I spent a few minutes browsing in Currys White Rose on Saturday, waiting for Karen to return from the Opticians. The back third of the store was given over to large screen TVs and it was interesting to note the subtle variations in picture between the models. All of the sets were flat screen and some were very large indeed. It seems that black is the new black at present as far as styling goes, but one set broke the mould. Instead of a black frame surrounding the screen, it had a back-lit white border. At first this struck me as a bit silly, but as the picture changed, I suddenly realised that the surround was mimicking the picture in colour and intensity.
At £2,299 I’m certainly not going to pay such a premium for a fancy telly and the idea still strikes me as a bit odd, as it flies in the face of cinematic experience. When you go to the pictures you want the Cinema itself to disappear as it intrudes into the fantasy world if you become overly aware of the surroundings. If I want a fuzzy picture round the edge of the screen I’d simply go to a Cinema chain with low presentation values, which regrettably these days is most of them.
Philips, however, think that the immersive lighting effects enhance the experience and this is the fourth generation of the Ambilight system. What I didn’t realise was that as well as lighting the screen surround, the set also skim lights the wall on all four sides with colour and intensity to match the picture.
I once commissioned a theatre in the Middle East and the equipment had actually been delivered several years previously. However, when Ian Hume, the Service manager went out there the first time he was very surprised to find the building only partially finished and open to the elements.
The theatre was in a place called Salalah, an oasis city in Oman. It was attached to a substantial museum and the Contractors were now in a position to get us to go back to commission the equipment, train the users and hand over the systems.
I dug out the file. The project was extensive- an extensive lighting rig, lighting bars, dimmers, a large control desk, a 35mm projector, an induction loop and a simultaneous translation system. I arranged to spend a day down at Sound Associates, the Company who had supplied the projector, a Cinemeccanica Victoria 5. Now I knew how to operate cinema projectors, but I didn’t know the subtleties of installing one. They made it very straight forward and graciously gave me a spare reel of film to use to set up the machine, the 1987 Ishtar. (Had I taken a reel of film into other Gulf States, I would probably have been detained, but the customs at Muscat was rather cursory).
Now something every large projector has is something called an aperture plate. This has a rectangular hole somewhat smaller than the image area of a 35mm picture image. Part of the commissioning is to file this hole so that the image fills the screen as much as possible but the fuzzy edges are concealed by the black masking round the edges. The trouble in Salalah was that one of the lenses supplied was the wrong sort- it filled the lens turret hole rather than fitting into an eccentric collar so that the sideways movement could be adjusted. The consequence of this was that Cinemascope movies also showed the soundtrack down the side of the screen, unless you pulled the aperture plate slightly out of its mounting clip. (Widescreen films were fine).
Just in case you have never seen what 35mm film looks like here is a sample. I used to have a small collection of random frames but they have been lost or passed on to collectors now.