Market Insight

Barco opens up the market for laser projector solutions

July 02, 2015  | Subscribers Only

Charlotte Jones Charlotte Jones Associate Director/Principal Analyst, Cinema, OMDIA
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CinemaCity and Prime Cinemas, part of World Media Holding group, have agreed to install seven laser projectors in their flagship cinemas in Qatar and Jordon respectively in 2016. CinemaCity will install a total of five laser projectors in its new 19-screen cinema at the Mall of Qatar, Doha, to be split as one Barco DP4K-30L and four DP4K-22L projectors in early 2016. Prime Cinemas, the largest exhibitor in Jordan, will install two Barco DP4K-30L projectors as part of its 11-screen complex in Jordan.  The full deal also includes another 24 Barco Alchemy projectors to be distributed between both CinemaCity and Prime Cinemas later in 2015.

In the Nordic region, the Nordic Cinema Group has secured a deal with Barco to install DP4K-60L laser projectors in its flagship cinemas in Riga (Latvia), Tallin (Estonia) and Helsinki (Finland). The recently formed exhibition group which operates 444 screens across six markets in the region, has chosen to install the projectors as part of upgrades to its largest cinemas.

The Barco DP4K 22L and 30L laser projectors were introduced to the market in April 2015 (expected to be commercially available in Q4 2015) and are aimed at medium sized screens but still within the premium cinema bracket to complement the existing models  DP4K – 45L and DP4k – 60L aimed at larger screens.

Our analysis

In the Middle East, the laser projectors are being installed as part of new build cinemas scheduled to open in 2016. Following the deal, the new venues will each host an approximate weighting of 20% of screens powered by laser technology. The strategy could set a new precedent with regard to laser accounting for a proportion of screens or for designated anchor screens in new build cinemas, particularly among innovative and forward thinking exhibitors. For Nordic Cinema Group, the installations follow that of fellow regional exhibitor, Nordisk Film Biografer which recently installed a DP4K-60L laser projector in its cinema in Copenhagen, indicating how competition factors may also play a role in driving future uptake.

Laser projectors offer several potential advantages for exhibitors based on image quality and also by reducing operational costs and complexity. Laser projectors provide differentiation of image quality principally through brighter image, high uniformity, superior colour saturation and improved contrast. The tangible advantages are therefore particularly attractive to premium large format (PLF) screens.  At the operational level, laser projectors offer a potential reduction in operational complexity (no lamp replacements) as well as a focus on ongoing operational costs in terms of lower levels of maintenance and ease of use.

While laser cinema projectors are at the very high end of affordability, the total cost of ownership needs to be taken into account including the total purchase price, lamp replacement costs and power consumption cost over the lifetime of the projector. It is also likely that the total purchase costs will also reduce over a relatively short time period to present a more compelling business case over traditional Xenon lamp projectors.

As well as the new optimised laser projectors with RGB, 6P, 4K technology, there is also a developing market for retrofitted machines with a laser module (laser phosphor hybrid) housed in an existing projector, the latter of which Barco aims to make commercially available in 2016 staring with the 20C Series 2 DLP Cinema projector, but will eventually include an option for all C series projectors, then B series followed by S series. Barco has therefore widened its provision of laser based projector technology to account for the requirements of most screen types and budgets.

The retrofit solution has the advantages of reportedly being at least as good as lamp based projectors but at reduced operational costs, and comes into the category of low-end laser. There is also the potential to carry out actual retrofits of recently deployed digital projectors with a laser phosphor powered engine in the field. The market opportunity for purchase of new machines with a retrofitted laser powered module (laser phosphor) is less clear as the technology is not high end, but nonetheless opens up the potential footprint for laser wider still. The proposition is aimed at exhibitors who want to reap the benefits of laser in a simplified format, with lower cost operations and improved image quality.

The high-end laser product line provides various levels of brightness intensity ranging from 22,000 to 56,000 lumen. The two higher lumen (45L and 60L) modules are aimed at the premium range of the market, while the two newer modules (22L and 30L) are aimed at the mainstream market. Meanwhile, the laser retrofit engine solution is also aimed at medium sized screens (up to 20m) with an output of 20,000 lumen (using a 1.8 gain screen).

The high-end laser modules were originally aimed at the very top tier of premium screens, but strategies are continuing to evolve with more recent products targeting the medium to higher screen size range. The adoption of laser technology (particularly high-end) currently remains at the pioneer level in terms of active exhibitors, with some installs occurring as upgrades and with particular interest for the new build proposition.  Barco has around 30 laser projector units active in the market as at June 2015.

In terms of the premium market, Barco is also active through its partnership with Imax, which is currently targeting its largest screens that were unsuitable for regular digital conversion. Dolby Cinema is the other major candidate in this space through its Dolby Vision projection solution, a laser solution developed in conjunction with Christie. Christie also has a sole provider laser projector line.

At the same time, NEC has announced that it has achieved DCI compliance for its NC1201L laser projector.  The low-end laser projector (laser phosphor) is targeted at mostly modestly sized screens, and sits alongside the smaller NC1100L, and can provide 14ft lambert on screens up to 12m (using a 1.8 gain screen). The projector comes with a two year limited warranty for parts and labour (US only).


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