This made me reflect on the current situation the cinema industry is in. For the past 100 years, projectionists have been replacing lamps and theater managers have been boxing up these big bulbs in their booths. It seems strange that an evolution that has become standard at home, is not finding its way into cinema: when will the last lamp be replaced there? With the introduction of laser illumination, this moment is closer than ever before. The benefits of laser projection have be described and presented in many other articles: higher brightness, wider color gamut, longer lifetime etc.
In this article, I would like to focus on one specific aspect that has not been sufficiently highlighted: laser light sources in cinema are green! Yes, they’re also available in many other colors, but in this context we’d like to elaborate on the ecological aspect of laser lighting for cinema projection, the positive impact on the environment that is. This is the same parameter that drove LED home lighting (via governmental support) towards 100% adoption. Let’s see if a similar scenario is likely to happen in cinema.
We did an analysis of what the consequences for the European cinema market could be. Taking into account the screen size mix in Europe – and hence the mix between high, medium, and low brightness projectors – and the screening hours, we found that a mind-blowing 700GWh is consumed per year by the European cinema projectors! Yes, that is Giga Watt hours! If we would replace every lamp-based cinema projector by its equivalent laser-illuminated version; this number would drop by 150GWh. That is the equivalent production of a small nuclear power plant in one month! Note that if we would do the same for the worldwide cinema market, results would be between 3 to 5 times higher!
Reduced power consumption is not the only ecological impact we would achieve. Digital cinema projector lamps are being replaced between every 500 to 3,000 hours, depending on the screen size. For every lamp that needs to be replaced a pretty big box is shipped to the cinema. Again, based on an analysis of the European cinema market, we found that 150.000 of these lamps are being swapped and sent around on an annual basis. That’s around 100 trucks filled with lamps driving around Europe, every year! Barco’s flagship RGB laser projector runs up to 30,000 hours with an expected light drop of only 20%. This means that if we replace every lamp-based cinema projector by such an RGB laser projector, we avoid over 1 million lamp swaps in Europe! Again, doing the same analysis on a worldwide basis would yield the number 3 to 5 times higher: this is a lots of transport costs, packaging waste, and pollution that can be reduced.
µThe two numbers we’ve put forward above are just some examples of the potential ecological impact of laser illumination for cinema projectors. We didn’t touch on such topics as hazardous waste (did you know Xenon lamps contain radio-active material?). The 100% conversion we use in our analysis might seem unrealistic when thinking about RGB lasers, as they are used for high-brightness laser projectors such as Barco’s DP4K-L series. However, just recently (at CineAsia 2015) Barco announced its laser phosphor family of new-built and retrofit solutions which are designed to easily convert any auditorium to laser. Now, laser illumination has become a reality – both technically and economically - for all exhibitors on all screens!
We realize that the ecological aspects we discussed in this article might be least of your concerns as an exhibitor. But apart from the other more tangible benefits of laser in cinema some stakeholders DO care about the green aspect of technology. Just remember: less than 10 years ago we were still changing incandescent bulbs in our hallway. Let’s talk again in 10 years at a cinema event…