15 years ago, in what seems a galaxy far away, George Lucas was pushing and hoping for 1,000 film-to-digital cinema conversions to show Part II of the Star Wars classic. He got about 100.
The resolution was 1.3k. The brightness and contrast ratio were pretty bad. People forget, of course, that back then the brightness and contrast in a lot of cinema theaters was generally really bad, because stretching the life of the bulbs in those times was pretty common, and the technology of current bulbs made the blues go out and the yellows shifted to brown.
But in most cases, the people who installed the first digital systems were not the type to wait until their bulbs blew. They usually had the most savvy techs and customer-centric vision, and were the type to stay ahead of the curve.
Those were the declining days of THX as well. The standards that they set up were easy to duplicate, and one THX sticker at the door insinuated more than what often was true. A cinema may have had their large auditorium(s) THX certified, then installed the same equipment throughout the facility thinking they had the purview of the expensive pros from dover.
The good news is that all the sound systems might have been upgraded to full bandwidth, higher level handling speakers and amplifiers, which was the point of the Lucas / Holman concept. Maybe even a replaced screen or three.
What also didn’t happen as often is the re-certification. Somehow THX didn’t make the doorway stickers with a time-release solvent. Somehow facilities forgot to take the stickers down. Even today though, THX certification is an option for facilities, and a few use it to make a splash and show the press that they are serious about their gravitas.
Two things are wrong though. The general public had respect for THX, but they never exactly knew what they did. Were they a speaker company or something like that little Pixar guy? The second problem was that they were stuck in the shadow of their expensive “experts” expertise when that top down approach to management was losing style points all over the world.
The mode today is international standards, and many of those are open sourced. The mode today is a model that educates, then integrates the horizontal capabilities of an interlaced group. ISO 9001 was making “Self Certification” the modern, respected management style.
Digitizing the cinema technology chain was also a process rooted in international standards, and when possible, open sourced. Unfortunately, now that the film-to-digital transition has gone through the turmoil years, with several generations of projectors and media players and theater management and satellite robotics in the mix, the infrastructure of knowledgable operators are gone. All the required details of keeping eyes on the equipment and keeping eyes on the masking and screen, listening and being prepared for any problem – details that kept a couple of shifts worth of multi-person staff interested in everything behind the scenes – are relegated to a small group who go from place to place putting out fires and interfacing with 3rd party integrators.
Which most often leaves the audience in charge of their own quality assurance experience. Imagine the thrill of the producer and director who meticulously struggled with selecting matching lenses for each camera, stitched together dozens of teams of post groups, and in the end has to rely upon a once-a-week visiting tech to notice if there is actual focus on screen, to notice whether at least the 3 front speakers are working or not…or, rely upon the audience member who:
- can discern well enough to know what is bugging them,
- who wants to spend the time to find a person to report the problem to,
- to then competently report the problem,
- to report the problem to someone who hopefully understands enough of what was said to note it correctly,
- to expect that a person who can communicate effectively with the tech support group
What difference for those audience members if there is an international standard…or, perhaps even for the remaining personnel in the cinema facility. Sure, they’re not trained but can they be?
The international standards for quality assurance and management tools is the ISO 9000/9001 family. It presumes that an entire operation integrates its various entities, dove-tailing each in a very prescribed manner. The basic concept is that:
- an agreed upon quality level will be assigned to each facility, then
- the facility is setup with sets of promised procedures to make it happen and
- sets of training programs are established for staff in order to
- make sets of promised and intelligently done, constant and consistent checks of the equipment and procedures
- all tied together by a Quality Assurance Chief who direct reports to the CEO (avoiding the vagaries of other department’s fates)
- with a dash – actually, a complete system – of self-compliance.
A complete system – from carpet to banisters to popcorn popper – is never going to happen throughout a cinema facility. But it could happen throughout the projection chain.
The QualityActive system is dedicated to providing the tools that can help achieve this ideal.