technology on their original IMAX screen. Choose one of the local (digital) IMAX “The IMAX Experience” theaters if you want to see a presentation (3D or 2D) on the new digital, dual 2K projector IMAX screens with a proprietary sound system. Again, Dolby offers a third 3D presentation system if you want to seek that out. Disney Digital 3D is just a branding term that represents a digital 3D release by the Disney company that is compatible with any of the digital 3D presentation systems (RealD, IMAX 3D, Dolby 3D).

      Note that the RealD 3D, IMAX 3D and Dolby 3D systems all use slightly different presentation systems and you may prefer one over another, regardless of screen size, projector brand or soundtrack format. So, as a result, you may prefer the RealD 3D presentation format over the IMAX 3D presentation format but may prefer the proprietary IMAX sound system over another theater’s generic sound system. Theater owners don’t do a very good job at educating the consumer about the different presentation systems or what they offer at their theater, so a little investigation on your part is in order. Use the IMAX, RealD 3D and Dolby 3D websites to see what’s playing and to find a theater. And, as always, the best way to compare the various presentation formats and theater systems is to see the same film in a variety of formats and locations to see what you like best. TRON Legacy is a good one to use as a test case since it’s playing in multiple formats (IMAX 3D, RealD 3D, 2D, 4K, 2K, IMAX screen, etc.).

      • Matt Says:

        Hi, there’s one thing I’m confused about-I’ve been reading references to IMAX 3D 4k. Is that the same thing as the dual 2k projectors you’re talking about, or is it a new technology that’s come out since you wrote this article? If it is new, do you know whether the Veteran’s has installed it? Also, do you know what the frame rates are for the respective digital formats? I’m assuming that when they show a 3D movie at Channelside, they’re using half the frames for each eye, while the dual projectors can obviously use the full frame rate for both. Does that make any noticeable difference? Thanks for the benefit of your knowledge.

      • digitalmediaservices Says:

        Matt – it gets more confusing all the time, doesn’t it? I think I can best address your comments by providing a brief overview of the current status of the various 3D formats; no doubt this will change over time and become outdated…

        The original RealD 3D uses a 2K projector to simultaneously show two 1K images for the left eye/right eye configuration of the 3D picture at 24 fps. Since both the left eye and right eye images are on the screen at the same time, each eye is never seeing more than a 1K resolution image, which is not even as good as HDTV. Essentially, the single projector is showing a 2K image but only half of the pixels are delivered to each eye.

        RealD has recently partnered with Sony to upgrade their delivery format to support 4K projectors, meaning the viewer will now see two 2K images (along with a slightly brighter picture). This is a definite improvement but note that the overall resolution still maxes out at 2K, slightly better than HDTV. As digital projectors don’t “know” what kind of picture information they’re projecting (2D or 3D), any Sony 4K projector can present the newer RealD 3D 4K. It’s all a matter of making a few modifications to the projector lens system and whether or not the movie studio processes the RealD 3D image in 2K or 4K. I would suspect that you’ll see studios going for 4K in almost every instance.

        The original IMAX 3D digital system uses two 2K projectors, one for the left eye and one for the right eye. Both images are on the screen at the same time but, because there are two separate projectors, a 2K resolution image is maintained for each eye. The net result is a 4K image on screen that is separated into two 2K images by the IMAX 3D glasses. As you might guess, the IMAX dual projector system offers much higher resolution. The newer RealD 3D system now matches the original IMAX 3D system in terms of resolution (but not necessarily in color accuracy, brightness levels, sound capabilities, screen size, etc.)

        IMAX (along with Kodak and Barco) recently announced the development of a 4K laser projector with enhanced color rendition and darker black levels. Two of these projectors can be used for 3D systems which will up-the-ante to 4K 3D (8K image on screen separated into two 4K images for each eye). The system is supposed to be available some time in late 2013.

        As for frame rates, the current DCI specification supports 2K resolution at up to 48 fps and 4K resolution at up to 24 fps. Unless these specifications are modified, which they no doubt will be, 4K 3D will require two projectors (like the upcoming IMAX system). I’m certain we’ll soon be seeing modifications to the DCI specs as camera systems continue to advance. Take “Prometheus” for example; the film was shot in 3D with 5K-resolution Red Epic cameras yet was only projected in 3D at 2K. Imagine how much better it might have looked in 4K 3D. And “The Hobbit” films are being shot with Red Epic cameras at 48 fps. If we’re to see these films in 3D at their native frame rate, we’ll either need to view them at 1K with the current specification or the specification will need to be modified (and projection systems built) to support 4K at 48 fps which will give us a 2K image with a single projector or a 4K image with dual projectors.

        And then we have 4K Ultra HDTV on the horizon…

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