Are cinemas under threat from video on demand?

In light of recent media reports suggesting 3D is already fading in popularity, we asked Cineworld and Vue whether the technology has helped to boost audience numbers. Both cinema chains were positive about its impact.

"In 2010, one quarter of UK cinema revenue came from 3D films, showing the impact this technology for watching films can have," said de Quervain. "During 2010, the UK cinema industry benefitted from another great year with a string of blockbuster releases leading to a 2.7 per cent increase in industry box office takings compared to 2009," added Cineworld's official spokesperson. "3D was the most significant contributor to this increase."

Apart from 3D, what other technologies are coming to movie theatres to ensure cinema remains a more attractive proposition than watching films at home?

"The number of future technologies that could transform the cinematic experience are endless," explained Vue's de Quervain.

"However, an example of what is to come will soon be showcased at Westfield Stratford City [in East London], with the exciting launch of one of the largest all-new, all-digital cinemas in Europe - Vue Stratford City.

In a recent partnership between Vue Entertainment and Sony Europe, this new cinema will offer visitors the chance to experience the Breatht4King Vue Sony Ultra HD projection system across all of its screens, delivering a spectacular visual experience from every seat.

"Cinemagoers will be amazed by the detail even on the largest screens" de Quervaim contined, "and with up to four times the megapixels of 2K and HD, cinemagoers will be taken away by the detail and fluidity of images.

Breatht4King Vue gives cinemagoers an immersive, engaging visual experience they simply can't get at home. Breatht4King Vue is further enhanced with Vue Profound Sound, in a Dolby 7:1 sound system. This professionally mixed sound will make cinemagoers feel like they are part of the action.

"What's more, with each auditorium in the cinema also offering SuperVue stepped stadium seating, every seat in the house will provide a perfect view of the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling super-sized screens.

Vue Westfield Stratford City will set new standards with a stunning state-of-the-art cinema set in a wonderful location, and the installation of Sony Ultra HD digital cinema projectors will form part of the potential roll out of Sony's new projection technology systems across all Vue cinemas over the next couple of years - revolutionising the cinema experience."

Live entertainment

Cineworld isn't sitting still either. "Cineworld is dedicated to making the customers cinema experience the best possible, and is constantly striving to develop new ways of doing this.

With Cineworld leading the way with the switch to digital and 3D, Cineworld now boasts over 300 3D cinema screens across the country, including the colossal 24.4m 3D screen in the O2.

As well as the biggest blockbusters, Cineworld shows the best in world cinema, as well as live ballet, opera and theatre performances from around the globe. Cineworld also plans to bring a variety of live sporting events to cinemas around the country."

We asked de Quervain what the future holds for movie theatres. "The future of cinema is always evolving," he said. "Technology never stands still and as such we continue to develop with it. There is no doubt that cinema as it was even five years ago is a different and better experience today, with new products, service and experiences being offered.

In another five years, with digital fully installed and more mature, you will see cinemas as major entertainment centres offering an even wider and [more] diverse range of big screen content for people to enjoy, covering not only film, but more specialised content like documentaries, live sport, 3D concerts, comedy, gaming, interactive advertising and features will probably all be common place.

The public will probably be able to have more say on what is shown and when with demand-based programming a possibility.

"The quality of sound and picture will continue to evolve, with films being made in 4k resolution or higher [compared to] 2K now.

James Cameron is already experimenting with and successfully demonstrating how increasing frame rates when filming from the current 24 frames per second to 48, 60 or even 120 frames per second produces images on screen that are simply incredible when compared to today's digital standards. One thing that won't change in the future of cinema is that the appeal of unique shared out of home big screen experience that cinemas have to offer will remain, if not increase as they evolve."

Frame rate increase

There is already a new exciting film technology on the horizon, with a big name behind it. James Cameron is no stranger to bringing new technologies to cinemas; in fact, it's becoming a habit.

In 2005 at CinemaCon (the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners), he and George Lucas urged theatre owners to upgrade to new digital cinema equipment so they could show the new wealth of 3D films. It worked, with many chains forking out $100,000 for the new equipment.

Fast forward

Cameron acknowledged his success at this year's CinemaCon. "Oh no, here's this guy again," he joked. "Every time he shows up at one of these things it costs me money."

This time Cameron is proposing that film should be shot at higher frame rates. Movies are currently shot at 24fps, which means movement can become blurred or jerky when shown in 3D. He wants movies to be shot at 48fps, or even as high as 60fps.

He showed three films to demonstrate the difference it could make to the experience - one at 24fps, one at 48fps and one at 60fps. The audience was left with little doubt that there was a marked improvement.

As Cameron himself commented, "If watching a 3D movie is like looking through a window, then we've taken the glass out of the window and we're staring at reality."

Faster frame rates aren't a new idea. In the 1980s, Academy Award-winning cinematographer Douglas Trumbull proposed the same thing, and the process was used to make movies for rides in theme parks. It never caught on for normal films because of the cost - the extra frames meant a lot more photographic film was needed.

In the age of digital cameras, that isn't a problem. In fact, we're already treated to these frame rates when we watch sport on television. Film has yet to catch up because it still uses the same frame rates as were used in the early days of cinema.

Despite his opening joke, Cameron argues that the cost will be minimal for cinemas, because they will only need some new software updates for the current digital projectors and digital cameras are already capable of capturing film at higher frame rates. However, there is an extra cost when it comes special effects, with more frames meaning more post-production work.

This may make the agreement of the studios and producers the deciding factor, but if there's one person who could affect such a change, it's Cameron. He plans to film Avatar 2 and 3 at a higher frame rate, and Peter Jackson has already announced his intention to film The Hobbit at 48fps with the full backing of his studios.

As Jackson explained on Facebook, "We are indeed shooting at the higher frame rate. The key thing to understand is that this process requires both shooting and projecting at 48fps, rather than the usual 24fps (films have been shot at 24fps since the late 1920s). So the result looks like normal speed, but the image has hugely enhanced clarity and smoothness."

Cinema technology never sits still. A lot of big players don't think movie theatres will become extinct any time soon, and are willing to fight to make sure that it doesn't happen.

Video on demand can bring the movies direct to our TVs, PCs, phones and tablets, but until the cinema experience can truly be replicated at home without great expense, not to mention the need for a huge room dedicated to the purpose, there will always be bums on seats in the nearest multiplex.