A new screening room has recently opened at the London headquarters of Universal Pictures International, where the sound system needed to satisfy exacting requirements. With a wide variety of films passing through, finding a system that could cope equally well with every one was a challenge for audio consultant Laurence Claydon of Cinefilm Ltd.

Universal Pictures screening room‘UPI deals with many foreign language dubs,’ he explains. ‘Being able to determine if, for example, a dialogue insert or edit is acceptable is difficult on all but the best systems – sometimes the only clue is a slight shift in background reverb on the track.

‘Quality control for digital cinema also has its own particular requirements. Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs) are split into 20-minute “reels” of picture and audio, joined together by a Composition Playlist that makes up part of the package. It is up to the replay system to join these together. Some systems crossfade the audio, but some do a hard changeover. If the audio is not mastered to be zero-crossing at the reel join, you can get clicks, and some of these are at low level and difficult to identify against the many other sounds that may be legitimately in the mix.’

To deliver the required fidelity, what was needed was high-quality product of small cinema/large studio monitor size that works well behind a cinema screen. ‘This carries its own requirements,’ Claydon says. ‘Dispersion/pattern-control affects perceived sound quality – particularly tonal balance (by necessity, cinema systems are generally horn-loaded above 500Hz, and in a lot of cases 250Hz). ‘It needed to sound like a cinema product, but with lower distortion and higher resolution.’

Having conducted extensive tests of three manufacturers’ equipment, a system comprising three Alcons CR1 ultra-shallow (18cm deep) three-way cinema front system cabinets, a BF181i 1x18-inch subwoofer, six CCS8 two-way co-axial surround cabinets and two ALC2 amplified loudspeaker controllers (including analogue processing modules) was specified. Other equipment includes a Dolby CP750 audio processor, Doremi DCP2000 digital cinema replay server (with facility for additional replay servers) and an NEC NC800C 2k digital cinema projector.

‘We had built a good room with a smooth RT60 curve, so I fully expected excellent performance from the CR-1,’ Claydon reports. ‘I wasn’t disappointed – the detail and lack of distortion at the top end is a real bonus for those of us used to traditional compression-driver based systems.

‘The real surprise for me was the BF181i subwoofer,’ he adds. ‘I have experienced many difficulties using cinema subwoofers in smaller rooms – it often results in very “hollow” bass that is difficult or impossible to EQ. Using smaller, powered studio subs requires many units to provide sufficient SPL and can often sound overblown and uncontrolled, even after EQ is applied. In contrast, the BF181 provides deep, clean, distortion-free bass and required minimal parametric EQ.’

With the system in use, Claydon reports that it is already proving an unqualified success… ‘It is vitally important that a mix for a movie translates well and sounds similar in any cinema,’ he says. ‘You can easily choose better sounding systems than what is generally installed in most cinemas and dubbing theatres, but these often sound so different to them that a mix does not translate. The Alcons system manages to pull off the rare trick of sounding better, offering significantly more detail, accuracy and lower distortion, but without sounding different.

‘This is one of the best-sounding rooms in London, and undoubtedly one of the best owned by a film studio,’ he continues. ‘So often with audio, you only know they you are doing things right if you don’t get complaints. But this system has been such a success that we have received very positive comments from everyone. To say the client is happy is a genuine understatement.’

Nick Ford, Dubroom/Screening Room Manager at Universal Pictures International, concurs: ‘Since it was installed, the Alcons system has continued to impress and deliver the highest quality audio. Everyone who watches material in there is very complimentary about the set-up.’

More: www.alconsaudio.com

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