Cineworld ScreenX takes immersion to another level with multi-screen cinema

posted on Saturday, 11th August 2018 by Steve May

ScreenX  IMAX  projectors  Cinema 

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Cinema has taken another step toward total immersion, with the launch of ScreenX in the UK.

Exclusive to Cineworld, the panoramic technology engulfs the cinemagoer with a 270 degree view. Cineworld plans to operate three ScreenX theatres in the UK: at London's 02, Cineworld Speke and the Cineworld Leeds White Rose in September. Inside CI was invited to the gala premiere to experience prehistoric shark actioner The Meg in ScreenX first hand.

The film fan is spoilt for choice when it comes to extreme cinema. ScreenX joins IMAX, Superscreen and 4DX in offering patrons a viewing experience that they simply can’t get at home.

In some ways, ScreenX echoes Cinerama, a theatrical presentation first seen in the Fifties. That involved also involved a trio of screens that curved to create a 146 degree vista. ScreenX however reflects the shoe box design of modern theatres, allowing the viewer to be surrounded on three sides. Barco tried something very similar with Escape, before abandoning the multi-screen technology earlier this year. The theatre uses Christie projectors for the array.

Sp Cineworld Screen X_3

Sp Cineworld Screen X_2

The side walls, or Wings to use ScreenX jargon, are installed with a fabric designed to match the brightness and colour of the main screen. ScreenX titles arrives as two digital files, one the standard movie, the other the side content. The two are then sync’d by proprietary ScreenX software. The technology is a great advert for projection edge blending, used to create the seamless wing images.

Cineworld is a keen exponent of this kind of experiential cinema. It was the first cinema chain in the UK to introduce 4DX, the multi-sensory movie experience. Like ScreenX, that technology was developed by CJ 4DPLEX. Cinema goers will pay a £3 premium to see a movie in the format.

ScreenX was first launched in 2015, and is now available in 151 cinemas, the majority in East Asia. South Korea and China account for 130 alone.

Special edition versions of movies are needed to run in these theatres. ScreenX conversion is a two-stage process. Panoramic material is shot using specialist rigs, during the main production. This then goes through Wing post production and grading.

Titles available in the ScreenX format include King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Black Panther. Following The Meg is The Nun. Each one will probably offer a slightly different creative take; the amount of activity the wings offer between movies is also likely to be variable.

The general idea seems to be to keep the action central (so you’re not constantly turning to watch what is happen on the side screens, as you might do in VR), with wing visuals used to fill peripheral vision. It's a bit like Ambilight in that regard. 

Screen X Live (1)

Screen X Live 2 (1)

One demo sequence, created specifically for the format, involved quite a lot of panning around the room and general movement, which created an unsettling sense of movement, much like you’d experience on a theme park attraction. The Meg conversion was more linear. When The Stath sumerges in his mini sub for the first time, and the entire auditorium seemingly fills with water, it’s difficult not to suppress a giggle of delight.

I had a few takeaways from the experience. Most obviously, the auditorium is really bright, thanks to the battery of projectors in use. Even when they are aren’t projecting action, they tonally match the screen. Secondly, cinema exits are bad enough when positioned close to a screen, but when the wraparound fires up they literally become a little doorway in the picture, which is positively odd.

It’s a gimmick to be sure, but in the wacky world of novelty cinema, neither matters much. Cineworld ScreenX is a unique popcorn experience that will be very difficult to emulate in the home. And at least you don’t need to wear 3D glasses.

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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