Improving Drive-in Sound

Sound is increasingly becoming a major part of the cinema experience, if drive-in theaters don’t want to lose customers to the ever increasing number of multiplexes popping up all over the place, sound is something they need to take seriously.

Improve your drive-in movie theater’s sound quality by installing a BW Broadcast FM Transmitter.

Over the last decade the use of 35mm and 70mm film has all but disappeared in favor of digital projection. Drive-in theaters have benefited from this advance in technology and can now offer their customers dramatically improved image quality and brightness. The number of drive-in theaters has actually increased in recent years, whilst others have been expanding. It proves that the drive-in theater business can grow and prosper, but they need to move with the times, and sound quality is going to be a major part of that.

The typical drive-in broadcasts the film soundtrack over low-power FM. Many use Part 15 FM transmitters, which are widely available, and offer a cost effective solution compared with the professional transmitters available to them. But these transmitters were designed for re-broadcasting around the home or hobbiest and don’t offer the sound quality that todays discerning movie-goer expects.

West Wind Drive-Ins (the largest chain of drive-in cinemas in the U.S.) made the decision to convert all 34 screens to digital projection, they took the opportunity to upgrade all of the sound systems too.

Chris Markiewicz, Projection and Sound Technician, West Wind Drive-Ins, says:

“We have equipped all of our screens with BW Broadcast TX5 V2 transmitters. They can easily be adjusted from practically nothing, all the way to 5 watts from the front panel, this means we can turn the power up and down, enabling us to achieve exactly the right coverage for each site. They broadcast through tuned ¼ -wave ground plane antennas mounted to masts on the roofs of the projection buildings. Output of the transmitters is adjusted for a clean signal on the drive-in fields.

The digital sound systems work as follows: The sound is output from the projector as a 5.1 LPCM bitstream. It goes to the audio rack where it is converted to analog  5.1 audio via a D/A converter. It then goes through an automated mixdown to 2.0 stereo. The next step is a line-level mixer to allow for level control and EQ if needed. The signal then feeds the transmitter and antenna.

Using the BW Broadcast transmitters results in sound that is equal in quality to the local FM commercial stations. The transmitters have built-in audio processing so the sound quality is first class,  there is no hum or background noise, and frequency response is good out to 15kHz. This represents a quantum leap over the sound we experienced with our older transmitters, all of which were far more expensive to purchase.

The rest of the digital projection systems consist of Barco DP2K-32B projectors, the brightest on the market at 31,000 lumens, and Doremi ShowVault servers that play back the digital content. All in all, we believe that West Wind Drive-Ins provide the best in digital projection and sound to our customers in California, Nevada and Arizona.”

Not many drive-in operators know that they can change the format of the audio processing to suit the audio style of the film with the TX5. Dialogue heavy films can use talk audio processing while music heavy films can have the music sound dynamic with a pop music style preset, just like it would be on the radio. Changing the sound of the transmission to suit the film takes seconds, and can be done remotely through a web browser if required.

Jennifer Sherer, CEO of Drive-On-In Inc, says:

“For me, the drive-in conjures up images like ones in Happy Days. As our world becomes more hectic and less safe, the more the drive-in becomes a wholesome retreat from it.”

But staying afloat in a niche market is no easy ride for business owners. Operators who survived the difficult years are re-investing in multiple screens and modern FM radio sound to attract new punters.

Contact our Sales Team to find out how we can help improve the sound quality of your drive-in.




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