05/09/2013 05:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Four New Technologies Promise an Optimal, Much-Improved Moviegoing Experience


The key word at CinemaCon is "celebrate." This is a celebration of movies, the people who make them and a celebration of the theater owners who show them. It is the one time each year when the movie exhibition industry gathers to thank the people who show their films and, while there, show off a range of innovations intended to entice more people to come to see them. The four-day annual event, sponsored by the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), was held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in April.

In addition to the celebrities -- among them, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Sally Field, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the cast of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Armie Hammer, directors Michael Bay and Garth Verbinski, -- the theater owners and managers from around the world saw a couple of unreleased films, 18 minutes of the new Star Trek and several minutes of The Lone Ranger.

After NATO president John Fithian welcomed attendees, Sen. Chris Dodd, now chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), discussed the new movie rating system.

Modern movie ratings as we know them -- G (general audiences), PG (parental guidance suggested), PG-13 (parents of children under 13 strongly cautioned), R (restricted; under age 17 requires accompanying adult parent or guardian), NC-17 (no one under 17 admitted) -- have been in place since the late 1980s.

Now, to make the ratings easier to read and understand, Dodd said,

"Throughout its existence, the goal of the rating system has never changed: to inform parents and allow them to make their own decisions, considering their children's sensibilities and unique sensitivities. In 1990, we took a significant step to advance that goal, introducing rating descriptors for every film that is rated PG or higher, giving parents a snapshot of the content in each movie that leads to its rating.

The campaign we are announcing today focuses on these descriptors, giving parents the information they need to navigate the rating system and movies coming to their theaters."

Called "Check the Box," the new ratings are introduced in this commercial:.

:30 MPAA Check The Box Commercial from greenhausGFX on Vimeo.

A highlight of CinemaCon each year is a trade show. It is here that a range of new technologies, amenities and even snacks are introduced to the theater owners. Among the most interesting new technology this year were changes to sound, 3-D lighting and seats. All of these work to make the moviegoing experience more immersive.

Dolby's new Atmos sound technology will, according to Stuart Bowling, Dolby's senior worldwide technical marketing manager, "provide filmmakers with another tool that allows them to use sound to manipulate the audience into being pulled into what is happening on the screen."

As an example of this, Bowling cited a scene in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. "We're in a cave with Gollum and Bilbo. Gollum disappears and poses a riddle to Bilbo. Like Bilbo, the viewer cannot place exactly where Gollum has gone. As the character moves, the sound moves."

Atmos features up to 64 speakers in a theater, which enables the filmmaker to create a much more realistic soundscape than even SourroundSound. The company makes the analogy to traditional movie sound being like putting different colors of paint in the same spot. If you do this, it says,

"it can mean using our understanding of the human brain and how it perceives sound to create the impression that they are coming from many more different points in space (as they would in real life).  As a result, our brain can notice or attend to more or all of them, creating a much more realistic experience."

A Dolby spokesman further explains:

"In real life, we are probably hearing hundreds or thousands of sounds at any given moment and our brains are pretty good at focusing on what is important and filtering out the extraneous.  And yet, we can quite easily shift our focus to concentrate on any of the background sounds, away from the conversation we are having or the music we are listening to, and toward  the sounds of cars in the street outside or the birds chirping in the trees.  

"Filmmakers trying to create realistic soundscapes similarly try to layer lots of different sounds -- sometimes hundreds.  But when sounds are coming from a limited number of locations, say speakers, it is very difficult for our brain to untangle what Academy Award winner Walter Murch has described as a "spaghetti" of sounds."

Bowling adds, "It's like a GPS telling us where sound exists in space -- length, width, number of speakers."

In the first year, Dolby installed more than 100 systems in 28 countries and 50 more were ordered at CinemaCon.

Here, Bowling explains the system:

About Dolby Atmos from Dolby Laboratories on Vimeo.

Probably the most immersive experience showcased at CinemaCon was a new kind of seating. 4DX is one of the companies that exhibited at CinemaCon.

4DX brings high-tech motion seats to theaters. The way the seats move depends upon the film showing, as the seats move in sync with on-screen action. They may move vertically, sideways, forward and backward. There are also environmental effects -- wind, water, strobe lights, and so on.

Theodore Kim, senior vice president of .CJ4D Plex, the manufacturer, says the
technology was "invented in Korea and fine-tuned in the US to provide an extensive that heretofore couldn't be experienced in theaters."

There are already 4D theaters around the world with ore opening all the time. The first theater in Japan opened on April 24 showing Iron Man 3 and is, Kim says, "One hundred percent occupied at every performance."

To get a sense of what 4DX is like, check out the demo video:

And, for those who prefer that their seats stay still, Kim says, the 4DX can be turned off for four seats at a time, as the technology works in blocks of four. "Just tell the theater staff before you go in that you don't want it," he says.

While moviegoers may not have thought of requesting more pervasive sound, moving seats or even a clearer ratings system, there was one concern often voiced about 3-D movies. Many people have said they are bothered by the fact that 3-D films are much darker than their 2-D counterparts. Now, there is technology to change that.

At the beginning of many movies, after the name of the studio, producers and other up-front credits flash on the screen, you often see the word "Christie," signifying that the theater uses Christie projectors. In more theaters than any other brand, Christie has come up with a laser projectors.

Their new laser projection will make the movies brighter and, thus, more enjoyable.

Don Shaw, senior director of product management of Christie Entertainment Solutions, explains that:

"3-D projection absorbs 70 to 90 percent of the light. Like any new technology, laser projection will be a niche product at first but, within 10 years, it will be the standard. The response to our laser demos has been extraordinary. It's like night and day when compared to today's standard."

Laser projection was demonstrated in a Los Angeles theater. Audience members reacted very positively:

World"s first commercial cinema laser projection from Christie on Vimeo.