TV technology is evolving at a furious pace, but it would be a mistake to think that cinema technology is lagging behind. To provide more contrast, more clarity and good support for HDR, there are also innovations in the cinema room. Laser projection and Dolby Cinema for example. And Samsung is now also introducing a radical innovation: cinema without a projector, thanks to the Samsung Onyx screen. We visited the brand new installation in Paris.
A huge LED screen
The announcement and first installations are already from last year. In Europe there were already screens in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, but from now on you can also go to Paris, in room Pathé Beaugrenelle for an impressive cinema experience on a Samsung Onyx Cinema LED cinema screen. In the course of this year, installations will be added in Frankfurt and Lyon. Samsung is in talks with various partners in Belgium and the Netherlands, but for the time being there are no concrete plans.
What is Samsung Onyx? Very simple, it is a giant LED display, optimized for cinema. There is therefore no projector involved, and that has its advantages.
The LED screen achieves an impressive maximum brightness of 500 nits, although this is limited to approximately 300 nits in the cinemas room. That is still much clearer than a traditional cinema where you typically watch a 48 nits image with a contrast of about 2,500: 1.
Oh well, the most important thing we had perhaps first have to mention. Because each pixel itself emits light (this is an emissive technology such as OLED TV and microled ), and a pixel that does not emit light, the LED screen has a particularly good black value , and it creates a contrast of 1,000,000: 1. Hence, of course, his name, Onyx, after the mineral of the same name. By comparison, Dolby Cinema reaches a brightness of 106 nits, also with a contrast of 1,000,000: 1.
A lot of advantages
Onyx screens are constructed from modules of 256 × 360 pixels that are 640 × 900 mm large (pixel pitch 2.5 mm). For example, Samsung can build screens with a width of 5.1 m (DCI 2K – 2.048 x 1.080) and 10.2 and 14 m width (DCI 4K – 4.096 x 2.160). The modular construction makes maintenance easier in case of a defect. Each module further consists of 24 sub-modules, which are easy to replace. A new sub-module is also automatically calibrated on the brightness and color reproduction of the surrounding sub-modules so that the image remains nicely uniform.
In addition to impressive brightness and contrast, there are also advantages. The LED screen, for example, is much less affected by ambient light. There is a reason for cinema rooms to be made as dark as possible, because the white projection screen reflects all light and not just that of the projector. Ambient light (emergency exit signs for example), but also the reflection on the clothing and faces of the audience have a negative impact on the black value. The black looking LED screen hardly suffers from this.
For 3D, using active glasses, the high brightness is a big advantage because projecting in 3D significantly reduces the brightness of the image. Unfortunately we could not see a demo of it.
With a projector, the image in the corners is inevitably darker than in the center. The LED screen offers better uniformity. It also combines that with an excellent viewing angle. And because no projector is needed anymore, it is impossible to walk through the image and the projection space at the back can be used to make the room bigger.
Samsung Onyx (for comparison, televisions currently use 10 bit color, although that also increases to 17 bit internally). DCI is now discussing which standard HDR content will be used for the cinema, but Onyx can theoretically support any format. The screen provides 100% of the DCI-P3 color range .
And sound then?
In a traditional cinema, some of the speakers are hidden behind the screen. That is impossible with an LED screen. The cinema is therefore equipped with Samsung’s Harman JBL Sculpted Sound. This arrangement should provide a broader ‘sweet spot’ in the hall and take into account the inclination of the seating arrangement.
However, the hall in Paris is equipped with a different system. Speakers are located above and below the screen and are tuned so that the sound seems to come from the screen. Atmos support is unfortunately not available. We thought this was a strange choice from Pathé, it seems obvious to combine the best possible image and sound experience in such a room. The reason behind this decision was still owed to us.
The hall in Paris is the 10 meter version, or for those who want to compare with his television measure, that is a screen diagonal of 445 “! The first impressions, during the presentations beforehand, were already very impressive. The screen is indeed black when it is not in use. (photo at the bottom is slightly overexposed to show the screen better)
The enormous contrast is already striking in the first images. First conclusions: wow. There was very vague a little step effect in the text shown, but that is quite certainly due to the resolution that the PC uses for the presentation. There was also a tiny bit of ‘blooming’, a faint light appearance, visible with white text on black background. Unfortunately, the film we saw did not have any subtitles, so we can not say whether that would be visible even then.
Time for some trailers. Before we got to see trailers from Samsara, The Dark Knight Rises and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol2. They all fell through their beautiful colors and deep blackness. We no longer see any form of pixelation here. The image is plastic, almost tangible, but also very natural.
The main feature then. On the program, Le Chant des Loups, mastered in HDR based on a classic gamma 2.8 encoding with a 300 nits maximum. The film takes place to a large extent in two submarines, where the special lighting creates a special atmosphere. But really striking are dark scenes in which you not only see deep black but also a lot of detail in the image, witness the capacity of the Onyx screen to show a lot of shadow detail, while you do not feel that the black value is too bright.
The image is also absolutely not exhausting to look at, something we were nevertheless fearful given the fairly high potential clarity. Granted this was a dark movie, an animated film would be a better test case for that. Interesting to note is that the Onyx screen is also perfectly usable for existing films that are not specifically mapped for this screen, in that case the brightness is limited to 48 nits (for SDR, just like with a normal projection cinema), but it is possible that the more intense black value and the good control over shadow detail will also lead to an improvement in that case.
Conclusion Samsung Onyx
Is Samsung Onyx the future of the cinema? In any case, the benefits seem tangible to us, especially in terms of image quality. The deep black, powerful contrast and rich colors immediately make us yearn for more. The fear that it would seem too much like television has in any case been stored away. Although there will undoubtedly be a discussion whether you still have the characteristic film look. We saw that kind of discussion flared up earlier because Hollywood directors like Tarantino and Nolan swear by film and stay away from digital recording as much as possible, or with the 48fps versions of The Hobbit. Of course, the judgment is partly subjective and personal. We did not find it any problem at all. The huge Onyx screen provides fantastic cinema images and such a screen would attract us to the cinema a bit more often. Finally, if this is a sign of what we (hopefully soon) can expect in the living room with Samsung’s microled televisions, then we’re really looking forward to that.