Insure Domestic Tranquility, Provide for the Common Defense, Promote the General Welfare

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.

Too Loud; What’d They Say?

The Real Problem

Most often, people complain: “I can’t understand a thing anyone is saying!”

A Monologue On Dialogue

This may be the most technical of articles you read on this site. Or, it may be OK. Fair warning. You might have to read it a few times. I must say, it took a few times to write it correctly.

We might have been taught that the pitch of the sound of a typical man or woman’s voice is around 150 and 300 cycles per second…which is true. That pitch – those frequencies – are just about an octave below the sound from the center note of the piano. Continue reading “Too Loud; What’d They Say?”

Too Loud~! Danger

The subject of sound causing damage to ears is filled with problems.

One point to know is that most standards for sound levels in the workplace are not based on safety. They are based on whether the person can listen to a sound for a number of hours for a number of years and still understand their spouse when they are told that dinner is ready.

Maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but it is mostly true. Continue reading “Too Loud~! Danger”

It’s Like, Too Loud~!

The first instinct for controlling “Too Loud” in the movie theater is “Turn it down.” From the viewpoint of the patron: We drive to the movie theater. We pay for our ticket. We sit for a while in soft lighting (wondering if we’re going to be bothered by the sound and smell of our neighbor’s popcorn all night).

Then the room goes full dark and a movie preview music begins all mystery-building-like with cool, dark logos and – Bright and Loud!!! Turn it down!!! Continue reading “It’s Like, Too Loud~!”

Too Loud~! More, But Not Now

There is more to this. But it is best to get some experience. Run around and think, “Someone lowered this for some reason, perhaps because one movie seemed too loud to a person who complained…and no one spoke up to say, ‘Hey~! I like it louder.'” But what movie is playing now?? is it a different movie playing at that lower level also? Was it just turned down because it had loud trailers?

Check it out. You’ll find a lot of variations on that theme. Continue reading “Too Loud~! More, But Not Now”

Too Loud~! Fixed Already

“Fixed” Already

The last complicating factor is that very often the audio level has already been turned down. There is enough anecdotal evidence – evidence from people talking about it, but not properly written down with each point studied by experts in the field –  to say that most movie theaters have turned down their audio processors from the optimum level – the level that the auditorium was designed and set up for. )Usually, that means that the level was set up to follow a set of Recommended Practices from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).) Continue reading “Too Loud~! Fixed Already”

Too Loud~! A Little Theater Theory – Architecture

Mix In Theater Theory

At first, sound seemed like it should be a simple subject. And in the old days, before stereo or before 5.1 sound, maybe it was. But things changed. And one of the biggest changes has been stadium seating, with the tall ceiling and a lot more space to fill.

In practice, it means that for your theater owner to fill this stadium seating challenge with quality sound, there needs to be a lot of amplifier and speaker power. As we learned in the previous article, that power needs to be balanced so that it can deliver more amplification power at low and high frequencies, so they can keep up with middle frequencies as they get stronger. Continue reading “Too Loud~! A Little Theater Theory – Architecture”

Too Loud~! A Little Ear Theory

Introducing: Ear Theory

In none of these conditions is the appropriate move “Turn It Down”. It might make some things softer, but the exciting parts of the movie won’t be as good, and the entire movie will sound like it is being played though a tin can. The high pitch and low pitch sounds will be gone, and surprisingly, that will make it harder to understand the dialogue. Oops! Continue reading “Too Loud~! A Little Ear Theory”

Too Loud! Adverts Before Impact After.

Adverts Louder Than Movie

Loud is also often due to the way that the advertisers overdrive their message. They have 60 or 90 seconds to tell their message, and too often they tell it too loudly.

They forget (or don’t care) about that shock of going from relaxed, dark and nearly silent. Perhaps they never see a movie in a cinema with previews and ads and trailers. Continue reading “Too Loud! Adverts Before Impact After.”

stick figure looks at screen and speakers

Too Loud; Distance

What To Do?

The solution could be as simple as choosing a different seat.

In an auditorium with a big slope, or ‘stadium seating’, the sound is often actually louder in the 2nd half of the room!

Technically, someone who has studied physics will tell you that sound levels decrease as you increase distance. Don’t argue with those people – they and their graphs are absolutely right. Out in an open field, you can measure with great detail how much less the sound decreases with distance. Don’t even mention to them that the theater is not an open field. Just nod. Continue reading “Too Loud; Distance”