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HDR visuals in a theatre without a projection room, thanks to Onyx

Stree stars Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao at the launch of Onyx at PVR Promenade in Delhi on Monday

All eyes were on the back of the theatre auditorium at PVR Promenade in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj on Monday afternoon. But the projection room was missing! In front was a giant LED screen (10 metres in width) and the colours simply popped when the trailer to the Friday release Stree was screened. Seated a few rows down the line were the film’s lead pair — Rajkummar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor — and they couldn’t help but shout “wow”.

The future of movie viewing has arrived — Onyx Cinema LED from Samsung. The technology from the South Korean giant is absolutely new even in the international market, with the US getting its first Onyx screen (Pacific Theatres Winnetka in Chatsworth, California) in April this year.

After a first-hand experience of viewing on Onyx, t2 sat down with Puneet Sethi, vice-president, consumer electronics enterprise business, Samsung India, and PVR Cinemas CEO Gautam Dutta for a chat.

Gautam Dutta

What are some of the parameters you looked at before installing an Onyx LED screen?

Gautam Dutta: Brands need to be more relevant and need to be forward-looking. It is no different for us. Whenever we look at any new technology, we evaluate it and then see how keen PVR would be to adopt that technology. We are always looking at three areas with a keen eye — projection, sound and seating. I remember my technology guy asking me to imagine a television that was the size of a cinema screen. When we went to CinemaCon (in the US) and saw it, we were just blown away. You don’t need a projection room, so you save on real estate.

We were concerned about sound issues because there are no speakers at the back of the screen. We were worried about how the lip-sync would be and stuff like that. The weight of the whole screen is mammoth. So how do you create a structure and get that to hang? Eventually, the capital required. We had to look at many factors. We then took a call and decided that the first screen should be in south Delhi, in one of the most iconic properties (the Promenade) and the second one in Lower Parel in Mumbai. Let’s wait for the reaction.

Puneet Sethi

What about Calcutta?

Gautam: Currently not in the plan. The third one may go to Bangalore.

Sound is a critical issue....

Puneet Sethi: The surround sound experience from JBL by Harman and Samsung’s Audio Lab is precise. Since this is a hard-body screen, you can’t get sound from behind the screen. A lot of effort has gone in to make the sound appear better than in projector-based auditoriums. Since the sound comes from the top and bottom of the screen and also from the different speakers in an auditorium, the sweet spot that’s usually there in the centre of a hall is now equally distributed all over the room. You will have the same experience regardless of the location of your seat.

Do films need to be in a certain format for Onyx?

Puneet: The video format that’s played is the same. It can run any kind of DCI certified format. The same DCI-certified server as before runs the movie for the new screen. So far what has been happening is that content gets loaded on the server, which feeds the projector and that, in turn, projects to the screen. Here the server is fixed behind the screen.

What kind of films will be shown on the Onyx screen?

Gautam: There will be no segregation as to which film gets shown on this screen but yes, the main films of the week will be given preference. Also, if we get films that are high on technology and colour depth, then these would be screened.

Why do you think Onyx will click?

Puneet: The total cost of the screen is obviously higher than a projector-based set-up but revenues will increase with Onyx screens. The same infrastructure can be used for other activities because the screen doesn’t get affected by ambient light. Also, you can have a film for kids without worrying about them falling down in the dark. You can also have product launches and screen sport events.

Gautam: There can be situations when you want the ambient light to be on. This is one area the screen scores a lot more over conventional screens.

Onyx can be a game changer for 3D films...

Puneet: It will certainly give it a boost. Normally, with projection there is a loss of resolution. Onyx offers active 3D with no loss of resolution. The refresh rate is also higher, which means the picture is crisper. 

Gautam: If more and more screens get converted into LED, 3D can get completely revived all over the world.

Puneet, are you looking at more screens and beyond PVR? 

Puneet: We hope to excel this year with four or five screens. We feel that the technology will take off in a big way next year. We are in discussion with other cinema chains.

Will we see Onyx coming to home auditoriums?

Puneet: We have a smaller size, which is a five-metre 2K screen. Depending on the size, it can get into homes. There is another size, which is 14 metres and it will launch in Q4. Five metres is for small auditoriums, 10 metres (4K) form the belly and 14 metres (4K) is for big auditoriums and for stand-alone cinemas.

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