We’re just under eight months away from the debut of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – and already theater owners are scrambling to prepare for the film’s release. They’re not ordering extra popcorn and ticket paper, though, they’re trying to get their projectors ready to screen the film in the High Frame Rate format Jackson’s using for the feature.
While a typical movie screens at 24 frames per second (meaning 24 still images move past the bulb per second to create the illusion of movement on the screen), Jackson and James Cameron have led a charge to up the output to 48-60 FPS in order to eliminate image jutter and motion artifacts.
Jackson’s The Hobbit is the first major motion picture to be shot in HFR, but it doesn’t mean anything if theaters can’t properly exhibit the prints. As it stands currently, digital cinema auditoriums are not equipped for HFR releases – but a movement is afoot to remedy that before the holidays roll around.
Optimistic estimates state that tens of thousands of projectors could be upgraded before the release of Jackson’s highly anticipated film – but the reality is that the number will be dependent on how vital theater owners think the upgrade is. Since the conversion isn’t cheap (current Series 2 projectors from Barco, Christie, and NEC will require a software upgrade and a hardware add-on, which will run $10,000 per projector) theaters may hold off until they see if more films are going to follow Jackson’s lead and shoot in the newer format before committing the cash to modernize their machines. We know Cameron has already stated that he will shoot Avatar 2 and 3 in HFR, but it remains to be seen how many other filmmakers will embrace the technology.
The biggest benefit of the format for viewers is that it will give films a better picture quality. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the 24 FPS format, doubling the frames per second will reportedly result in a smoother, more vibrant exhibition of the film’s images and should make the 3D of a film like The Hobbit pop even more.
The real question is, how much more will audiences have to pay for a ticket for the HFR experience? No one’s mentioned anything about a price increase, but if theaters are paying $10,000 per projector upgrade, it wouldn’t be a shocker if patrons were stuck with a “HFR surcharge” to go along with the already aggravating price bump for 3D. The industry will want to proceed with caution here – theater attendance is down year over year already, and adding more to the cost of a ticket isn’t likely to improve the numbers.
We’ll likely find out what the future of HFR holds closer to the holidays, but some theaters may well implement the technology by this summer. While there aren’t any blockbusters set to release using the format during that timeframe, speculation is rampant that Jackson will release a HFR trailer for The Hobbit running at 48 FPS.
Finally, keep in mind that viewers will still be able to see the film in old fashioned 2D at 24 FPS (and presumably 3D at 24 FPS) as well. So, even if your theater doesn’t upgrade, you’ll be able to take a return trip to The Shire in time for the holidays.
Check out THR for more on the technical details behind this new technology and then let us know if HFR sounds like something you’d want to see or if you’re fine with how movies look on the screen now.