Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Long live the M!

Christie’s M Series projectors are at the heart of many installations in theme parks and museums

by Judith Rubin

A new M to replace the old M

Christie’s original M Series was a leap in the evolution of projection. First introduced in 2007, it became a top-selling line of projectors and lenses for Christie and a hugely successful 3DLP product within the industry. “The M Series packed a lot of features in a small package,” says Larry Paul, Executive Director, Technology and Custom Solutions, Christie. “Features like the intelligent lens system and embedded Twist for blending and warping were unique at the time. That and its small size and weight made it popular and an AV game-changer. The M Series stands for reliability, ruggedness and innovation.”

The original M Series projectors sit at the heart of many installations in theme parks, planetariums, museums, visitor centers and live events, and they’re still used in the fleets of rental and staging production companies. Christie has worked to design its successor – one that would continue to deliver everything customers loved, but perform to a higher standard, incorporating the best of current technology while retaining the existing product footprint and the same lensing.

That successor, now officially launched, is the M 4K25 RGB – billed by Christie as their smallest, lightest, quietest all-in-one RGB pure laser projector. Within its petite, 92-pound frame, the reinvented M offers 25,000 lumens and 4K UHD resolution – boasting four times the resolution, double the brightness, and twice the color of the original M (greater than 96% of the Rec. 2020 color gamut as opposed to the previous, and much smaller, Rec. 709). It further boasts up to 50,000 hours of stable runtime, new TruLife+ electronics with electronic color convergence (ECC), an intelligent lens system (ILS1), and a field-replaceable light source. It is 3D capable and high-frame-rate capable all the way up to 480 frames per second (FPS) with a Christie Mirage upgrade (more on this below).

“We showed a sneak peek to an industry audience in Orlando and they were blown away by what they saw: this little, tiny projector making a giant, brilliantly colorful image on a wall – and by what they didn’t hear: projector noise. This allows you to go into environments where you couldn’t previously have had a projector.”

Larry Howard

The M 4K25 RGB takes the same much-loved ILS1 lenses and utilizes the same lens mount as Christie Crimson Series projectors and the former M and J Series, and it is compatible with existing system components and Christie’s suite of software products. It has new qualities that make it likely to find its way into even more venues, indoor and outdoor settings, and guest experiences than before. It promises to make installation and maintenance a breeze, and get operators and creatives excited about new storytelling possibilities.

In this article we have focused on some of the more dramatic improvements from the old M to the new.

Re-M-vestment

Are you ready for 2022-2023? The conditions of the pandemic have added fuel to the fire of innovation and ramped up the digital sophistication of the public. And, according to the latest TEA/AECOM Theme Index, the cycle of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is already underway. The stages are identified as downturn (2020), bounce-back (2021) and the beginnings of real recovery (2022) followed by elevated guest expectations (2023).

Since reopening, parks, museums and attractions have had no shortage of returning guests eager to gather again for real-life, out-of-home experiences. Operators must do what they always do to remain competitive: reinvest. Given that today most operators are faced with having to do more with less, the new M presents itself as the right RGB laser projection workhorse at the right time.

It’s a given that an attraction today will almost certainly be media-based or have a strong media component, whether an immersive or interactive walkthrough, an IP-based experience, a mixed-reality adventure, a dark ride, 4D theater or flying theater, a repurposed retail space, an outdoor spectacle, esports, etc. The new M Series is positioned to offer an immediate, state-of-the- art upgrade with the potential to do more in the future, as well as a means to leverage the transformative, compelling power of projection in spaces where it might not have been used before.

The M 4K25 RGB’s integrated user interface with full-color LCD allows users to see input signal thumbnails and projector health at-a-glance.

Upgrading the equipment confers benefits with or without a content upgrade. “This is an enabling technology that allows us to go beyond where we have been in the past, and it’s completely backwards compatible,” says Larry Howard, Senior Director of Entertainment Sales, Global Entertainment Development at Christie. “Most installs can remove the old projector and drop

in the new. You can refresh the system and keep the existing content, color and brightness levels without having to rebalance. The additional brightness, color volume capability and other features will be there to tap into when you’re ready for the next stage. Meanwhile, your content looks better, and your system runs more reliably. Six months after you set it up, it will still look the way it was intended and approved.”

“With an unprecedented 50,000 hours of illumination performance and a field replaceable light source (if ever needed), we’ve gone way beyond the legacy of the M Series as an industry workhorse in terms of long life and durability,” says Paul.

One of the reasons the original M Series was so successful was its adaptability to a range of locations. “You could put it wherever you needed to,” says Paul. “Whether indoors or outdoors, it was this great-quality, 3D-capable, 120Hz-capable platform, utterly revolutionary in its time. Nothing else could do what it did. In designing the new RGB laser upgrade, we worked hard to reimagine all those things, and more – such as making it literally so quiet that there’s no need for a projection booth. At 46 decibels it’s quieter than a household refrigerator.”

“We showed a sneak peek to an industry audience in Orlando,” says Howard, “and they were blown away by what they saw: this little, tiny projector making a giant, brilliantly colorful image on a wall – and by what they didn’t hear: projector noise,” says Howard. “This allows you to go into environments where you couldn’t previously have had a projector.”

With the advantages of size, weight, brightness and color gamut, Paul and Howard note that the M 4K25 RGB will also lend itself well to projection mapping, giving designers a new and nimbler package to work with on a larger scale.

Going beyond: color, contrast, frame rate & more

Driven by art, business and the need to differentiate, themed entertainment has long been the proven incubator of trends and creativity in applied technology, storytelling and guest experience.

This core creativity manifests in products, design and content creation and makes them interdependent. Media producers, storytellers and operators will want to make the most of the M 4K25 RGB by producing content that leverages its display power and versatility, including high frame rates, a color gamut approaching full Rec. 2020, enhanced brightness, omni-directional orientation, and functionality in spaces large and small, indoors and outdoors.

“With an unprecedented 50,000 hours of illumination performance and a
field-replaceable light source (if ever needed), we’ve gone way beyond the legacy of the M Series as an industry workhorse in terms of life and durability.”

Larry Paul

The addition of the M 4K25 RGB ups the number of Christie RGB pure laser projectors boasting this capability (joining its larger family members including the Griffyn 4K32-RGB and D4K40-RGB) brings the impact of Rec. 2020 within reach of more operators and budgets. This color space expansion is one that “you have to see in order to see and once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it,” as Paul and Howard frequently say. Enhanced color capability will soon be joined by ultra-high-contrast lens options in early 2022: four new lenses that offer >7000:1 contrast.

Finally, there’s frame rate, or “temporal resolution.” A Christie Mirage upgrade makes the new M projectors capable of running at 120 fps in 2D and 3D at full resolution, and up to 480 fps

in HD resolution – and 480 fps is no fantasy. In fact, 480 fps has been utilized for years by a number of Christie clients, in attraction settings you may well have seen or experienced. “We have been providing 480 fps under NDA since 2014 to customers in simulation, visualization and theme parks and some other specific applications,” says Howard. “The higher frame rate beyond 60 or even 120 fps is needed for realism and detail. It’s very important to the experience.”

Leveraging higher frame rate capabilities, Christie Mirage Pro gives the further ability to present multiple points of view simultaneously and enabling different experiences for different people. This was demonstrated as part of Christie’s exhibit at the 2019 IAAPA Expo, in which viewers, each looking through one of four windows, were delivered four unique images from one projector. Says Howard: “What we showed at IAAPA speaks to what you can do in a queue line or in the museum world, where making the most of limited space is so important.”

“Higher frame rates allow the brain to be engaged, to see and feel things more as they really are,” says Paul. “With video games today running at 120 fps or higher, 30 fps or even 60 fps may

no longer be enough to compel today’s audiences with media. It is as much of a change to media production as the transition from silent movies to talkies, or black-and-white film to color. Effectively what we are seeing is a new storytelling medium, already on the way to becoming mainstream in attractions and gaming.”

In other words, higher frame rates are part of content creation evolution and there’s a good case to be made that temporal resolution is more critical to the end result than pixel resolution, especially in media-based attractions and experiences. High- frame-rate production is an already active creative space. Moreover, a good portion of today’s audience is already attuned to and expecting it.

“It’s all absolutely available now to the media production workflow, playback and display,” says Howard. “It’s a matter of teaching the entire chain what’s available and how to utilize it.”

“You have to up your content creation game, but it’s worth it,” says Paul. “Higher temporal resolution is not just pixels on a grid, it’s how many pixels per moment. The human eye is exceedingly good at seeing content at higher frame rates, which make things more natural, immersive and engaging.”

The M 4K25 RGB promises to help more of the industry move forward in this direction. • • •

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]ail.com) is a leading journalist, publicist, strategist, blogger, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She excels at writing about all aspects of design and technical design, production and project management. Areas of special interest include AV integration and show control, lighting design and acoustics, specialty cinema, digital video and world’s fairs. Judith has ties to numerous industry organizations. From 2005-2020 she ran communications, publications and social media for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA, and co-chair of the 2014 IMERSA Summit. She was publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association in the 1990s, now part of the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) and has also contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Already making her mark as a magazine and book editor, Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. Launching as a freelancer in the mid 1990s she has contributed to dozens of publications and media outlets including Funworld, Lighting&Sound America, Sound & Communications, Urban Land, The Raconteur and The Planetarian. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute. She has lived in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, and now makes her home in Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts and theater community.

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