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William Henning

The Cinema Experience

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Hi. I'm an avid movie watcher at theaters and at home. I'd like to get the opinion and advice from a cinematographer on something. Is what you and I see in your everyday normal movie theater the Directors Intent? Personally I like the soft, dim/dark, natural look I get at a theater but when I watch a Blu-ray at home on my Samsung 55 inch I seem to get a brighter and more detailed picture. I'm using the preset Cinema mode in a dark viewing room yet the picture "seems" a bit brighter than what I see in a theater. I bought Aquaman on 4K and watched it at home and am planning to go see it today in a theater to see the difference.

To be honest I'm a bit confused as to what the Directors Intent really is...should I go by what I see in a theater or what I see on Blu-ray provided the TV is set up properly? Mine isn't calibrated but it is set to the Cinema mode. Anyway...again that's why I asked if what I see in a Theater is what a Director wants me to see. Thank you.

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Well, there is really no way to know if what you see anywhere is the Director's intent.  I suppose the theatrical version, in a well calibrated venue would be the best bet.

That said, I would not rely on "cinema mode" for any kind of an accurate portrayal of your Blu-Ray.  And, the Blu-Ray might not be the same color grade as the theatrical version anyway.

I think to be confident of your home display, you will need to calibrate the display to a brightness of 100 nits, D65 white point, Rec709 colors, and view in a darkened room.  To do this, you can buy a calibration probe such as the i1 Display Pro ($250) and get some software such as HCFR, open source software and set up your TV properly through it's on screen menu.  If you want dead on accurate calibration, you'll need to buy a LUT box to change the signal going into the TV for the best calibration.  I don't think the LUT box approach is really needed for home viewing.

I have a Panasonic plasma at home where I just set the white point with my probe, and then turned off all the picture "enhancements" in the menu, set the color space to REC709, gamma to 2.4 and the black point or "brightness" as it's sometimes called in TV's to zero.  It's quite close to my calibrated display I use to master movies.  I did find that "cinema" mode looked pretty awful on my TV.  Also the "THX" mode as well.  So, my properly set up TV is set to "standard" mode.

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"Cinema Mode" (no standards for that) tends to be on the dimmer side, I think they assume you're watching it in a darkened room. But there's nothing stopping you from adjusting your TV set for what you feel is closer to the way it looked in a theater.  I usually adjust my TV from the Standard Mode base, sort of ending up halfway to the Cinema Mode.

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I've never seen a flatscreen television or any TV for that matter, that looks anything like a DLP projector. The theatrical projection experience is very different because you're bouncing light off an imager and there are inherent issues with convergence (the RGB imagers in the cinema projector calibration) and of course, edge to edge brightness and so on. This is the reason why Sony is spending gobs of money to develop a theatrical screen that's flexible LED panels. You can then have higher pixel depth and a much brighter, more saturated image. Digital projection and film projection are a very old way to display images and where it's true, film projection is more cinematic than even digital projection, no projection booth theaters will save space and no projectors, will eventually save a lot of money. 

All of that to say, your TV maybe totally fine. It's for sure the future of content as projection will slowly disappear. 

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I vastly prefer watching films on my videoprojector than on my TV, obviously, the quality and size is vastly superior on the former for me, but the feel and look of it feels so much better. And the projection in cinemas is certainly NOT supposed to be dim. You'd have to know if your movie theater is actually showing movies the way they should be seen, too many theaters want to save a buck on the bulb and it just looks dim, completely faded, no contrast, no pop. 

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I can't figure out why, at my local cinema, movies shot on digital camera look brighter than (some) movies that were shot on film. This observation doesn't apply to the recent Star Wars movies shot on 35mm but mainly to lower-budget film-shot movies. Does the movie need to be visually checked by the projectionist and brightness levels manually adjusted or is it all programmed into the DCP? One movie I saw, the Ext daytime scenes - many of them - looked atrociously dim in my opinion.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks all you guys! A lot of very good information. Just got back from the theater and sadly I'm disappointed at what I saw. When the movies started I noticed some blurriness so went to talk to the manager...a kid barely out of his teens at best...and mentioned it to him. He went to take a look and I waited for him. He came back and said there was a 3D lens leaning against the projector lens or something to that effect so he moved it and did something else too and said it should be fine now. So I went back and didn't noticed any change at all.

Anyway so the movie wasn't as dark as I thought it would be so that's good. It wasn't as clear or as  sharp as my TV and didn't see the same level of detail either. Most theaters I've been to are along these lines so I don't really have a clue as to what a theater is supposed to look like. I know home projectors might be better because you're in control where in a theater you're not. There just doesn't seem to be anyone overlooking theaters these days so they can get away with anything and the general public doesn't know any better...me included but then they probably don't care either. It's a shame all the work you people put into making movies only to be shown in garbage theaters. To be honest I don't know what to make of it...maybe I'm wrong and I know I'm missing out and not understanding exactly what goes on in the making of movies....which brings me to Blu-ray. Do you guys edit, color grade and give special treatment to Blu-rays like you give to big screen theater movies... the same or similar treatment?

I understand these are two different mediums so maybe I shouldn't be comparing one to the other. It could be that's just how a picture looks in a theater and I'm to ignorant to really understand the beauty it really has.

Edited by William Henning

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There are also many cinemas that leave the polarizing filters on the projector (for 3D) even when screening 2D and this results in a quite dim image.  I've asked the theater manager about this and they said that there was nothing that they could do about it.  AMC Burbank, I'm talking about you!

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2 hours ago, Bruce Greene said:

There are also many cinemas that leave the polarizing filters on the projector (for 3D) even when screening 2D and this results in a quite dim image.  I've asked the theater manager about this and they said that there was nothing that they could do about it.  AMC Burbank, I'm talking about you!

The biggest problem but no one gives a poop, ugh. 

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16 hours ago, Bruce Greene said:

Well, there is really no way to know if what you see anywhere is the Director's intent.  I suppose the theatrical version, in a well calibrated venue would be the best bet.

That said, I would not rely on "cinema mode" for any kind of an accurate portrayal of your Blu-Ray.  And, the Blu-Ray might not be the same color grade as the theatrical version anyway.

I think to be confident of your home display, you will need to calibrate the display to a brightness of 100 nits, D65 white point, Rec709 colors, and view in a darkened room.  To do this, you can buy a calibration probe such as the i1 Display Pro ($250) and get some software such as HCFR, open source software and set up your TV properly through it's on screen menu.  If you want dead on accurate calibration, you'll need to buy a LUT box to change the signal going into the TV for the best calibration.  I don't think the LUT box approach is really needed for home viewing.

I have a Panasonic plasma at home where I just set the white point with my probe, and then turned off all the picture "enhancements" in the menu, set the color space to REC709, gamma to 2.4 and the black point or "brightness" as it's sometimes called in TV's to zero.  It's quite close to my calibrated display I use to master movies.  I did find that "cinema" mode looked pretty awful on my TV.  Also the "THX" mode as well.  So, my properly set up TV is set to "standard" mode.

So your Plasma is close...that's what I wanted to hear. To me...sounds like your display is closer to what a picture should look like than the theaters I've been to and I'm assuming those theaters are not up to standards. I wish theaters were made to uphold certain standards but they aren't which is sad. I might look into one of those probes too. Thanks Bruce and everyone else!

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13 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I've never seen a flatscreen television or any TV for that matter, that looks anything like a DLP projector. The theatrical projection experience is very different because you're bouncing light off an imager and there are inherent issues with convergence (the RGB imagers in the cinema projector calibration) and of course, edge to edge brightness and so on. This is the reason why Sony is spending gobs of money to develop a theatrical screen that's flexible LED panels. You can then have higher pixel depth and a much brighter, more saturated image. Digital projection and film projection are a very old way to display images and where it's true, film projection is more cinematic than even digital projection, no projection booth theaters will save space and no projectors, will eventually save a lot of money. 

All of that to say, your TV maybe totally fine. It's for sure the future of content as projection will slowly disappear. 

Thank you Tyler...that's good to hear!

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1 hour ago, Manu Delpech said:

The biggest problem but no one gives a poop, ugh. 

Exactly! Why can't directors get together and do something to make theaters hold certain standards? I used to think Theaters set the standard for what movies should look like but not so much anymore. If they're supposed to look as good as Blu-ray then they're way off course and should be shut down as far as I'm concerned...it's an insult to movie makers to show movies like that. I'll have to assume a proper calibrated TV is closer to an accurate picture than the theaters I've been to. Thanks Manu!

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Posted (edited)

Well, what Cameron did on Alita Battle Angel (even though he didn't direct it) was to forbid theaters under 4.5 FL to show the film in 3D. That's one way to do it, then again, you'll rarely see instructions like these for films showing in 2D, even Tarantino and Nolan would only ensure that special presentations in IMAX or on film would be just right.

But it's a crap shoot really, there's so many theaters all around, there's no earthly way to send someone for QC for every film, and check regularly to make sure the picture is up to snuff. 

Edited by Manu Delpech

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7 hours ago, Manu Delpech said:

The biggest problem but no one gives a poop, ugh. 

because no one knows what to do on these automated machines. 🙂

Earlier during film projections, the projectionists would diligently check the mask, lenses, brightness, etc. I mean they would be busy doing something in the projection booth. they were alert. they cared about the image.

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12 hours ago, Bruce Greene said:

There are also many cinemas that leave the polarizing filters on the projector (for 3D) even when screening 2D and this results in a quite dim image.  I've asked the theater manager about this and they said that there was nothing that they could do about it.  AMC Burbank, I'm talking about you!

Active 3D was the way to go, but it cost the theaters too much money. So they've all switched to polarizing OR the way less costly Anaglyph 3D. It's amazing when you go to an IMAX screening and they hand you polarizing glasses. I'm paying $22 dollars to watch the same technology I can get at home? Thanks guys, but no thanks. The problem is that people still spend a premium for those "limax" screenings and it kills me. AMC Burbank does not have an IMAX screen, they have a normal theater that has a big screen, with a very low-end build out. The only IMAX theater left that area is City Walk and they put in a metal screen years ago for digital 3D stuff and it ruins the image. Thanks IMAX. 😞

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Posted (edited)

The thing is, the whole point really of the cinema theatre is a social experience and it retains very high value in that one thing that it's got. Even if you go to the movies alone which is totally fine it is still a social experience. I enjoy it - unless it's a crummy audience or too many rude slobs there that day etc. Went to see 'Swimming with men' (great movie!!!) the other day with friends and we had a really nice time. It's still a lot of fun to go to the movies. We were probably the youngest ones in the cinema but if you watch a good movie with a good fellow audience it's much better than sitting at home. But agreed, it is good to be able to adjust the look of the image at home.

Edited by Jon O'Brien

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I personally loathe watching films with anyone else, it's a personal, sacred thing. Theaters have too many distractions, like people for example 😄 Most folks have no idea that they're watching something that's badly projected or that the image sucks though, that's the problem, so theaters don't care in return, it's a vicious circle. 

After being burned on Shazam ! (IMAX released cancelled here last second) and having to watch it in 2D in super dim, shitty, with darker scenes being completely mushy, I swore off seeing any movies at my local multiplex that aren't in laser IMAX. I've had it, it's frustrating to have to wait, but I'd rather wait, rent it on Itunes and I swear to God, that even with a highly compressed 3.5-5 gb file, it looks vastly better on my setup than it would at the movie theater. 

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24 minutes ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

OP, just do what you like, what looks good to you. Too hard trying to second guess things. 

Thanks Daniel.

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