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Local Drive-In Theater Goes Digital!

Reminder News (CT)
Local drive-in theater goes digital
By Louisa Owen Sonstroem – ReminderNews
Mansfield – posted Mon., Apr. 2, 2012

When the Mansfield Drive-In movie theater opens for the season on April 5, its pictures will be clearer and brighter than ever before.

It is the first drive-in in New England to convert from the old 35mm film reels to a digital projection system. After installation was completed, Michael Jungden, owner of the theater since 1974, held a test run of the new equipment on March 24. A crowd of about 30 fellow drive-in owners attended.

Guests toured the grounds, gazing at the drive-in’s three 118-foot-wide screens, examining the corresponding projectors, and chatting in the snack bar. Shortly after dark, one screen lit up with a showing of Todd Graff’s “Joyful Noise” and some old-time intermission clips.

For Jungden, converting to digital was not a choice.

“In 2013, movies will not be available to movie theaters in a 35mm format,” Jungden said. “We figured if we had to [convert], we might as well be first.”

The digital projector technology has existed for about 10 years, but drive-ins have only begun implementing it in the last three years, according to New England Theatre Service’s Michael Peterson, who performed the installation. Most major indoor theaters have already switched, but drive-ins are hurrying to catch up before their old systems become obsolete.

With digital projectors, Mansfield Drive-In General Manager David Cote said, the screens will “show a much clearer, brighter, sharper picture.”

“You don’t have any scratches. It minimizes operator errors. It’s a superior product,” Peterson said.

Furthermore, Cote explained, “it’s more energy-efficient than the old system.”

The digital system is more efficient for several reasons. There are fewer moving parts than the 35mm film reel system, in which, as Peterson said, “everything’s a moving part.” Also, hard drives are recyclable, thus producing less waste over time.

As an additional benefit, the entire system is run by remote log-in, meaning that operators can control everything remotely, regardless of whether they are in the booth or even in the state at the time.


“I could start the movies from home or on my smartphone,” Cote said with a laugh.

For drive-ins, the main obstacle to conversion is cost, with each projector costing about $70,000, according to Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre co-owner Paul F. Geissinger, who attended the test run.

Geissinger and his wife and co-owner Susan are from Pennsylvania, but they traveled to Connecticut especially to see Jungden’s new projectors.

“We’re going to be converting over to digital, probably in September. 35mm film is becoming a thing of the past, and if you want to survive, you’re going to have to convert,” Geissinger said. He dreads the bill but is looking forward to it once it’s done.

Alternately jesting and serious, Cote listed off some new digitally-enabled options for the drive-in. In addition to movies, the theater could also screen live sporting and performance events. According to Cote, one could even hook an Xbox video game console up to the system and project that onto the screens.

The drive-in is not planning to do so, but this new horizon of possibilities is intriguing to Jungden and Cote.

When asked if the drive-in will experiment with some of these new options, Jungden responded, “In the future, perhaps, yes.”

For now, Jungden and the others are content to celebrate the drive-in’s brighter, sharper pictures.

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