I went to experience ScreenX at the Cineworld, O2 and see what this new to the UK format was all about.
As was reported in the September 2018 edition of CT, Cineworld announced at CineEurope an agreement with CJ-CGV, owner of the ScreenX product, to install 100 screens across the UK, US and eight other international locations. The first of the new ScreenX auditoriums opened at the Cineworld, O2, North Greenwich in August 2018 with the films Meg and Antman and the Wasp.
The opening of the ScreenX auditorium comes at a time where the company is not just expanding rapidly with Cineworld but also globally. At the time of writing, there were 147 screens in 10 countries. There are ambitious plans to expand ScreenX into 10,000 screens worldwide by 2020.
What is ScreenX
It is a concept that makes use of the main screen in the auditorium and the associated DCP cinema technology. In addition, the walls of the auditorium are coloured white, and additional projectors are placed in the ceiling. These projectors are high-quality single chip DLPs. When combined together this allows for a 270-degree picture that is designed to immerse the viewer into the movie.
ScreenX was developed by a South Korean company that also operates the largest cinema chain in South Korea, CJ conglomerate. The company, CJ-CGV, are also responsible for 4DX. The format was first launched in 2012 with the experience initially only being available in South Korea. The ScreenX is able to be easily retrofitted to an existing auditorium without it impacting on the traditional 2D or 3D screenings that take place there. The cost is around £300,000 and CJ-CGV foresees that exhibitors would add one or two of the ScreenX formats into a cinema.
Getting the Content
It does not matter how great the format is if there is no content available to be shown in it. ScreenX movies are able to be adapted either at the production stage or later on in post-production. Often the side images are CG extension graphics that have been added.
Premium for the experience
Just like 3D and other screen variants, there is a premium added to the ticket if you want to experience ScreenX, in the UK that is £3. For the Cineworld Unlimited customers, it will operate in the same way as it does currently for 3D where they pay an additional fee for the premium unless the customer has a Premium Unlimited card, that means that it is included.
The auditorium walls are now white, with the original wall to wall, floor to ceiling screen at the end of the auditorium. In the auditorium that was visited there were a total of four projectors in the ceiling each focused on a quarter of the side screens. These projectors looked to be high-end single chip DLPs. The projectors are all switched on at the same time as the main projector, and provide a low level of light onto the ceiling during the time that they are not in use.
The noticeable thing about the ScreenX auditorium is the amount of ambient light that exists, from no longer having the dark walls to absorb the additional light reflected from the main screen.
Most features at the moment only have a number of scenes that are in the full 270 ScreenX format, and so there is a constant switching between having pictures on just the main screen and also the side panels. At times it can be a little distracting, but you do get used to it. Mainly the content that was in the ScreenX format is material that is mainly CGI or some action scenes but very rarely involves dialogue.
It was noticeable with the content that was watched that there were times when the picture was cropped down, in order to then expand it over the three screens. For the most part, this didn’t matter, but there were a few times where some of the subtleties of the scenes were lost. (It is worth noting that the feature in question had been seen projected a number of times in a standard format so that the content was well known).
The main screen also lost some of its contrast when the extra screens were also in use as there was some much additional light in the auditorium. Things like fire exit signs remain in place on the walls and become part of the canvas of the additional screens. Although for the most part, these are not too distracting.
The experience was not unpleasant and really enjoyable. It is one that would certainly be looked out again. The main thing would be to have more of the content in the full three-screen ScreenX format.
ScreenX is another format in an ever increasing competitive arena of both entertainment and cinema experiences. It provides something different, that many will never have experienced in the past, and is considerably easier to install and manage than anything that may have been an option in the days of film. There are many movies and cinemas where the ScreenX format will not be an appropriate fit, but equally, there are many locations and movies where the ScreenX will be the destination of choice. The question with ScreenX and indeed 4DX is whether it will encourage audiences to go and see a big movie multiple times so that they are able to experience it in the different formats?
With the likes to ScreenX, 4DX and the other PLF formats it is as much about encouraging audiences to experience something at the cinema that they are not able to at home, and while this format and style is not the be all and end all of the cinema experience it is definitely part of the overall story.
More information on ScreenX can be found on their website here: http://screenx.co.kr/en/