Christie Vive Audio
One of the best cinematic experiences in the world – in both sound and vision – is offered by Bulgaria's Kino Arena; Christie's Vive Audio system delivers finely tuned sound and volume to each seat and audiences see an amazing 8 foot lamberts brightness for 3D on screen. But how did they achieve it? The story involves the vision of Kino Arena's owner, Stefan Minchev, the perfectionism of Kino Arena's CTO, Ivan Melikov, and months of collaboration with Christie's cinema technical advisor, Francis, whose expertise in optics and cinema stretches from Canada to Cannes Film Festival.
Kino Arena is the leading exhibitor in Bulgaria and the first to introduce the digital cinema format, live satellite transmissions and 3D Digital technology in Bulgaria. Owned by Stefan Minchev, his personal vision drives the success of the chain: "My philosophy behind Arena cinemas is to provide audiences with the ultimate cinematic experience. To achieve this goal we are selecting the latest and most advanced cinema equipment technology from leading international providers. By doing so our auditoriums encompass the best picture and sound, in order to satisfy the whim of every movie-goer and let audiences enjoy movies like never before," explains Stefan.
At his side, choosing and implementing these technologies has been engineer Ivan Melikov. "As far as we are concerned, choice educates. People can see and hear the difference. We were determined our premium screens would offer better colour, brightness and sharpness and that the sound will be the best they have heard too." To this end, the Kino Arena multiplexes offer a range of standard to premium screens. The premium screens in Sofia, Varna and Pleven all have Christie Vive Audio speakers with Christie projectors.
Cinema sound comes of age with Vive Audio
"We chose Christie Vive Audio as our speaker system. It's not just about buying a few speakers but understanding the results you want, your auditorium requirements and you must then decide which amplifier, then the right position. In terms of engineering a solution, Francis (a long-standing technical consultant from Christie) helped with everything. He would advise 'try this, do this, get this.' We spoke frequently," he explains.
It is perhaps the precision of Ivan's engineering mind. Asked why he chose Christie Vive Audio, he came back immediately with, "I can say there are four subjects here."
"Firstly, marketing. Vive Audio is new technology and for premium cinema experiences you want superb sound. This is important because cinema is a high tech business and we want to be on top," said Ivan. Indeed, walk into each stand-alone Kino Arena complex in Sofia and you will see Vive Audio branded through the entrances.
"Secondly," – Ivan continued without pause – "Vive Audio really are very good speakers and use a different technology with ribbon drivers. They work very well with Dolby Atmos and because Vive has a very special speaker design and shape, namely curved not square to direct the sound evenly, you can achieve the perfect sound pressure levels in any auditorium. This especially applies to the ceiling speakers which are specially shaped and can be placed correctly. Vive Audio gives the widest separation of sound level – this is pure, immersive sound technology."
"Thirdly, these speakers gave us a very easy installation because the speakers and amplifiers work together so there is almost no tuning which you usually have to do if you get a mix of parts from different companies and this is a long process and difficult to adjust the sound. The tuning when you install Vive Audio is like it is one pre-set device. When we switched it on, almost everything was perfect without tuning."
"Fourthly," concludes Ivan, "The amps on Vive are very quiet and don't create much heat in the booth. They are also very reliable. We don't have any problems from a support point of view. They work."
Stefan – himself a keen audiophile - adds to this, "We chose Christie Vive Audio because is one of the best audio solutions on the market thanks to its ribbon driver technology being incredibly complementary with the Dolby Atmos sound format which is a distinguishing technical characteristic of our PLF auditoriums and our guests recognize and prefer seeing movies in this sound format." The result of Vive Audio's line array design and shaped ceiling speakers is to distribute sound evenly across the seats while the 6-inch ribbon drivers reproduce sounds with almost no distortion plus allow you to hear high frequency sounds lost in old-fashioned speaker design.
Getting 8 Foot Lamberts brightness in 3D
Many months were also spent on the projection. "Normal screens are 4.5 FL on 3D but our premium screens offer viewers 8FL," announces Stefan. "Because they are big screens and you need powerful projectors. Christie Solara offers brighter images compared to other digital cinema projector systems and its support of 4K and HFR, makes it future proofed for upcoming cinema content in the years to come. Our Solaria CP4230's are all licensed to play HFR as well. We wanted the top HFRs and they work with a Real D 3D system."
But what are the considerations you need to get the most out of your projection? Ivan is characteristically precise. "Success is a mix of projection and optics. In short, you need best brightness, best screen (with a gain of 2.4) and the position of the projector to the screen matters. You must choose it carefully to get the ideal results. In our case projection was from two Solaria CP4230 projectors. As for understanding the geometry of the image yet again Francis helped in creating optimum conditions in each of our three different premium screens."
"The first question Francis helped us resolve was to get the correct geometry of the screen itself because our screen was curved so we needed the calculations for its exact size to be engineered. This isn't something you just find easily on a chart or table – because it takes into account the geometry of the whole auditorium, the projection and the screen design. Getting this right was crucial to our end result. Secondly was choosing the projection placement and set up, namely either side by side or stacked had different engineering appeals and consequences."
Six Premium auditoriums are now in operation. When preparing for the grand opening of the first Premium auditorium, at the Kino Arena Mladost site in Sofia, Ivan was still in the projection booth when most people in Bulgaria had gone to bed. But he was not alone. Francis, from rural Ireland, was on text and email through most of the night. "The funny thing was," mused Ivan, "that, although Francis and I exchanged a lot of emails, even at three a.m. in the morning Stephan and Richard Nye (Christie's Director of Cinema for EMEA) were also still awake joining in the email trail."
Optimum projection position – stacked or side by side?
This experience of working on the first auditorium was a lesson going forward. "We wanted the two Solaria projectors side by side and Francis said 'No, you will get columns on the screen'. We went ahead with the plan anyway and we got it wrong. So in the two other premium auditoria that followed we stacked the projectors instead and got a better result." As you may expect from the perfectionist Arena Cinema Group, nothing but the best would do. "We have gone back and made a new window in the first auditorium and stacked the projectors there too. It shows how important it is to take technical advice from Christie. It is not only a great collaboration but there is a really good relationship between the two companies."
Audiences have, as predicted, noticed the difference and appreciate the premium experience. Stefan plans to stay at the forefront of industry. "Christie is a valued and longtime partner of Arena Cinemas and thanks to this fruitful partnership we are able to bring the best cinematic experience on the market," he concludes. "We are committed in working with Christie for our ongoing and future projects, since they understand and share our vision of going BIG, and settle for nothing but the best! We are excited to further develop our business relationship and reach new horizons in the cinema industry."