IMMERSIVE SOUND IN A CINEMA HALL – DOES IT WORTH THE MONEY?
Sergey Puskov's Interview for Bulleten Kinoprokatchika journal
It goes without saying, every cinema owner always tend to make it as attractive for guests as possible trying various interior solutions and perfecting the service. However, when the light goes off and a viewer dives into a movie atmosphere, there are only two attractiveness factor – the quality of picture and sound. The recent introduction of 3D systems made it possible to visually immerse into a movie. Right after this, the developers of immersive sound formats were all set to fight for viewer feelings and investor budgets.
Why immersive sound is still so uncommon for the most of cinemas? Is it worth investing money in immersive sound equipment? Will immersive sound be a common attribute of a modern cinema hall just like it was with the 3D picture?
How long time ago did immersive sound appear in Russian cinemas?
Right after the worldwide announcement. You know, the sound has always been and still is one the most conservative aspects in the industry. It takes enormous technical and artistic updates of all those long stages of making a film (from creating a scenario and shoot, through post production and distribution to screening) to change the sound track format for a new one. All such updates are always enthusiastically greeted by viewers, because it is like adding a new dimension to their impressions. From mono to stereo, from stereo to 5.1 plane, and now from plane to immersive sound. And new impressions are what we want from going to a cinema, right? The integrator companies always tend to present a new sound technology to cinemas as quick as possible. As far as I remember, the first demo-hall with the new generation immersive sound BARCO Auro 11.1 appeared in Saint Petersburg back in 2011.
So, people just tried it. But how soon after that did commercial installations begin?
Our company received an order to design the first immersive sound cinema hall in Russia as part of a multiplex in the city of Orel also in 2011. The opening was next year, in 2012. For the next four years, we designed and equipped more than a dozen of cinema halls with quite a vast geography – from Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok and from Belgorod to Syktyvkar.
Looking at the statistics of immersive sound cinema halls as compared to all cinema halls in Russia, you can see that they are just a few percent. Why not dozens?
Immersive sound, of course, implies more expenses on the equipment of a hall. This is quite obvious. The number of acoustic systems, amplifiers, cables, installation work complexity – everything is times as expensive. The pay-back period of such investments depends on a number of factors for a certain cinema. Today, cinema owners and guests consider immersive sound cinema halls as premium level. And this is how it goes, only in reverse direction – if there is some new multiplex and its design has a premium hall, then it would be equipped with a immersive sound system.
Could you give some examples of such cinemas?
Yes, sure. At a guess, this is in fact the main premier hall in the country as part of KARO 11 Oktyabr cinema located on Noviy Arbat street in Moscow, where we installed BARCO Auro 11.1 system back in 2013. Premier halls of the same network – KARO Vegas 22, KARO 10 Shchuka. Premier halls of Mirazh Cinema, GRINNFILM, Cinema Grad Palace, RubLion Cinema.
So why these are only single cases, but not a mass practice?
It is hard to tell. It could be due to some delayed reaction of investors or lack of information. Anyway, the difference between the budgets of a multiplex with classic or 3D sound is just insignificant, while an image-building, advertising and just impressing, that is to say, effect of a immersive sound cinema hall is just enormous. I hope that they will realize it in the course of time and the number of BARCO Auro halls will be increasing faster.
But what about producing films with immersive sound track? Could the lack of content be one of the factors which prevent, for example, BARCO Auro halls from growing?
The retrofitting of sound studios as well as cinemas takes some time. The number of 3D soundtrack movies also keeps increasing. Almost every potential blockbuster or a movie with first-magnitude stars are mixed in immersive sound and there are enough such movies to bring crowds to cinema halls. I am glad to mention that two Russian post production studios have already been retrofitted to work with BARCO Auro 11.1 format. Moreover, they take part not only in dubbing of foreign movies, but also in producing Russian ones with immersive sound.
You always mention BARCO Auro 11.1. Why do you prefer this immersive sound format for cinema halls?
It is always good not to have a monopoly in any industry, but a good competition which encourages growing. However, Auro format is so beautiful solution that, in my opinion, there no other alternative for next generation worldwide sound industry, and I am not even exaggerating here. Not only in movies. Auro format is used to record and release tracks of pop and rock stars. The top models of luxury car brands are equipped with a sound system supporting Auro format. New PC games are released supporting Auro sound. The format is already present in game consoles, smartphones, TV broadcasting networks. You can check the details out on the Internet.
I am well acquainted and often communicate with Mr Wilfried Van Baelen, the ideologist and developer of Auro format. He is a unique person. A composer, musician, acoustician, engineer. He is a real fan of good quality sound in all its aspects, while his work results, I would call it engineering art, are just impressing.
Could you share some thought on BARCO AUROMAX? Why did they invent it and what are its advantages as compared to current BARCO Auro 11.1?
The new BARCO AUROMAX format is a step towards the concept of a universal, so called "open" format. Today there are two popular immersive sound formats in the industry, which are completely different in terms of their philosophy, hardware architecture and even the location of acoustics in a cinema hall. But this is not what both movie producers and cinemas want. That is why they created some universal, common, average format which will be the new standard for sound recording in the movie industry. The sound track of this new standard will be completely suitable for any cinema halls and played on any sound system.
The formula of BARCO AUROMAX is 26.1 for big halls and 20.1 for small ones. Comparing to Auro 11.1, it has side fore-screen channels, while each hall channel splits into two. A new processor is at work to deal with the enormous current of sound data. It was developed by the European leader in multichannel concert installations; this leader has recently become part of BARCO.
I can confidently say that BARCO AUROMAX is the real universal future of cinema technologies. It is the format that may be used for any cinema hall already today. And the understanding of this grows.
The article was prepared by the press service of Kinocomfort group.