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Are 3D-capable theaters delivering dim 2D movies?

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Movie critic Roger Ebert has long complained about the dimness and poor visual quality of 3D movies and now he’s not alone. The Boston Globe (via Engadget) reports that major theater chains in the Boston area, and presumably around the country, are misusing their 3D-capable projectors and damaging picture quality and brightness for those watching 2D films.

The problem: Many of the major theater chains, including AMC and Regal cinemas have upgraded to 3D-capable 4K digital projectors by Sony. However, when showing 2D films, theaters are not removing the 3D lenses from the projectors, resulting in a lower fidelity picture that is about 50 percent dimmer than it should be. In addition, many theaters may not be replacing their digital projector bulbs every six months, resulting in further declines in brightness. Perusing an AMC Loews theater in Boston, the Globe found that eight of the theater’s 19 screens showed “gloomy, underlit images.” One light & sound expert the paper interviewed claims that 2D films projected through Sony’s 3D lenses can be as much as 85 percent darker than a properly projected film.

The reason: Much of the problem may be due to the hassle of changing lenses on the 4K Sony projectors. Regal and AMC signed deals with Sony in 2009 because it offered the digital projectors for free in exchange for ad-time before movies. However, when 3D movies took off, Sony had to retrofit its 2D projectors with 3D lenses. It would be cost prohibitive for the companies to completely replace all of their free Sony projectors, but the units have a lot of problems. Just to open the projector, security clearances and passwords are needed and any mistake could result in the projector shutting down. This risk, along with the bureaucracy of who should make the call (corporate leaves it up to theaters, who just don’t do it because they don’t want to get in trouble with corporate) is resulting in projectors that just get left in 3D, jipping customers who paid a lot of money to see a show. It seems that many theaters are not replacing their digital projector bulbs quickly enough either (once every few  months), resulting in dimmer, colorless films.

Find out for yourself: Want to know if your local theater is ripping you off? There’s an easy way to tell. If there are two beams of light coming from the projector for a 2D movie, then the theater hasn’t turned off 3D. While you’re roaming around, check in other theaters and look at the brightness of the screens. Can you notice a difference between different screens? Let us know.

Below is an infographic by the Boston Globe, showing how the projector technology works.

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Jeffrey Van Camp
Former Digital Trends Contributor
As DT's Deputy Editor, Jeff helps oversee editorial operations at Digital Trends. Previously, he ran the site's…
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