The Magic of Digital Movie Projectors
In the Mile-High City, one hardly needs to sit in front of the silver screen to be dazzled. Simply stepping outside can offer an awe-inspiring view of the Rocky Mountains or the High Plains. So in Denver, movies have a lot to live up to. Perhaps that’s why they, like many other theaters across America, have come to depend on digital projection to create the most immersive movie-viewing experience.
As of July 2013, the National Association of Theatre Owners reported that 88% of all movie screens in the United States had been converted to digital projection—meaning 35,712 screens, including those at AMC Theaters in Denver, no longer glowed with light sent through whirring strips of celluloid. While purists may argue that film is better, there’s no denying that digital has its benefits. Read on to learn more about how it works.
Power the Size of a Postage Stamp
Before digital, the average movie stretched across more than two miles of film on several reels. What, then, resides in the projection booths of theaters now, besides the vengeful ghosts of minor silent-film stars? In most, it’s a machine called a digital micromirror projector. Digital micromirror chips are postage-stamp-sized arrays of millions of miniscule mirrors, which flip back and forth up to 10,000 times per second, reflecting and obscuring light from the projector’s lamp to produce the image on the screen.
Creating a Rainbow of Color
With each of those 10,000 flips per second, micromirrors make the image lighter or darker depending on whether they’re turned toward or away from the projector’s light. To add color, there are several options, but most movie-theater projectors today use three separate chips, reflecting green, red, and blue light that then get focused into a single image and projected onto the screen together. These building blocks of the color spectrum can combine to produce tens of millions of different shades.
Although some filmmakers and film critics still lament the loss of celluloid color’s fabled warmth and depth, digital projectors make many things easier across the film industry. For distributors, there’s the ease of distributing digital files. From the audience’s perspective, film naturally degrades with each showing, so repeated screenings can leave a film riddled with scratch marks and smelling strongly of Jujubes.