Motion pictures have been an important part of American culture for almost 100 years. Over that time, the technology behind movie screening has changed dramatically. Originally shown as choppy, black and white, soundless streams of images, movies have developed into colorful, seamless, sometimes 3-D events with booming stereo sound. The design of a movie theatre has also changed dramatically. At one time movies were shown in converted storefronts, where viewers paid a nickel to see a picture in the multi-use theatres that became known as Nickelodeons. Now, movie theatres have multiple screens and some (known as megaplexes) can seat thousands of patrons.
A recent development in the technology of movie screening has been a move from traditional movie projection to digital projection. Older movie projectors use a light source to shine light through the film and onto a projection screen. Film is kept on reels and fed through the machine, but the use of the film often results in imperfections in the projected picture. Anyone who has been at the movies in the 1990s probably remembers some of these imperfections, such as moving black marks on the image.
Digital cinema does away with the use of reels of film and allows movies to be stored on hard drives or disks. This makes it easier for theatres to store and load films, and avoids potential damage to film that could occur when film is exposed on a reel. Digital films also call for a modern projector, which often is one of two types: DLP projectors or SXRD projectors. DLP projectors have 1.3 megapixel resolution. While DLP projectors offer a huge improvement in image quality over traditional projectors, they have been largely supplanted by SXRD projectors. SXRD projectors are produced by Sony and produce higher-resolution pictures.
These types of projectors have slowly begun to be the standard in movie theatres throughout the world. A popular theatre company, AMC Theatres, plans to have witched all of its projectors over to SXRD projectors by 2012. By some estimates, the number of digital screens has been growing by over 50% per year.
As the quality of motion pictures continues to improve, they continue to draw bigger and bigger audiences. This has resulted in drastic changes in the design of a movie theatre. At one time theatres were small, commonly family-owned, businesses. But large companies like AMC have stepped in to create a billion dollar industry out of motion pictures. Theatres now usually possess several screens, and their once hard seats have been transformed into luxurious, cushioned chairs (and sometimes couches). These efforts are all being undertaken to make the movie-going experience even more enjoyable for the public.
Despite all of the changes that the technology behind movie screening has undergone over the past century, more changes promise to be on the horizon in the 21st century. 3-D technology in particular has already begun to have a forceful impact on both movie production and screening. As the movie-going experience becomes more enjoyable and entertaining, we are also sure to see more changes in the design of a movie theatre, allowing for the accommodation of yet more patrons.