Christie Digital has received a prestigious Thea award from the Themed Entertainment Association for the groundbreaking work on its Eclipse 4K RGB Pure Laser projector.
TEA, a 26 year-old organization serving the creative, technical, and production communities responsible for experiential entertainment in theme parks, museums, hospitality, retail, and other venues, recognized the Eclipse with its Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement: Technical Innovation. The award was announced last fall, and finally presented earlier this month in a virtual presentation following the COVID-related cancellation of the group's annual live award ceremony.
The Eclipse is a one-of-a-kind HDR projector developed over a five-year period with help from 90 Christie team members, initially to meet the needs of one key customer—the renowned Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. A system comprised of six Eclipse projectors serving the Planetarium's large domed theater was debuted in July 2019 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969 and the museum's own 150th anniversary. A birds-eye view of the lunar module landing, as would have been seen from above the spacecraft, was modeled from actual flight data and recreated on the dome.
But it was the projection system's specular highlights and, notably, its remarkable black level that set the show apart—a true absence of light with no detectable idle brightness. Carter Emmart, the Hayden's astro-visualization director who has since created a new feature program to utilize the system's capabilities, has referred to it as "the holy grail" for a fulldome planetarium show. During the Thea award presentation, Larry Paul, Christie's Executive Director for Technology & Custom Solutions, Enterprise & Entertainment, noted that the planetarium uses the Eclipse system for scientific research during the evening hours, and that "Astronauts have been quoted as saying that this is the closest they've been to being in outer space without being in outer space, because the blackness of space is exceptionally black, and that's what this represents." I personally saw a demo of the Eclipse projecting some planetarium footage on a flat screen at Christie's Canadian headquarters last year, and put my face within inches of the screen in an effort to detect light coming off the black areas.
Christie's big breakthrough here is in the successful execution of a six-chip, dual-modulated laser projector. In simple terms, a trio of digital micromirror DLP chips as might be found in any 3DLP projector actually precedes the three primary projection chips in the light path and is optically coupled to them. It is the combination of the signal processing applied to the two sets of chips in the dark and bright areas of the image that permits an enormous boost in contrast for the end result, both in deeper blacks and brighter highlights. The Eclipse boasts a 20 million:1 sequential contrast ratio.
The combination of this inherent contrast and the wide gamut of the pure RGB laser light source in the Eclipse allows Christie to claim something close to the full Rec. 2021 spec, which denotes a similar color space to Rec. 2020 but with a minimum contrast ratio of 200,000:1, which the Eclipse exceeds by a magnitude of 100x. The projector is also capable of up to a 120 Hz frame rate with full 4K resolution for strikingly clear rendering of motion.
Yet another unusual capability of the Eclipse is that, thanks to its consistent pure black floor, edge-blending of multiple projectors, as is done in the Hayden, does not result in overlapping areas that create bands of higher brightness which must then be optically filtered or otherwise managed.
Officially introduced in September 2019, the Eclipse can be customized for brightness levels from 2,000 lumens to 30,000 lumens by configuring the laser modules that attach to a separate projection head. It's also configurable with an optional Christie Terra input card and can connect directly to a Christie Terra SDVoE system. The projector supports Christie's Mystique automated warping and blending software for multi-projector arrays.