Visionary Meets the Challenges at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in Downtown L.A.
Much more than a cinema multiplex, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas are a movie fanatic’s movie theater, including the latest digital technology, as well as 35 mm film. It’s a great place to go for a special evening, with dinner from Alamo Drafthouse’s excellent menu; a large selection of local and national beers, as well as wine and mixed drinks; attractive décor; and of course a wide variety of movies.
Digital cinema systems integrator, distributor, and equipment manufacturer Moving iMage Technologies designs and installs the cinema and AV systems for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, including one of the chain’s newest facilities at downtown Los Angeles’ The Bloc open-air urban center on 7th Street. Installing a new theater in an old building presented special challenges, which the team at Moving iMage Technologies met in part with Visionary Solutions video networking technology.
“Alamo Drafthouse’s The Bloc location has 12 auditoriums crammed into an existing space,” recounts Moving iMage Vice President of Technical Sales Support Frank Tees. “We had a fixed ceiling height with fixed column spacing, and because we were using the majority of that ceiling height for the auditoriums, most of the utilities and networking and other equipment had to go in the corridor. That meant as much as possible had to be networked, so it could be remotely managed. Also, because of the high-profile nature of the venue, we needed a robust HDMI switching solution.”
That was just part of the challenge, though. “This was a first in that Alamo expressed the desire to put an AV solution in every auditorium,” Tees expounds. “We typically just equip three or four auditoriums with AV capability, but Alamo has high expectations for this location—and it looks like it is going to live up to them.”
To provide AV capabilities, as well as the required networking and remote control, Tees and the Moving iMage team designed and installed an AV network based on Visionary Solutions E4100 encoders and D4100 decoders, managed by QSC Q-SYS Core 510c processors. “Point-to-point HDBaseT was going to be a bit of a challenge in this location,” Tees notes, “and the routers for matrixing HDBaseT are pretty expensive and obviously purpose built. They weren’t quite flexible enough for what I wanted to do. I felt that an HDMI over IP solution was something that we needed to consider, so I did some research and came across Visionary Solutions. I noted that they were already compatible with Q-SYS which was important because we were already committed to using Q-SYS.”
Part of Visionary Solutions’ PacketAV family of products, E4100 encoders and D4100 decoders deliver cinema quality, 4K UHD-over-IP video networking with ultra-low latency and can be powered over Ethernet (PoE) or with an optional DC power supply. The E4100 encoder connects to an AV source via HDMI and converts the signal to a packetized network stream that’s compatible with off-the-shelf, IGMP enabled, Gigabit Ethernet switches. The D4100 decoder converts the IP packets back to an HDMI signal connecting to a display for visually lossless video, along with RS232 controls.
At the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Los Angeles, Moving iMage equipped each of the 12 auditoriums with a Visionary Solutions E4100 encoder at front-of-house, a second E4100 to accept the output of a BluRay player, and a third E4100 behind the display screen. “People can come in, plug in their laptop, and do PowerPoint and video presentations onscreen in any room or send to multiple rooms,” reports Tees. “We’re using Visionary Solutions for the distribution of video and audio that’s embedded in the video. We’re also using Q-SYS to distribute microphone signals from room to room, giving people the ability to do presentations to multiple rooms at once.” A Visionary Solutions D4100 decoder in each auditorium feeds the room’s 4K Barco Laser Cinema Projector. Yet another E4100 encoder and D4100 decoder is installed in the bar.
“The Visionary Solutions endpoints’ integration with Q-SYS was very important, and we liked their functionality and capability,” Tees avers. “We were able to ascertain the necessary programming based on Visionary’s available documentation, with very little need to contact the company, although they were very helpful when we did contact them. I have quite a few geniuses on my staff, and they were able to get the AV network going quickly and easily.”
One QSC Core 510c processor manages 10 of the auditoriums, while a second Core 510c manages the other two, with the processors integrated into a single network so audio and video can be routed from any space to any space, or combination of spaces, on the network. “We used two processors because we were reaching the limit of the Core 510c’s channel count, with cinema channels, microphone channels, multicasting, and all sorts of stuff, as well as the Visionary Solutions encoders’ HDMI inputs,” Tees explains. A backup pair of Core 510c processors provides redundancy. Audio is streamed to QSC DPA-Q Series amplifiers, which drive QSC DCS Series loudspeakers in each auditorium. Moving iMage installed all new CAT cable for each section of the network, with fiber trunk between network regions.
“To my knowledge, this is the first use of a video-over-IP distribution network for non-cinema presentations in a cinema auditorium,” Tees asserts. “It also was the first time we’ve done a project with Visionary Solutions—but it’s not the last. We are currently expanding an Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn, New York, and the new auditoriums will all have Visionary Solutions equipment. We will likely expand into the original theater space with Visionary Solutions equipment as well. We really like the Visionary Solutions equipment’s capabilities and Q-SYS integration, and it certainly fits within our budget. The most important thing is, it’s working great.”
“One of my primary goals at Alamo is to make all of our locations as versatile as possible in regards to the type of content we can show and the special events we can present,” comments Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas Senior Director of Presentation Mark Louis. “In addition, we need the capability to distribute the AV not only between auditoriums but between venues as well. The Visionary Solutions system with Q-SYS integration that Moving iMage Technologies has provided for us at our downtown L.A. location, has exceeded my expectations and provided a model for not only our future venues but a retrofit plan for our existing venues as well.”