Checking Out Sony’s First Digital Cinema
With the last day of CES ending at 4 p.m., and my flight home usually not leaving until around midnight (2:04 a.m. this year, as it turned out), I’ve developed a post-CES tradition of going to watch a movie at one of the premium large-format cinemas in Las Vegas.
Two years ago, I visited the AMC Town Cinemas to see The Commuter in that theater’s Dolby Cinema. This year, I was excited to visit the first—and currently only—Sony Digital Cinema, at the Galaxy Theatres in the Las Vegas Boulevard Mall.
Even more exciting, this was the final week Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker would be playing there, giving me a much desired second viewing of the film in arguably the finest theater in Vegas and potentially the entire country. (I am keeping this spoiler-free for anyone who has yet to see the movie.)
Last February, Sony announced it would be introducing its new Digital Cinema, the company’s first foray into an
experiential premium large-format (PLF) theater. The Vegas theater location opened in April, with Shazam being the first film shown. (A second theater is expected to open in the Dallas/Fort Worth area this spring.)
I had wanted to visit the theater since reading about its opening, so I was extremely excited to finally be able to stop by after CES. The ticket prices were surprisingly reasonable, with an evening show costing just $14.75 (plus a small convenience fee
for booking online). Compared to theaters in New York and LA, that is a bargain and a half!
Designed to compete against Dolby Cinemas and IMAX, the Sony PLF theaters are built around Sony’s flagship dual 4K HDR laser projectors as well as Dolby Atmos immersive audio. The SRX-R815DS projector combination delivers 30,000 total lumens on screens up to 82 feet wide with an industry-leading 10,000:1 contrast ratio.
The Sony Digital Cinema is touted as having “the biggest screen in Las Vegas,” and, in a town where size matters and bigger is better, that means something. While the theater didn’t have exact specs on the screen size, they said it measures roughly four stories tall by seven stories wide.
On the audio side, the Sony theater has a total of 18 side surround speakers (nine per side), six rear surrounds, and 16 overhead height speakers, along with an array of screen and subwoofer channels, delivering pinpoint audio immersion from any seat.
As you approach the ticket taker, you are greeted by an
array of nine flat panels showing what is playing in each of the theaters, along with a large display advertising the Sony Digital Cinema in Auditorium 2.
Dolby incorporates something it calls “inspired design” into its Cinemas, which is meant to transport viewers into another space to be fully absorbed in the cinematic experience. This starts before you even walk into the auditorium with an audio/
visual pathway with a full-motion HD video wall, and immersive sound sets the mood as you enter.
The Sony theater doesn’t employ anything quite so impressive, rather a sleek sign as well as digital signage indicating the movie playing and upcoming showtime.
Entering the theater, you get your first glimpse of the massive screen, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. This is an auditorium where you would not want to sit anywhere near the front rows, as you would be straining your neck trying to take in the full scope of the image. The screen takes up nearly the entire front wall, and definitely fills your field of view.
The auditorium holds up to 217 people, with an entire row reserved for handicap seating. Chairs can be reserved
when ticketing, and each faux-leather seat offers full power recline as well as a swing-out snack tray with integrated drink holder. (The theater has a large snack bar with a fairly extensive food and drink offering.)
The chairs were very comfortable, but I do prefer the Dolby Cinema’s seating, which is in two-chair, “loveseat” arrays where you can pull up the center arm rest for two people to sit together, if desired.
Also, there wasn’t as much care given to sightlines at the Sony theater compared to Dolby. Depending on where you sat—and how high or low you sat in your seat—the view of the very bottom of the screen could be blocked by the front-row seats. Also, the Sony seating array felt more like traditional “stadium-style” seating, where the Dolby seating has partitions between rows and is
staggered and positioned so you can’t see anyone in front or behind you, making it feel like a more private, personal experience.
For a design aesthetic, Sony chose a dark grey paneling look for the floors and walls, which offered a good contrast to the black seating and kept the environment nice and dark. Blue accent lights highlight each of the surround and height speakers
prior to the beginning of the film.
The assistant general manager, Mike Boyd, was a fantastic ambassador for the cinema, and when I shared my enthusiasm for being able to experience the Sony Cinema, he went out of his way to provide me any details, including bringing the head projectionist down and letting me speak with him.
The projectionist, Paul, offered to let me stick around after the film for a special private viewing of some of Rise of Skywalker in 3D. However,
due to some issues with my plane reservation, I had to head to the airport straight after the movie finished.
Sonically, Star Wars sounded flat-out awesome. The system delivered deep, powerful bass that was tight and sharp, easily able to produce frequencies I could feel in my seat. The snap and thrum of lightsabers delivered a near tactile experience that added to their power. The large array of surround and overhead speakers produced truly hemispherical sound, with ships streaking down the side channels and lots of creaks, groans, and water dripping from overhead aboard the destroyed Death Star, and voices echoing overhead and swirling around the room at appropriate moments.
Visually, the Sony projector combo easily lit up the entire screen, delivering bright and intense whites as well as deep and inky blacks. The brilliant reds of Kylo Ren’s light saber sizzled off the screen with true HDR vibrancy, as did crackling Force lightning bolts. The screen was so huge, the heaving waves
outside the destroyed Death Star almost felt a bit disorienting, like I was floating and rolling on the water. Images were tack-sharp with razor-edged detail.
My one complaint with the image quality had nothing to do with the projector system, but rather with the layout of the theater. The walkway running between the first three rows of seats and the reserved handicap seating is constantly illuminated with pathway lighting. This was distracting, and just enough to kill the absolute contrast the Sony projection system is capable of, showing that the auditorium wasn’t truly black during dark scenes. Also, the lower corners of the screen were washed out a bit from the stair lighting left and right of the front three rows. I’m sure these are concessions to safety, but are issues I don’t recall with the Dolby Cinema.
I’m assuming readers will want me to choose a “winner” between the Dolby and Sony offerings, but that is difficult to do after watching two completely different films nearly two years apart. I’ll say that both theaters offer a fantastic experience that surpasses even what the finest luxury home cinema can deliver. Sonically, they were very similar (at least to my memory), with both featuring very immersive Dolby Atmos audio delivered via numerous speakers.
The Sony Cinema edges out Dolby in sheer size, but only by a few feet. However, I think I have to give the Dolby Cinema the edge in picture quality due to the better light control, keeping all stray light off the screen to deliver higher absolute contrast.
Bottom line, theater lovers living in or visiting Vegas have two great choices when it comes to watching cinematic content, and I’d strongly recommend checking out both for your next moviegoing experiences!
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.