October 18, 2012

New Digital Era Begins at Memphis Theatre

The original 35mm projector equipment, which was installed 18 years ago when the Memphis Theatre was opened, was replaced in September as the cinema transitioned to new digital equipment. The projector and reels, seen above, were purchased used, and only had two days of down time due to mechanical problems in approximately 30 years of service.

The days of going to see the latest "film" at the Memphis Cinema, officially came to a close this weekend. The theatre is up and running for another season, but when the 2012 fall season opened on October 5th, gone was the old 35mm projection system.

Patrons at the Memphis Theatre this weekend were treated to the new digital imagery and sound system installed by Sonic Equipment Company of Iola, KS.

The new $70,000 projection and sound system were unveiled to the delight of patrons.

"I went with my daughter on Friday evening," said Rhonda Kirchner of Kahoka. "I was very impressed with the clarity and brightness of the picture. I thought the sound was a lot more crisp and clear."

The first stage of the project was completed several weeks before opening day for the theatre. The old 35mm projection equipment was removed and the power source was transitioned from three-phase to a single phase system to handle the new digital equipment.

"Your new system is Memphis is basically a giant computer," stated Sonic technician Tyler Elmenhorst.

He explained how the old film process had required much more preparation work that was very labor intensive.

"Your movies used to be delivered in a series of film canisters, requiring the projectionists to build up the movie reels, transferring the film to your projection reels, splicing the different canisters together, Elmenhorst stated. "That generally took at least two people and was quite time consuming."

Now the movies are delivered to the theatre in the form of a computer hard drive.

"Obviously the delivery package is much smaller, and it takes only about 30 to 45 minutes to download the movie to the digital projector," he said. "Then all you have to do is hit play. It is sort of like a DVD player, there's just a little more to it."

Not only has the transition brought time savings for the theatre's volunteer staff, it also means dramatic quality improvement for viewers. Another huge benefit of the transition will be expanded availability of titles.

"There were fewer and fewer sources for the 35mm movie films, and because we are so small, we were often at the bottom of the list to receive new releases and other top titles," said Dr. Harlo Donelson. "Now that we are digital, we'll be able to show the same titles, at the same times as all of the big theatres."

The transition will also improve options as far as showing trailers and other previews, which simply were no longer being offered in 35mm.

"Basically 35mm is going extinct," said Elmenhorst. "Many studios are no longer even producing 35m film for their movies. It will totally disappear in the next year or two."

As part of the upgrade, the theatre also installed a new digital sound system, expanding from just two inputs, to a new 16-input system.

"What you had before was an older analog system, sort of like what you would find on older television sets, where you have the red and white RCA jacks for the right and left sound outputs," Elmenhorst said.

The new 16-channel system adds surround sound elements as well as bass and sub-woofer that will help create a more "true" sound for the movie while eliminating static and other white noise distortions.

The vast improvement didn't come cheap. Theater representative Jo Ann Peterson noted that cost was approximately $70,000.

Fortunately for the not-for-profit group, it was able to pay for the upgrade with theater proceeds, despite the fact that admission price for movies was only $2 and concession items were just $1.

"We knew it was coming, so we've been able to sock the money away over the past several years," Donelson stated.

Patrons will now be able to experience big-theatre quality, still at a fraction of the cost. Admission for movies will now be $3.

Donelson said the group is already planning its next upgrade, a new automatic screen.

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