The making of Barco Series 4: designing the future of cinema projection

written by Tom Bert, Director of Cinema Technology at Barco
April 15, 2020 | leer en 5 minutos
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When we presented our Barco Series 4 laser cinema projector range at CinemaCon 2019, our teams had been working on it for years. Today, we’re going behind the scenes to see how the Barco Series 4 came to life.

Focus on customer needs

Before designing our next-generation projector platform, our product management and R&D teams invest a significant amount of time to get a clear picture of the needs, wants, and expectations of today’s cinema industry. Our goal was to translate those findings into a product that can amaze audiences and exhibitors alike. Barco Series 4 is the result of that collaboration with our exhibition partners, and a testament to our continued customer focus.

Let’s go back to where it all started. In 2015, Barco, the global leader in cinema projection, had just launched its Flagship Laser product line and was finalizing its Smart Laser portfolio. Barco’s ICMP reigned as the best-selling media server.

However, a new challenge for theaters was already looming. The VPF era was slowly ending and most digital cinema projectors in the field were approaching ten years of operation. Exhibitors and partners were starting to plan for the renewal wave. The only question was, what would be the next step in the evolution of cinema projection?

Projection kind of like air conditioning

For more insights into building the next-generation projector platform we went directly to exhibitors. Among other things, we asked, “If you had to compare the projector to another product that you use, what would that product be?”

The group came to a consensus within seconds. “We think it should be something like an air conditioning system. It has to hang there against the ceiling, do its job every day, and give us as few headaches as possible.”

Our task was clear: build the next-generation cinema projector with all the utility, simplicity, and reliability of an air conditioning unit. Something that will withstand everyday use and put simply, work.

Pushing the right buttons

In our search for answers, we scoured industry conventions across the globe – including CineAsia, CinemaCon, and CineEurope. We learned, for example, that many users had an issue with the button interface on Barco’s first-gen projectors because they’re typically the first thing to break and require an on-site operator for most functions. To address this, for Barco Series 4 we eliminated almost all of the buttons1 and introduced a smart user interface with a touch display. With the new digital interface nearly all projector operations and maintenance can now be done remotely. Customer comments also led us to overhaul the projector’s log file analysis tool to make it more user-friendly.

Building on Barco’s heritage in modular design

After gathering an incredible amount of insights, the time came to start developing the new projector platform. The Barco process has multiple stages. In the first phase we define the kind of solution we want to make and identify what the unique features will be.

For Series 4, the first phase took place in the summer of 2016 and there was a lot of enthusiasm for the product. During this time, we learned we needed to leverage the renowned modularity of Barco’s projectors more. That modularity was already highly appreciated by customers, so it was important that we make it a prominent feature in our new projectors as well. One result, the team created the modular laser plates of the Series 4 RGB light source.

The design review

Next, we nailed down the product details and the manufacturing process. Because our design started from a blank slate, we needed to consider new optics, new light sources, new software, and a whole new way of interfacing. In this phase, we built a fully functional projector that we could evaluate intensively. We invited exhibitors and colleagues to examine it and share their thoughts on how this first iteration held up to their expectations.

As a result of their feedback – and the experience we all enjoyed with the Flagship Laser projectors – we decided to incorporate a brand-new, Barco-designed, state-of-the-art RGB light source in the Series 4 projectors. This technology enables longer lifetime and adds modularity options to the projector unit. After testing numerous models and evaluating on-screen image quality, we all agreed that the performance delivered by the light source, its electronics, and software, was the way forward for Barco Series 4.

Tried and tested

Once the design was complete and concept units were built, it was time for rigorous in-house testing and evaluation. The goal of this development step is to collect feedback from as many angles as possible before final approval. For this, we put our concept units under a lot of stress, including tests with vibration, dust,  temperature, and altitude.

In Q1 2019, we produced our first beta units. The real test for any new projector always begins when the first wave is released. There would be no one from Barco present for Series 4’s inaugural field run, so we needed to be confident in the product. To help ensure things went smoothly, we installed the new projector in the booth of an operational cinema and held exclusive top-secret customer demos to demonstrate how the projector behaves in a real environment.

After a successful beta testing phase, we began mass production.

Ready for launch!

Finally, the time came to officially unleash Barco Series 4 into the cinema world. And what better occasion than CinemaCon to launch our latest innovation? On the convention’s opening day on April 1 (not kidding!) in 2019, the efforts of so many people finally came together.

Since then, countless exhibitors have taken their cinema technology forward with Barco Series 4. We recently celebrated the first anniversary of Series 4 with commitments from global exhibitors for more than 8,000 units, simultaneously reaching a laser milestone in cinema with more than 20,000 units deployed around the world.

Are you ready for the next step? Discover the four bigger Barco Series 4 projectors here!

Except for the following two: the button for the server-projector marriage (where DCI regulations require a local user to interact) and the one that enables power transitions (again prescribed by certain regulations).