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Why do movies look sharper on my laptop?

1080p LCD Vs2k in cinema

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#1 Mei Lewis

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 09:08 AM

Sometimes I watch movies on my laptop which has a 1080ps screen. It's a nice enough screen but probably not as suited to watching movies as a decent TV or even a desktop monitor.
I also go to a few different cinemas and have seen lots of different movies. Without doing too much research into the specifics I assume they're mostly showing 2k digital projections nowadays.

I've yet to see a film at the cinema which looks as sharp and detailed as the image on my laptop. Even a 720p video on my laptop seems sharper than what I get at the cinema.

This isn't just one local cinema with a bad screen, it's several screens across several cinemas.

What's happneing? Is it that the larger cinema screen _seems_ less detailed because it's so large I can see the lack of fine detail?
Is it the projector blurring the image because of optical impoerfections or tiny vobrations?
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#2 George Ebersole

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 09:36 AM

Your flat screen on your laptop, pad or desktop, with enough memory, can deliver resolutions beyond 1080p. Tube monitors could also, but your needed a massive video card with tons of memory. That's a general layman rundown. I build computers and even I don't know all the engineering particulars, but, suffice it to say, a good video card can give you ultra crisp images sharper than you could see on your TV.

One of my beefs with digital projection is that the resolution just isn't there. I remember seeing movies as a kid, and the films were like giant murals. Nowadays it's not quite the same, and digital projection still has a way to go.

As an aside I remember the first prototype digital "LASER" projector. The thing was the size of an old 65mm Camera used during the 40s, and required tons of water to cool it. The image it gave wasn't all the impressive. Today's digital projection, to me at least, looks okay, but where the image is nice and clear I don't get a sense that I'm seeing the same level of detail from films I grew up with.
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#3 Marcus Joseph

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 09:57 AM

I agree with George, from those film projection days there were definitely a lot of prints that weren't exactly up to scratch but the majority held so much detail in the image that it was a real experience to scan the frame and take in the whole image. It just looked so good. The last was probably Mission Impossible at the big IMAX in Sydney and that was a pretty similar experience to the film days, but I was just way too close to get a good experience and probably should have sat further back.

With all the digital everywhere I don't think I've been as impressed for a while, I'm sure it'll get better, I just think it's been a little rushed into.
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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 11:31 AM

I suspect the reason the laptop looks sharper is simply because the image is smaller. The impression of increased sharpness on small monitors - which is of course genuine in terms of real world measurements, since there's more pixels per inch - is powerful.

A point of order about DCI and 35mm projection.

The resolution of digital cinema is, by the commonest measures, better than what most film could do. It is effectively impossible, taking into account the four generations of the interpositive/internegative technique, for 35mm answer prints to display more than 2K, or more usually 1.2K to 1.5K, of real image detail, much less if a fast camera stock is used. The idea that 2K DCI isn't as sharp as 35 is simply mistaken, at least on a per-frame basis.

The impression of sharpness in film projection may be improved by the visibility of grain, which can have detail at considerably higher spatial frequencies than the actual image. As well as providing higher frequency detail per frame, the shifting grain pattern of each frame can arguably produce an impression of higher overall resolution than actually exists, although this is somewhat subjective and affected by flicker.

I am not concerned that DCI generally gives us less than 35mm projection. It looks different because it doesn't flicker, is generally brighter (certainly very much brighter for the same lamp power), and is extremely stable, but it's difficult to cast any of those things as problems. Most of the problems that do exist are human factors concerning care and maintenance which affect film projection in much the same way.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 11:42 AM

Take whatever signal is feeding your laptop and project it onto a 75' wide screen and I suspect it's not going to look as sharp.
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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 11:50 AM

You'd be astonished. I've put 1080p quicktime movie trailers from the Apple trailer site through full scale projection and it is astonishingly acceptable. I mean, I have quicktime movie trailers here in which grain is clearly visible.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 11:55 AM

It's still mainly an issue with size of enlargement for a given resolution, second is probably edge contrast -- an LCD screen would or can have pixel-to-pixel presentation without the intermediate elements of a projector lens and screen surface. But it's mainly an image size issue.

Now some people prefer projection of movies versus seeing them directly on a computer screen, the "texture" of a projected image plus the viewing size and distance is more "classical" for cinema viewing.
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#8 George Ebersole

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 12:49 PM

David, with older older technology; video cards with 64MBs or 128MBs, or even a couple of SLI boards and the like, that was truer then than now. There simply wasn't enough memory to blow up video images without serious pixelation with those old cards.

In the last three or so years a good run in the mill video card today, one with say 1 or 2 gigs of RAM can give you incredible resolution. I'm using a Dell 30" monitor right now, and can blow up DVD images to full motion without a hint of loss.

Streaming is another story. Right now I've got something streaming from Amazon (an old Brit TV series), and resolution is only hampered by the speed of my DSL. If I blow it up to full screen it gets slightly pixelated but only because the rest of the data hasn't come down the pipe to my video card. With a faster line, say a cable modem, that image would be just like regular TV.

Are you thinking of theatre size projection verse a monitor, maybe?
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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 03:29 PM

Regular TV is usually 3-6Mbps (for standard def), which is a lot less than commonly available broadband, at least in major markets!

This is actually likely to become a pretty significant problem in the near future, with people demanding better and better streaming media, and assuming the speed of the link they have with the telephone exchange is something that we can all have simultaneously.

It's certainly true that, colorimetry notwithstanding, people can see amazing levels of sharpness on very everyday 24" desktop displays. It's not hard to make a digital cinema image look that good, but it does require someone to be watching focus and alignment, which is a level of care that is not available in most multiplexes.
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#10 Mei Lewis

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 01:00 PM

According to the VFX show there's a version of Skyfall up-ressed mostly from 2k Akexa footage/VFX to 4K that looks superbe.

I've not seen the film yet but I'm going in a few hours to VUE in Cardiff. I hope but very much doubt that's the version I get to see.
I've found several news articles that the cinema does have 4K on at least one of their screens, but they can;t think it very important because they don't give nay nformation at all about it on their own site.
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