Imax Corp. offered a glimpse into cinematic future, showcasing a new laser projection system at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood that executives contend will transform the moviegoing experience.
Gathered inside the newly refurbished 88-year-old theater, Imax executives demonstrated a 4K laser projection system equipped with a new optical engine and other technologies that they said vastly improve the brightness quality of images on large screens compared with conventional film and digital projectors.
Imax Chief Executive Richard Gelfond said the debut of laser projection is a “pivotal moment in time for Imax and a giant leap forward for cinema technology."
The laser system is among the most ambitious technological advancements to date for the Canadian big-screen-technology company, which has a long history of innovation, including introducing stadium seating and the modern era of 3-D cinema.
Imax spent three years and invested $60 million to develop the laser system, which has some 3,000 parts. Researchers in the U.S., Canada and Belgium worked on the project, using patents Imax acquired from Eastman Kodak in 2011.
The laser projection system uses a laser light source to provide substantially more brightness than a xenon bulb, allowing Imax to fill its largest screens with sharper and more lifelike images.
Coupled with a new sound system, the laser technology will also enable filmmakers to expand their use of color and provide greater contrast between white and black to improve realism, Imax executives said.
The system has already received positive reviews from filmmakers such as Brad Bird and Guillermo del Toro, said Greg Foster, chief executive of Imax Entertainment.
“Ninety-nine percent of the filmmakers who have movies that play in a theater like this never once thought about how their movie was going to look on an iPhone,” Foster said. “They make their movies for how they are going to look in a big giant movie palace, where you get lost in the movie.... This system was designed for those filmmakers and those moviegoers.”
The new laser system, which debuted at the Cineplex ScotiaBank Theatre in Toronto in December, was recently introduced in the U.S. at the TCL Chinese Theatre (which features a 96-foot-wide Imax screen) during the premiere of Universal's hit movie “Furious 7.”
Imax plans to install the system in more than 70 commercial theaters, museums and science centers around the world, including Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, Metreon in San Francisco, the Smithsonian in Washington, Empire Leicester Square in London and AMC's Lincoln Square in New York City.
Imax officials would not disclose how much the system will cost.
Imax is not the first cinema company to venture into the laser business. San Francisco-based Dolby recently partnered with AMC Theatres to install systems in 100 AMC Theatres nationwide.
The new technology announcement comes a day after Imax moved its Los Angeles headquarters from Santa Monica to Playa Vista, joining YouTube, Google and other media and tech companies sprouting in the fast-growing Silicon Beach area.
Imax opened its L.A. office in 1988 with just five employees working in Culver City. Today the company has 160 employees.
To accommodate its growth, Imax moved into a larger, 68,000-square-foot facility, which includes two screening rooms and more than 150 offices.
Once known for its nature documentaries, Imax has evolved into a major player in the exhibition industry. It shows about 40 films a year, many of them blockbuster action movies such as “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
The company, which has offices in New York and Toronto, has more than doubled the size of its theater circuit in the last four years, expanding rapidly in overseas markets such as Russia, India and China.
"Imax has come a long way in the last 20 years," Foster said at an opening ceremony at Imax's new offices Tuesday night.
The company has more than 934 theaters in 62 countries and close relationships with prominent filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, who spoke at Tuesday night's event.
"I first entered into a relationship with Imax more than 10 years ago and it's been a wonderfully creative and fulfilling experience for me," said Nolan, writer and director of "Interstellar" and the "Dark Knight" films.