Launched in the UK in August 2018, CT experienced the first installation of ScreenX, at London’s Cineworld O2. Peter Knight widens his eyes to see how the format performs.
Anyone at Cineeurope in June 2018 can’t help but have been impressed by Cineworld’s announcement that it had agreed with CJ-CGV, owner of the ScreenX product, to install 100 screens across the UK, the US and eight other international locations. The first of this new wave of ScreenX auditoriums in the UK opened at the Cineworld, O2, North Greenwich in August 2018 with the blockbusters “The Meg” and “Antman and the Wasp”. What an opportunity…
The opening of the newly equipped auditorium comes at a time when the CJ-CGV is not just expanding rapidly with Cineworld but also globally. At the time of writing, there were 147 screens in 10 countries and, as outlined by the newly appointed CEO of CGV, Choi Byung-hwan, in the previous pages, there are ambitious plans to expand ScreenX to thousands of screens worldwide.
No matter how great a format is, if there is no content available to be shown in it, the format will falter. With ScreenX, movies are able to be adapted either at the production stage or later on in post-production to suit. Often the side images that give ScreenX its impact are CG extension graphics that have been added. Thus far, the catalogue of titles to have received the ScreenX treatment includes a host of Korean and Chinese hits such as “Train to Busan” and “Detective Chinatown 2”, but Hollywood is increasingly switching on to the format, with new titles including Fox’s musical biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, released last month, as well as the effects spectacular from Warner Bros, “Aquaman”, releasing this month, and a further DC Comics revival, “Shazam!”, coming to cinemas in spring next year. Studio executives have publicly put their faith in the format, as have exhibitors, with commitment for installations sure to support the format as it matures.
Premium for the experience
Just as with 3D and other screen variants, there is a premium added to the ticket if you want to experience ScreenX — in the UK that stands at around £3. For Cineworld Unlimited customers it operates in the same way as it currently does for 3D screenings — customers are required to pay an additional fee for the premium unless they have dipped into their pocket for a Premium Unlimited card, which means the format is included.
When I visited Cineworld’s first UK installation at the O2 to experience the ScreenX format, the most noticeable thing about the auditorium was the amount of ambient light that exists — the auditorium walls are now white, no longer being dark to absorb additional light reflected from the main screen. With the original wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screen at the end of the auditorium, in the site, I visited there were a total of four projectors in the ceiling each focused on a quarter of the side screens. High-end single-chip DLPs, these 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 when not in use.
Most ScreenX features at the moment only include a number of scenes that are mastered for the full 270-degree format, so there is a constant switch between having a picture on just the main screen and on the side panels too. At times that proved a little distracting, but you quickly get used to the transition. Mainly the content that was in the ScreenX format is material that is primarily CGI-driven or some action scenes but rarely did I see dialogue scenes played out on the side screens themselves.
It was noticeable with the content I viewed that there were times when the picture had been cropped, in order then to expand it over the three screens. For the most part, this didn’t matter, but on a few occasions, I felt some of the subtleties of the scenes were diminished. (It is worth noting that the feature in question is one I had seen projected several times in a standard format so was well known to me — would a first-time viewer feel the same way?) The main screen also lost some of its contrast when the extra screens were in use as there was so much additional light in the auditorium. Things such as fire exit signs remain in place on the walls and become part of the canvas of the additional screens. Although this sounds distracting, for the most part, I didn’t find that they detracted from the experience.
The ScreenX format is intended to immerse the viewer, but without obviously distracting you from the story. In this respect, I found ScreenX added a certain amount to the content and it was genuinely enjoyable. It is certainly a format that I will seek out again. The main thing I would like to see is more of the content projected in the full three-screen ScreenX format, thereby reducing the chopping from the main screen only to all three at once.
Set for success?
ScreenX is another format in an increasingly competitive arena of entertainment and experiences. It provides something different, that most of today’s cinemagoers will never have tried in the past. ScreenX is considerably easier to install and manage than similar options from the days of film. There are many movies and cinemas for which the format will not be a suitable fit — equally, there are many locations and movies, notably action-driven blockbusters, for which ScreenX will be the destination of choice. One indicator of the format’s success will be whether it is a sufficient draw that it encourages audiences to see a big movie multiple times in order to experience it in various different formats. If it achieves that level of enthusiasm, then Hollywood’s support will be forthcoming, I’m sure.
With the likes of ScreenX, 4DX and other PLF offerings, the goal is to encourage audiences to experience something at the cinema that they simply cannot get at home, and while this format and style is by no means the be-all-and-end-all of the cinema experience, it is certainly a very valid part of the overall story.
ScreenX in brief
The ScreenX concept makes use of the main screen in the auditorium and associated DCP cinema technology. In addition, the walls of the auditorium are coloured white, and additional projectors placed in the ceiling. These are high-quality single chip DLPs which, when combined, allow for a 270-degree picture.
Screen X was developed by a Korean company that also operates the largest cinema chain in South Korea, the CJ conglomerate. The company, CJ-CGV, is also responsible for 4DX. The format was first launched in 2012 with the experience initially only available in South Korea. ScreenX is able to be easily retrofitted without impacting on 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 into a cinema as headline features for the site.
Other similar formats
ScreenX is not the first time attempt to provide images on more than one screen at the front of the auditorium, it has been happening since the beginning of cinema with Cinerama being one of the most famous and most popular formats. In its earliest forms it had a 146-degree field of view, and was probably the first really successful of such formats. More recently Barco Escape had multiple projectors, but used screens placed at an angle, rather than utilising the auditorium walls as ScreenX does.
Lives up to the VR demo!
ScreenX was at the CineEurope 2018 event, and had a demo of their format — except rather than building an entire auditorium and going to the expense of installing ScreenX for a short period, they had instead a virtual reality demo of it. Wearing a VR headset, you then experienced ScreenX through that. The demo allowed you to look round the auditorium and view the content. Having experienced ScreenX in the real world, I found the VR equivalent surprisingly true to the real thing.
LEDs instead of projectors?
With all the stray light bouncing around a not-so-black auditorium, could an alternative solution be to make use of LED screens for the wall panels? This could allow for the walls to remain more or less black while not in use, but provide a bright enough image when they are. Of course, there are a number of challenges with the use of LEDs in this context — the shape of the auditorium walls is not rectangular but more triangular because of the raked seating, which would evidently have an impact on the cost of the install. LEDs would have to be considerably turned down in their brightness, and these panels at the moment are costly, but it doesn’t mean that in the future it wouldn’t be a possibility.
More information on ScreenX can be found on their website, screenx.co.kr