|Drive-in reels in first digital season|
|Saturday, September 21, 2013 12:35 AM|
BY ERIN COX
Drive-ins have to transition from 35-millimeter film projectors to the digital projectors as movie distributors threaten to stop sending the film reels, which is likely to happen next season.
Owner of the Van-Del and Boyd Theatres Jim Boyd has already prepared all of his theaters for the digital switch and this season premiered the digital projectors at the Van-Del.
“We managed to get it done this year and all three screens are using digital projectors,” Director of Operations for Boyd Theatres Ron Dunn said. “It was worth the upgrade and our customer base has upgraded as a result.”
The Van-Del advertised at the beginning of the season that all three screens had transitioned to the digital projectors and Dunn said people have noticed the difference.
“Lots of people say the image is clearer and not as wavy as before,” Dunn said.
The first drive-in theater was created 80 years ago in 1933. Drive-ins hit their peak in 1958 with 4,063 in the United States. Now, only about 360 drive-ins exist. Some drive-ins fear going out of business if they do not make the upgrade to digital because they will not have the equipment needed to continue once the movie distributors stop sending the 35-millimeter film reels.
The cost of the digital projectors, however, makes that upgrade difficult for the mom-and-pop drive-ins.
“Some movie companies are letting theaters buy projectors through them on credit,” Dunn said.
The theaters would pay off the credit in five years by having to charge their customers more, Dunn explained.
From the mom-and-pop side of the drive-in business, it is not all about money and charging customers more on ticket prices is not always the best option, Dunn said.
Boyd, who owns Van Wert Cinemas and Bryan Theatres as well as Van-Del, started preparing for the switch to digital about three years ago.
“Mr. Boyd had saved up money and had started looking for used projectors which he refurbished,” Dunn said.
The process of finding used digital projectors for sale took a lot of patience and waiting, he said.
“Once there would be one on sale we had to get them right on the spot,” Dunn said. “I even drove to New Jersey to get one for the Bryan theater.”
After buying the expensive digital projectors, the drive-in theaters have to accommodate the projection booths for the new equipment and buy necessary software to play the movie using the new projectors.
“We have heating and cooling in all our projection booths and we have to keep the temperature between 68 to 75 degree,” Dunn said. “We actually have one projector that if it gets over 82 degrees, it just shuts down.”
The transition to digital has made the job of starting and playing the movie less labor intensive, he said, but when problems occur, it is always a thousand dollar fix instead of a mechanical issues that came with the film projectors.
The Van-Del had an increase in numbers of customers this year since the digital projectors were installed, Dunn said.
Despite all the cost, he said digital does make a difference in the quality of the image and to keep the Van-Del operating, the switch to digital was necessary and worth it.