A cinema in Sydney is Australia’s first to be outfitted with new technology cinema chains hope will drag people away from their TVs.
A cinema in Sydney is Australia’s first to be outfitted with new technology cinema chains hope will drag people away from their TVs.

Big change coming to cinemas

Just when you thought cinemas were sounding their last death rattle in crystal clear Dolby surround sound, they're about to change entirely to ones you might actually want to go to again.

The rise of streaming video on demand platforms like Netflix and Disney+ and high-resolution televisions means you can get a near cinema experience watching essentially anything you want without leaving your house.

The high cost of some cinemas is another factor, but even on a cheap ticket Tuesday night you can go and see a movie that just won a best picture Oscar and have the room largely to yourself (though this could be due to a combination of coronavirus fear and what said film's writer and director calls the "one-inch barrier of subtitles").

Samsung's Onyx LED screen has landed in Australian cinemas. Picture: Samsung
Samsung's Onyx LED screen has landed in Australian cinemas. Picture: Samsung

Going to the cinemas is now one of the last resorts for people who just want to watch a movie, the focus is now on the "cinema-going experience" to lure people away from the TV.

One local cinema chain has a new plan to lure you away from your TV though: a bigger TV.

Hoyts has begun outfitting cinemas with Samsung's new Onyx LED cinema screen, replacing the projectors that have powered cinemas for over 120 years.

Those projectors recently underwent their own digital revolution, with many cinemas around the country investing in the newer technology with help from the film industry looking to reduce the amount they spend on printing old school film reels.

Those cinema owners who did so probably won't be too happy that something better is now on the way.

The Onyx LED screens from Samsung have made their way into cinemas across Asia, but now Australia has one too.

The first 14 metre local screen has recently been installed at the Hoyts cinema in Sydney's Moore Park entertainment quarter.

A second, 10 metre screen will soon be installed at the Hoyts Highpoint in Melbourne's north west.

The Hoyts Onyx cinema has full recliners
The Hoyts Onyx cinema has full recliners

Hoyts chief technology officer Adam Wrightson said the transition to digital has helped improve the cinema going experience for more people by giving cinemas "the ability to more easily provide accessible cinema options through closed caption devices" and the like.

But the technology advancements also create a better experience for the wider cinema-going public.

"I think the cinema-going public want to have an out of home experience, so our role is to create those experiences, create a reason to bring people to the cinema, having those experiences you can't get at home," Mr Wrightson said.

The different technology also gives cinemas more space and more freedom in how they outfit their cinemas.

Using a digital screen requires less real estate as you don't need a dedicated projector room.

They also don't need room behind the screen for audio equipment which can instead go to the side and front of the screen.

But there are more tangible differences you'll notice in an LED screen cinema.

One of the first is that the screens don't have curtains covering them at the start of a screening.

The second, when you're actually watching the movie, is a black and white difference.

"You go into a cinema and the screen it's projected on is clearly white, you've got a beam of light behind you, and that creates quite a lot of ambient light in the room, so when something is black, it's kind of grey," Samsung Australia's display director Phil Gaut told news.com.au.

But with LEDs you don't see a light projecting the absence of light, the pixels turn off and go dark, leaving you with truer blacks and higher contrast ratio.

"The contrast ratio is actually infinite, it gets to the point where you can't measure it," Mr Wrightson said. "And the whites are super bright, you've got no degradation in the light at all because it's light emitting rather than a projection."

There are also improvements in colour rendition, making the film you're watching more accurately reflect the filmmaker's intent.

A wider viewing angle means an end to bad seats
A wider viewing angle means an end to bad seats

the Fed screen also has a much wider viewing angle, putting an end to "bad seats" in the cinema (the ones to the side and too close to the front).

With plans for two cinemas in the country to have the screens so far, it might be a little while before you can find one near you, but Samsung and Hoyts are both confident you'll be suitably impressed with the cinemas they have before rolling out more.

"At this stage it's going to be a bit of a wait and see, obviously we want to see how they're received by the public," Mr Wrightson said. "The image quality is like nothing I've ever experienced in a cinema and I've been in the cinema game for a long time."

Mr Gaut said early viewer feedback of the 1000-2000 people who have seen a movie on the new screen has been overwhelmingly positive and he expects that trend to continue.

"We can't wait for Aussies to experience Onyx for the first time, we know it'll keep them coming back to the movies again and again."

But the best thing about the new technology is that Hoyts has promised its not going to make us pay for it.

Screenings on the Onyx LED screens will have the same ticket prices as the rest of them.