What is the history and pedigree of Barco?
Tim Sinnaeve (TS): Barco was founded in 1934 and has a unique history that spans over 80 years. In fact we started in the home, building high-end radios and later televisions in those beautifully crafted wooden cabinets that were true works of art and were marketed as ‘your family’s essential friend’.
From these early origins a constant quest for innovation saw Barco transition to become a worldwide technology leader in high-end professional visualisation. In a way, Barco Residential is a return to our origins, bringing the pinnacle of our technologies to the residential space.
Our core strengths lie in our technology leadership, proven in the most demanding professional markets, including commercial Digital Cinema (over 40% of the world’s commercial cinema screens are powered by Barco projection) and Post-Production, as well as in our focus on enabling amazing experiences for our clients, paying special attention to design and architectural integration.
We can draw from a very diverse professional technology base and build our projectors and systems from the ground up, giving us full control over the image quality and performance, which is key. Given that we power the largest screens in the commercial world, we are also uniquely qualified to deliver on the trend of larger screens in the home with more light on screen while maintaining the best possible image quality.
Neil Davidson (ND): Barco is the only projector manufacturer in the residential space that manufactures all of its own products – that this is also in Europe is an added bonus!
This allows Barco to react much better to the needs of the market with unique products such as the Orion Cinemascope and the Barco Residential custom rear projection TV system, as well as bring other high end imaging technologies such as Direct LED to the residential space.
How would you advise installers go about ‘selling the experience’, rather than getting too bogged down in the equipment?
TS: Taking a step back, when you look at the demographics, a negligible percentage of people that can afford high-end home theatres are actually investing in them. That does not make sense to me, and represents a huge untapped opportunity for the custom install industry. I believe the main reason for this is that our industry tends to be far too product-centric in our sales and marketing.
Strange to say perhaps for a projector manufacturer, but nobody dreams of buying a projector. People do want to have exceptional experiences and share them with the people they care about. The equipment is a means to an end, but that doesn’t mean it is not critically important of course. Without the finest equipment, you cannot create the best experience and deliver its full potential.
But what you are selling is the experience. You need to inspire clients with what is possible (which in many cases they are not aware of) – that’s what gets them excited and engaged, and this goes beyond home theatre into other creative residential applications.
To deliver excellence, we need to set the bar high and define what that means, or we will only be limiting the potential of the project. Even the wealthiest clients will often put price before performance unless educated on how this can degrade their experience, and consequently their whole investment.
A true focus on providing exceptional experiences requires learning about the client and their family and lifestyle and the content that they are passionate about. If you can then wow them with an experience featuring the content they love, you will be in a good position to get the opportunity to tailor an experience for them.
Experience centres therefore play an important role, because clients really need to experience the difference a truly high-end system brings first hand. I have not been in a situation where a potential client was treated to a fantastic experience with the content that they love that did not result in a sale.
On a broader scale, I believe we also need to invest in a different type of experiential marketing that inspires potential clients and directs them to the custom installation channel. Other industries, like the design and architectural community can provide great inspiration.
Think of high-end architectural magazines for example. A custom installers online presence and PR strategy can be a powerful tool in this respect if used correctly. Also here Barco Residential wants to play an important role together with our partners.
ND: The key thing is for installers to realise that the client is buying a solution, not a collection of boxes. They buy a home cinema not a projector, screen, speakers etc. Structuring the entire sales process to sell the end solution, not the building blocks, is where the integrators can really differentiate themselves from the competition.
There has been a move back towards dealer showrooms over the last 12 months and those dealers are now reaping the rewards of being able to show the solution and how the products fit into that solution.
What endorsement do you think well known figures such as Michael Bay, who actually use your products in their own cinemas, lend to the brand?
TS: I think the benefit for us is that in the case of Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer this is more than your standard celebrity brand or product endorsement. These are professionals in the movie industry that make the highest demands of the projection equipment that goes into their own homes. “As the director intended” is a phrase that is used perhaps too often in the home theatre world, but when the director is actually the client this takes on a whole new meaning and value.
When one of your core values is image quality, putting it into the homes of the most demanding professionals in the world is really putting your money where your mouth is in terms of credibility. I believe these types of stories also contribute to inspiring potential clients on a broader scale as discussed above.
ND: In the high-end market, clients are always keen to know that the things they buy represent the best in design and performance. There is little better recommendation for a cinema projector for leading personalities from the film world to state that they choose that unit for themselves.
These endorsements are particularly useful when you sell a solution as it greatly strengthens the sales story. The client often does a “due diligence” on the most expensive items and such a positive endorsement on the projector makes the rest of the sale easier.
How did the laser demonstrations go at the 2015 CEDIA US Expo?
TS: They went incredibly well, and even though we were very confident going into the show, we were still positively surprised by people’s reactions. We did not submit the laser projector for any awards ahead of the show, but there were many comments from people experiencing the demo that this was not only the best at the show, but the best they had ever experienced!
You can’t hope for better than that. The thing that struck me the most however was seasoned professionals from the industry and the press that are used to going through demos and reviewing them that totally forgot who they were or why they were there and were just completely taken in by the experience like the proverbial kids in a candy store. It was a great example of the impact of the experience we talked about above.
Following that great result at CEDIA, I am very proud to be able to announce that together with our partners HomeTronics and Display Development, our first ‘Thor’ 6P laser projector is going into a residential theatre in the US in time for the holidays, truly making this the most advanced ‘Cinema at Home’ on the planet. Of course the laser projector represents the ultra-high end of what is possible today in Cinema at Home, but we bring the same attention to quality and performance at every level of our offering.
Explain some of the key performance and installation characteristics of the most recent additions
TS: All Barco Residential projectors are developed and built in our design and production centres in Belgium and Norway. They’re designed from the ground up with one goal in mind – to show the best possible images in any setting. From purpose-built lenses and optics, to custom-made electronics processing and boards, all parts are specially crafted. Our full glass lenses, for instance, are carefully selected so that we can guarantee their glass is of the best quality.
To guarantee ultimate quality at all stages of the manufacturing process, our projectors do not travel down an automated production line, and can truly claim to be hand-built. Even though we are using state-of-the-art technologies for most processes – such as measuring, calibrating, assembling our electronics, and manufacturing the delicate optics and mechanics – every single step of the process is overseen by specifically trained professionals, with the assembly of vital parts performed by hand.
We not only design and manufacture our projectors with the greatest care, we also test them rigorously. The image quality of every single projector that leaves our factory is thoroughly measured and validated by our dedicated teams. Our in-house testing, research and verification facilities include an acoustics analysis lab, a full-blown FCC-certified EMC lab, an optics lab, and environmental labs for lifetime and operational testing – such as temperature and vibration tests.
The design and technology choices we make when building a projector are critical − that’s why Barco Residential exclusively uses Texas Instruments DLP technology, coupled with the highest quality optics, to achieve crystal-clear, razor-sharp and lifelike images for ultimate picture quality with extremely high contrast ratios, providing a stunning viewing experience with crisper whites, ultra-rich blacks and images that pop.
Other hallmarks of Barco’s projection technology include sealed optical engines (featuring a patented, hermetically-sealed enclosure ensuring many years of undiminished brightness and contrast levels), a colour management system that allows you to calibrate our projectors, simply and precisely, to a desired white point or grey scale and perform the necessary colour management adjustments to create the best visual experience in any situation, a unique and highly acclaimed analogue colour convergence mechanism with which perfect convergence can be achieved, and native Cinemascope projection using a special DMD chip developed in close cooperation with Texas Instruments.
Our projectors also come in T (Theater series) and M (Media room series) versions that are tailored to dedicated theatre rooms or controlled light environments and environments with greater ambient light respectively. The C (Cinema at home) series are the ultimate expression of Barco Residential’s unwavering dedication to craftsmanship and image quality. Built with the best professional cinema technologies, they have been exclusively enhanced for the home environment. The choice of film professionals, they epitomise everything Barco Residential stands for.
All of this culminates in the ‘Thor’ 6P laser (not to be confused with laser phosphor) projector we demonstrated at CEDIA, which represents the state-of-the-art in projection, and is a prime example of Barco’s technology leadership. Our laser projection technology offers superior image quality with unprecedented brightness levels, increased contrast ratio, and vivid colours for a radically improved movie experience that’s unmatched in the industry. The 2D and 3D images they display – with single lens operation – are ‘laser-sharp’ with superbly saturated and uniform colours. Barco’s 4K laser projectors are also the first in the world to show 4K content at 60fps and 3D movies in full 4K resolution.
What makes Barco and the custom install channel a good partnership?
TS: This is about more than creating the best possible projectors and putting them in someone’s home. This is all about creating an experience that suits the tastes and lifestyle of the client. But in order to create an exceptional experience, you of course also need the best technologies.
This may sound like a strange comparison, but in that respect it’s not unlike having a bespoke suit tailored on Savile Row. You need the best designer, the best tailor and the best fabrics to craft a world-class suit that takes into account the individual style and preferences of the client. If any of those is missing, you will not get the best result that truly makes the investment worthwhile.
In the same way, creating that unique experience for our clients and reach the performance levels required is not possible without the right partners that share a passion and commitment to delivering only the finest end result in the industry. Our custom installer partners are critical, and in Barco Residential they can find a partner that not only has a vision and passion for the high end residential market, but that can deliver the technology and solutions to realise that vision.
How is the current state of content transmission and shift in standards and delivery systems for video affecting the home cinema market? And how can Barco help?
TS: This is a very interesting question. If you were to take a cynical view, in consumer electronics it can sometimes feel like standards are there for the standards themselves, ticking a box, primarily intended to trigger a new equipment replacement cycle.
At the end of the day it should be about the content and the experience. Those are what matters and should be the driving factor. In the professional markets we lead in, the focus is on performance and the end-result and this is what we want to bring to the high-end residential space as well.
We want to help re-focus the discussion on image quality. Too many custom home theatres feature fantastic audio, but mediocre video quality, and that’s not just about resolution. Colour accuracy, uniformity, brightness and contrast are at least as important, and everything needs to be in balance to experience content as “the Director intended it”.
This also brings me to the highest image quality video sources to energise and excite all of your senses − an aspect too often overlooked or undervalued, even in custom-built theatres. If you’re going to invest in the best technology, you also need the content source quality to go with it, or your investment will not realise its full potential in creating the best possible experience.
Some of the emerging UHD streaming services for example, technically offer 4K UHD resolution, but in practice with the limitations in bandwidth cost and availability, the content is being streamed at 12-15 Mbps, which is the minimum required for ‘acceptable’ quality. This comes at the cost of image quality and frame rate. We would need at least double that to get ‘good’ quality and that is likely not in the stars for years to come. A full HD Blu-Ray will in fact give you better image quality.
So at the high end of the spectrum where we play, I think Barco Residential must play its role in driving the focus on true image quality, and support the availability of the best content sources to create a fantastic experience. We have all the technologies in house to do that as well as the credibility and trust we have built up in Hollywood as the market leader in professional Digital Cinema and Post-Production, and the partnerships with premium content providers. The role of the custom install channel in advising their clients correctly and make sure they get an experience that is worth their investment is critical!
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