Rebooting Cinemas When the Pandemic Ends

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Mon, 04/13/2020 - 12:20 -- Tom Bert

An empty Cinemark auditorium. Cinemark is a major Barco customer.The COVID-19 crisis is hitting many markets and industries hard. The cinema market, and specifically theatre exhibition is experiencing a big impact. Being the home of large crowds, flocking together to enjoy a fun social experience, going to the movies was put in lockdown across the world. The impact of this is not to be underestimated, because typically cinema exhibition is close to a 24/7 activity. In this article, we’ll take a forward-looking stance and focus on things to consider when starting up projection booths and re-opening cinemas again.

Looking at it from an equipment manufacturer viewpoint: we know our customers run more than 360 days per year; the last show stops typically 12 hours or more after the first show started; we design our equipment to be used at least 4000 hours per year. That means that a period of consecutive months of no operations is a situation nobody is familiar with. At the start of the lockdown, it triggered a lot of questions on how to properly power down and keep equipment in standby.

Let’s start by looking at the types of technologies we have at hand in the projection booth: projectors, media server, amplifiers, network gear, 3D systems. The good thing is that most of these are straightforward electronic devices: that means, they consist mainly of electronic component such as resistor, transistors. These typically don’t age, nor do they suffer from long, uninterrupted runtimes. If it wasn’t for the electrical power consumption and associated cost, keeping your electronics on during the lockdown was probably advised.

The need for attention comes from the non-electronic components inside these products: cooling fans, pumps, spinning hard disks, in general, things that move. These components do have a restricted lifetime; turning them off when not needed does have a positive effect in the long term.

But also by moving, they move air and by moving air, they move dust into the device and through the device. Handling dust is a first point of attention when booting up again: make sure that all exterior surfaces are dust free, check that no air inlets or filters are clogged by dust, have a service technician make sure that no dust has settled inside the device. When needed, remove the dust in accordance with the service manual of the device before turning on the device. Pressurized air is typical; so are microfiber cloths.

The Barco Series 4 laser projection platformAnother focus point, after a long power-down is the batteries inside the product. These are typically used to make sure that things like device certificates and keys are permanently stored and available, to maintain the needed security levels. In normal operations, 12 hour cycles, 360 or more times per year, these batteries never have to provide power to those modules during a long time span.

This is different in the lockdown situation, where batteries can be working non-stop for weeks or months. In the guidelines for shutting down, many manufacturers included a regular power cycle of the device, to recharge the batteries where possible. The problem is that not all batteries are rechargeable, and some older batteries close to their specified lifetime might need a more than average recharging.

Looking at the reopening: make sure you have spare batteries ready, for those cases where a swappable battery needs replacing. These are typically standard batteries, available in any electronics shop. For the non-swappable batteries, typically those linked to security certificates, the only option is to have the full module at hand as spare. Do note that for the media servers specifically, replacing it also means that your distributor will have to create key delivery messages for the new certificate.

Next to the critical checks mentioned above, it is advised to also do a standard image and audio quality check. And if needed, recalibration. It is very unlikely, but things like color convergence, lens focus and other optical parameters might be off. A speaker wire might have gone defective during the lockdown or during power up.

You should consider the repowering not different from a normal installation, with all its typical checks: visual checks, sounds checks, test clips. That also means planning in sufficient time between the powering up and the actual reopening: time to climatize and stabilize, validate, calibrate, but also to potentially order and have delivered spare parts.

Final small tip: if possible, power up equipment in a stepped approach, in order to avoid rush currents or voltages. Start with the projector and server and then the audio equipment and stay safe until then.

Tom Bert is Barco’s Director of Cinema Technology