What is 48 Frames Per Second? Theater Owners Learn as 'The Hobbit' Opens
Later today, fans will be able to tune in to the live premiere of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey courtesy of a streaming feed provided by Warner Bros. (and if you need a link to the page that contains that playback tool, click right here).
Then, audiences in the United States will have to wait patiently until Dec. 14 to see Jackson’s film in theaters. And we’ll have numerous formats from which to choose: 2D, 3D, IMAX 3D and the groundbreaking 48 frames per second … which potentially could kick off a revolution at your neighborhood movie theater.
What exactly is 48 fps, though? And will you be able to see the difference?
In brief, 48 fps means more frames of film zip along in a given second than audiences are used to. For decades, film has been unspooling at 24 frames per second. The image in a 48 fps film reportedly is more realistic … but we’re not sure if that’s what an audience member wants to see on screen.
Richard Verrier of The L.A. Times does an excellent job in today’s newspaper breaking down the process that goes into 48 fps – which is being embraced by such cutting-edge directors as Jackson and James Cameron. He speaks with theater owners who are testing out the footage to sample the imagery themselves (and ensure that it screens properly when The Hobbit opens everywhere on Dec. 14).
According to the report, Warner Bros. plans to put a 48-fps version of The Hobbit in 450 screens (of the estimated 4,000 screens) on opening day, meaning it’s a small sample of theaters that will have Hobbit in the format Jackson likely would like you to sample it in. Yet, the Times says that advance ticket sales suggest that many of those theaters singled out for 48 fps are “generating more revenue per screen than regular 3-D theaters.”
“I'm a big believer in it,” said Tim Warner, chief executive of Cinemark USA Inc. “This is a much more immersive, sharp and engaging experience. It feels like you're right there.”
But will it work? We’ll be paying close attention to The Hobbit to see how audiences feel about the realistic 48 fps presentations. It might take some getting used to.
"We think it's interesting, but until we see how audiences react and what it means, it's really too hard to tell," said Bud Mayo, CEO of Digital Cinema Destinations Corp. in New Jersey.
"The first time I saw it I was a little disoriented," said Patrick Lee, vice president of digital cinema for Barco North America. "It's sharper, it's clearer and it's a better picture, but it will take time for mass audiences to get on board."
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Sean O'ConnellFandango Bloggers
Sean is a film reviewer for The Washington Post and daily contributor to Fandango.
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