THE BLOG: Let’s take the kids to the SONYCINECITY DIGIMINIMAX

UPDATE 1/5/10 6:00 PM PST: Although SONY showed an extensive commitment to 3D, there was only one mention of IMAX during their CES press event.  The event began with the introduction of The Green Hornet, as SONY CEO Sir Howard Stringer entered the stage along with the film’s two stars in the Green Hornet car.  There was no mention of IMAX at all during this portion, which appears odd if a deal between the two companies is in the works, considering that The Green Hornet opens shortly in IMAX theaters.  The only mention of IMAX was during a very short part of Sir Stringers opening monologue, where he mentioned the company as a partner in the new 3D network, officially announcing its name as “3NET.” 

Here’s our take on SONY buying IMAX.  If it’s going to happen, we’ll find out today.  In a prelude to the CES trade show’s opening on Thursday, SONY is holding a massive press conference in their huge booth at 5 pm this evening.  We’ll be reading realtime blog feeds while we stream the event live and we’ll also be in contact with reporters and bloggers at the booth throughout the evening.  At the first indication of a 3D television or camcorder in that booth bearing the IMAX logo, we’ll know something’s up.

photo (C) IMAX Corporation

But does that mean an all-out buyout?  If it’s not announced this evening, we don’t believe it ever will be.  As a systems manufacturer, SONY might take advantage of buying IMAX to place their 4K digital systems into the market, leveraging IMAX as a premium brand much as Toyota does Lexus.  But that only places SONY projectors in between 1,000 and 2,000 auditoriums over the next few years out of an estimated total 150,000 screens worldwide (MPAA figure), based on the current rate of IMAX theater expansion.  With almost all of the components of the IMAX projection and sound systems being manufactured by third-party vendors, and SONY themselves providing the projector, the $40 per share buyout price quoted by the London Daily Mail appears to be paying primarily for brand. 

Avatar DMR being prepped for projection, photo courtesy National Media Museum

Now one could say that IMAX has a number of proprietary technologies that might be interesting to a new owner, such as DMR digital remastering.  However, DMR’s technology is on the verge of becoming obsolete.  The patent was granted last month, but was applied for back in 2002, when the technology was created to deal with transfer of 35mm film onto 15 perf/70mm and digital projection systems while improving quality.  With today’s 4K and 5K cameras and digital post-production and projection, DMR will soon be of little value other than for specialized usage, such as archival film integrated into IMAX documentaries. 

photo (C) Disney

IMAX also does have a rather nice 3D conversion department – one of the best in the industry in fact.  We question if they’ll be useful to SONY, especially when Sony Pictures Imageworks is able to do just as good a job as IMAX, as they did on Alice in Wonderland, working alongside Legend 3D, Sassoon Film Design, and In-Three.  And yes, Alice was filmed in 2D, showing how remarkable a stereoscopic conversion can be.  It earned high praise from no less than Lenny Lipton, the godfather of stereoscopic cinema, on his blog  Which we read.  Daily.

We were unable to license Lenny Lipton's likeness for this piece.

But we digress…Perhaps SONY will purchase IMAX so they can label premium consumer electronics with the IMAX brand.  Makes sense.  After all, SONY digital cinema projectors are in theaters for one reason – to raise the bar on presentation so the consumer will want a SONY television at home utilizing the same technology.  So why not have consumers seeing IMAX movies at the theater and then buying IMAX televisions for the living room, all with SONY technology?  Because, again, almost all that SONY is buying is the brand.

Left to right: Rich Gelfond, IMAX CEO, David Zaslav, Discovery Communications CEO, Sir Howard Stringer, SONY Corporation CEO, announcing 3NET at CES 2010. Photo (C) TimeWarner

In conclusion, we doubt that SONY is purchasing IMAX, and we’ll be pleasantly surprised if it does happen.  What we do expect is for further joint ventures, along the lines of 3NET, to be announced.  Whether this includes SONY 4K projectors replacing the Christie 2K’s in IMAX’s systems, a joint venture 4K or higher laser light projector in conjunction with Laser Light Engines, or IMAX branded 3D televisions and camcorders remains to be seen.

Tune in tonight at 5 pm to find out.  Live feed at www.sony.com/blog.

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