IMAX to build more 3-D screens

Success of 'Avatar' helps generate demand for more of the same in Japan

The Associated Press

Megascreen theater company IMAX Corp. said Tuesday it will expand in Japan in the latest in a series of international deals inked recently amid growing demand for 3-D movies following the success of the science fiction blockbuster “Avatar.”

The Canada-based company, along with local partner Tokyu Recreation, will add five of its giant 3-D equipped screens in Japan over the next two years. Since Tokyu Recreation opened four IMAX theaters last year, box-office receipts have exceeded expectations and convinced the company to build more.

“Performance has been really strong,” said IMAX Chief Executive Richard Gelfond. “It’s probably the strongest start that we’ve had in any territory in our history.”

The deal is part of an aggressive IMAX expansion, particularly in Asia. Those plans were already in place last year as the company sought growth and a rebound from losses in 2008.

But then the phenomenal success of “Avatar” came along in December. The film fueled revenues, piqued interest in 3-D worldwide and added momentum to IMAX’s expansion.

“Avatar,” the highest grossing film of all time, also broke global IMAX box-office records, bringing in $237 million on 256 screens. The firm’s biggest hit had been “The Dark Knight,” which made $62 million.

Financial returns for movie theaters were already good, Gelfond said in Tokyo. “But ‘Avatar’ really put them in another strata.”

The agreement in Japan follows a 15-theater deal it signed last month in South Korea, a four-theater deal in France and an expanded partnership in Russia.

The emergence of 3-D televisions also has the company considering how to parlay its success into living rooms.

It may introduce a “very, very high-end” 3-D home entertainment system in the future, Gelfond said. It is also working on a project with Sony Corp. and Discovery Communications to launch the first 3-D television channel next year.

“IMAX has been in the 3-D business for 25 years, so we have a fair amount of content in our library,” Gelfond said.

The company was originally known for offering educational films in science centers and museums. In 2002, it introduced technology that enabled standard 35mm movies to be digitally converted for its large-format cinemas at a reasonable cost.

An IMAX screen is like high-definition TV for a movie theater. They can be anywhere from 12 meters high, such as on 42nd Street in New York, to eight-story-tall screens in London and Sydney.

As many as 700 people can fit in a single cinema. The technology offers enhanced visual and sound quality for a pricier ticket than for a regular movie.

Worldwide, there are 430 IMAX theaters in 48 countries, with at least 50 more on the way this year.

The company’s revenue jumped 67 percent in 2009 and net profit rebounded to $20.5 million. Its stock is up more than 200 percent over the past year.

NEC to release 3-D PC

Kyodo News

NEC Corp. has unveiled a prototype desktop personal computer that enables users to watch 3-D video programs.

The electronics maker NEC plans to release a commercial model by the end of September at prices ¥15,000 to ¥20,000 higher than conventional desktop PCs, company officials said.

The newly developed machine is equipped with a Blu-ray disc drive that allows users to watch 3-D movies and other software designed for 3-D TVs with special glasses.

NEC released a laptop PC in 2004 that incorporated 3-D technology, but it failed to create demand due in part to its high price of around ¥400,000.