Color and contrast create the immersive experience audiences crave

Learn the industry standard for color and the tradeoffs for higher contrast

Accurate color reproduction is essential to portraying the director’s intent. To ensure that happens, the industry requires the DCI-P3 color gamut. In 2007, DCI introduced DCI-P3 as a standard minimum for digital projection in commercial cinemas. It’s considered a very wide gamut that’s capable of reproducing a broad range of colors – specifically a much wider range of greens and reds, which is important for reproducing natural landscapes, skin tones, and other elements of the natural world. In the early days of digital cinema, DCI-P3 was the best option available, but it’s now the minimum.

If color dazzles, contrast sets the mood. All cinema illumination types meet DCI-standard 2,000:1 contrast. That means the white light reflecting from the screen needs to be 2,000 times brighter than light that reflects from a purely black scene. The higher the contrast, the more accentuated the white and black ends of the color spectrum. High contrast lenses are the best way to raise contrast, however, they also reduce brightness. RGB pure laser projectors combined with ultra-high contrast lenses produce up to 6,000:1 contrast but causes a loss of around 27% brightness.

High-contrast lenses decrease reflections of scattered light inside the projector that reduce image contrast. Decreasing these reflections increases contrast. Ultra-high contrast lenses further enhance contrast in laser projectors because they project collimated light, which is easier to control than scattered light.

Premium lenses have more space between the edge of the lens and the area through which the image passes, which produces sharper, clearer visuals. The center of a lens offers the best image quality, and because premium lenses have a larger diameter, the image occupies more of the center area and less edge space, where the quality drops. Premium lenses are available that offer high brightness, high contrast, and ultra-high contrast.



Compared to all other light sources, Xenon light most closely resembles sunlight. This is important for reproducing a natural-looking onscreen image. Xenon lamps produce DCI-P3 color. Since the 1970s, most cinemas have shown movies using Xenon, so audiences are most familiar with this type of illumination source. Xenon is still a favorite among many cinemas, post-production studios and film festivals as the tried-and-true workhorse of the cinema.


RB RB laser phosphor

RB laser phosphor projectors are available in a range of options that use lasers and a phosphor wheel to achieve the DCI-P3 color spectrum without needing as many dedicated laser sources as RGB pure laser. For instance, RB-laser uses red and blue lasers for dedicated hues and shines the blue laser through a yellow phosphor wheel to create green light in lieu of a dedicated green laser source. Additionally, this type of laser phosphor can achieve 3000:1 contrast.

RGB Laser

RGB pure laser

RGB pure laser can produce trillions of additional colors as it reproduces more than 95% of the Rec. 2020 color space, which encompasses almost all colors that a human eye can see. Rec. 2020 is a much wider color space than DCI requires for digital cinema projection. Using direct red, green, and blue lasers to project dedicated colors, RGB pure laser illumination offers the widest range of color and the highest contrast available to cinema exhibitions.

The power of contrast


Whether it's a dramatic fade-to-black or a terrifying creature lurking in the shadows, contrast that shows deep blacks create a sense of emotion that's vital in cinematic storytelling. Higher contrast ratios can help create a more lifelike and immersive experience, as they allow for more subtle variations in whites and shadow and reveal more detail.


Contrast ratio

Contrast ratio represents the range of brightness levels that a projector can reproduce onscreen. It’s calculated by dividing the measured brightness of the full white a projector produces by the brightness of the full black it produces sequentially without changing the illumination power setting. DCI standards require a 2,000:1 contrast ratio.


RGB pure laser contrast

RGB pure laser projectors can reach 6,000:1 contrast with an ultra-high contrast lens though at a loss of approximately 27% brightness. Other illumination options can't achieve this level of contrast. Only certain Christie 2K RGB pure laser projector and high-brightness lens combinations can achieve 3,000:1 contrast with no loss to brightness.

Footnote: ANSI contrast, an alternative to sequential contrast measurement, uses a white and black checkerboard pattern where both white and black measurements are taken from a single image on the screen simultaneously.

The impact of color

Rec. 2020 vs DCI-P3 comparison chart

Rec. 2020 offers trillions of additional colors compared to DCI-P3, creating an even more emotional and engaging experience for audiences.

Light comparison chart

Digital cinema is a relatively new technology, having truly come online within the last 20 years. As is the nature of innovation, what was once the industry standard shifts from premium quality to bare minimum. Most cinema screens are still lit by Xenon lamps that produce a light wavelength that’s very similar to daylight and achieve close to DCI-P3 color with at least 2,000:1 contrast. Although RGB pure laser projectors are available at a base level to accompany Xenon in this space, they can deliver a much more immersive and impressive onscreen display. As you can see in this chart, RGB pure laser projection has the optimal balance of primary colors to achieve more than 95% of the vastly wider Rec. 2020 gamut.

The tradeoff between brightness and contrast

Finding the right balance is important. For high-contrast presentations, you'll need a projector capable of producing enough brightness to compensate for any losses caused by higher-contrast lenses. For example, an RGB pure laser projector with an ultra-high contrast lens requires 27% additional brightness. Consider this, in addition to brightness headroom best practices. The CineMaster cinema calculator tool can help you select the right projector.

Comparing color and contrast in Xenon, RB laser phosphor, and RGB pure laser

The capabilities of the three types of cinema illumination vary widely. Xenon reliably achieves minimum requirements but can’t reach the peaks that RGB pure laser illumination can achieve. And where RB laser phosphor reaches limitations, RGB pure laser is truly cinema’s illumination source of the future.


  • Achieves the DCI-P3 color space that digital cinema requires with minimal color correction, and can display bright, high-quality images onscreen.
  • Produces 2,000:1 contrast ratio with the ability to reach higher if you pair it with a high-contrast lens.
  • Reliable and trusted technology for a lower initial investment, but require lamp replacement over the life of the projector.

RB laser phosphor

  • RB laser phosphor illumination produced by red and blue lasers through a phosphor wheel meets the DCI-P3 color space.
  • RB laser phosphor projectors can achieve 2,000:1-3,000:1 contrast ratios.
  • Because hybrid illumination relies on a phosphor component, once this component begins to wear, color representation decays faster.

RGB pure laser

  • Produces more than 95% of the Rec. 2020 color space and higher contrast using individual red, green, and blue lasers.
  • It’s the only cinema projection illumination source that can produce a 6,000:1 contrast ratio
  • Projectors have three lens options to meet cinema exhibition requirements: high brightness, high contrast, or ultra-high contrast; and each has premium variants.