Neuroscientist Poppy Crum was watching a video of a fire dancer when she had a distinct physical sensation — the flush of her body expelling heat.
Her body reacted as if the fire was real. The experience led to a series of experiments in which Crum and her colleagues at Dolby Laboratories tested the body temperature of viewers as they reacted to the high-dynamic range image of fire.
That helped Dolby develop a laser-guided projection system that brings a higher level of realism to what moviegoers experience in theaters — making viewers, literally, feel the heat or whatever else they are watching on screen.
Laser-powered projectors. Sound that bounces around the theater. Seats that vibrate and even project mist. The century-old motion picture exhibition industry is in the midst of a technological revolution, deploying the latest in audio and visual research in a bid to attract younger audiences and stay relevant in the digital age.
“We want to create the highest, most compelling experience you can possibly have,” said Crum, head scientist at Dolby and a consulting professor at Stanford University.
The effort is reminiscent of the big push that theaters made in the 1950s and 1960s, with Cinerama and other widescreen innovations intended to compete with television’s growing popularity.
Then as now, theaters need to give people a reason to leave their fast-expanding entertainment options at home.
Today, that means not only streaming services such as Netflix, but also hugely popular video games, 4K television sets and digital sound systems that rival what consumers can get in their neighborhood cinema. The competition will only grow as virtual reality comes to the home with the release of Oculus Rift and other special devices for VR experiences that could redefine how entertainment is created and delivered.
Laser-guided projectors and other new technologies have been made possible by the industry’s conversion from film to digital formats. With financial support from the major studios, theaters over the last decade have invested $2.5 billion to convert from film to digital projectors. Virtually all of the roughly 40,000 screens in the U.S. are now fully digital…
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