When Samsung demonstrated its Cinema LED Screen at the CinemaCon trade show a few months back, it drew universal acclaim. Yesterday, the company announced that the first commercial installation is now complete. Located in the Super S theater within the Lotte Cinema World Tower in South Korea, the display consists of LED pixels that form the image directly—no projectors involved.
Measuring nearly 34 feet wide, the resolution is 4096×2160. It’s fully capable of reproducing high dynamic-range (HDR) content with a peak brightness of 146 foot-lamberts (500 nits). That’s more than 10 times the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) spec of 14 fL (48 nits) and almost five times the peak brightness of Dolby Vision in a commercial setting (31 fL or 106 nits). Sure, it’s “only” half the peak brightness of many HDR TVs, but we’re talking about a 34-foot screen here! And the LEDs can be turned completely off, so the black level is unparalleled, leading to a nearly infinite contrast ratio.
Because the Cinema LED Screen is so bright, the theater does not need to be pitch black, even with HDR images. This is a real problem in Dolby Cinemas, where the exit signs and aisle lighting—and even reflections from audience members and empty seats—can degrade the HDR image on the screen. In addition, other types of events, such as concerts, sporting events, corporate events, and gaming competitions, can be presented with lots of ambient light in the room.
Other advantages of the Cinema LED Screen include essentially perfect uniformity and no optical distortion that is endemic to projected images. Also, the screen consists of interchangeable tiles that can be easily replaced if a problem develops in any one of them.
The only drawback? The screen is not acoustically transparent, so the front speakers cannot be placed behind it. But, that shouldn’t be a problem, since Samsung recently acquired Harman. In fact, the Sculpted Surround sound system is provided by JBL with speakers bordering the screen. If that means there are speakers above, below, and on both sides of the screen, it should be possible to create phantom images anywhere on the screen. Actually, this could be more precise than conventional speakers behind a projection screen.
In May 2017, the Cinema LED Screen achieved full compliance with the DCI standards for colorimetry, uniformity, and other parameters. Of course, the DCI standard for peak luminance is an order of magnitude less than what the Cinema LED Screen can do, so I guess it got a pass on that.
I can’t wait to see the Cinema LED Screen for myself, so I hope it will find its way into other theaters soon. I’m sure it’s extremely expensive, which will slow adoption unless the company subsidizes installations like the studios did during the transition to digital projection. In any event, it’s a revolutionary leap in cinema technology that raises the bar for commercial exhibition. In addition, it could eventually migrate to home theaters, forming a wall-sized flat-panel TV. How cool is that?