SAN JOSE, Calif. When is a startup launch like a movie debut? When you are a company founded to sell a low-cost stereo 3-D technology for an estimated 100,000 35mm projectors in today's movie theaters.
So startup Oculus3D has rented one of the Pacific Theater Sherman Oaks 5 screens in the Los Angeles area. Its technicians are preparing specially modified versions of 3-D films provided by three of the top six studios.
The curtain rises in about a week for a select group of attendees. The reviews could determine how widely 3-D movies are shown in the next few years and how fast—or slowly—the transition to digital cinema happens.
Oculus3D hopes the show inspires theater owners to buy their systems, studios to modify their content for the Oculus3D format and investors to put money into the startup. "If they like the way it looks, I don't think we'll have a problem, and I don't think we'll have a problem," said Lenny Lipton, chief science officer for Oculus3D and one of the pioneers of stereoscopic technology.
"We are exploring a number of financing options, but it comes down to doing the demo--investors are waiting to see that," said Lipton who holds 35 patents in the field. "We have some startup seed money from angels, but the big bucks are waiting," he said.
The opportunity seems huge for the startup that formally debuted Tuesday (Jan. 19). Only about 9,000 of the estimated 110,000 movie screens worldwide are equipped with digital 3-D projection systems. Hollywood is rapidly ramping up its output of stereo 3-D movies, expecting to launch 30 titles in 2010—twice as many as in 2009—including 3-D versions of blockbusters such as "Toy Story" and "Shrek."
"There are two or three movies opening on some weeks and they are not getting their due because the recession slowed down the installs of 3-D projection systems," which can cost upwards of $100,000 per screen, said Lipton. By contrast, Oculus3D claims it can retrofit an existing 35mm projector for less than $25,000.
"It seemed to me this was a great opportunity as 3-D was getting established in the theater and there was demand," said Lipton who left his job a year ago as chief technology officer at RealD (Beverly Hills) which has installed the lion's share of today's digital 3-D systems in theaters.