Drive-Ins Enter the Digital Age
For more than half a century, the Spud Drive-In has been a local landmark in Diggs, Idaho. Last month, with screenings of Despicable Me and Robin Hood, it became America’s first true digital drive-in. While other outdoor theatres have used digital projectors to show DVDs to large outdoor audiences, Spud is the only drive-in to date to actually employ digital cinema projection and surround sound audio. They plan to install 3D technology this month.
When Spud made the decision to go digital, timing was of the essence. Since the drive-in movie season is relatively short in Idaho, it was important to get a projector online quickly for the July opening. Barco was able to provide a projector within a few weeks.
“We looked at a lot of options, but the Barco projector was the ideal fit for the drive-in movie environment because of its low power requirements, liquid cooling, and of course, incredible image quality and reputation for reliability,” says Spud's chief operating officer, Keith Zednik. “It's just amazing – like nothing I've ever seen before. With the Barco projector, we'll be able to continue for another 50 years, not only as a movie exhibitor, but as a total entertainment provider.” Spud plans to offer alternative content packages to customers, including wedding receptions, non-profit, club and community functions, and even live simulcast sports events and concerts.
John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, says, “Drive-ins are an important part of the theatre business. At NATO, we are pleased to see Barco providing a digital projector solution capable of illuminating drive-in screens. We are confident that drive-ins will continue to flourish in the digital age and congratulate the Spud on being the first of many drive-ins to offer their customers the digital experience.”
United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association president Paul F. Geissinger says, “We congratulate the Spud Drive In and their digital partner Barco in providing their patrons and the motion picture industry with the first digital projection system at a traditional drive-in theatre. This is an historic event for drive-in theatres, a true icon of Americana, which we view as only the beginning of what will be a huge transition to the digital age by drive-in motion picture theatres.”
Spud Drive-In Theater is one of the last American drive-in theaters, and one heck of a roadside attraction. It is most famous for Old Murphy, a 1946 Chevy cab-over truck that carries a two-ton potato. Old Murphy sits in front of the screen and has been photographed by travelers from all over the world.
The Spud was built in the spring of 1953 by Ace Wood and opened its doors that July. It was a state-of-the-art facility back then, using mono-speakers that hung in the windows to broadcast the audio and twin carbon ark real to real projectors. Today, the audio is transmitted through FM stereo. Some things have been updated at the drive-in, but the spirit remains the same.
The exhibitor launched its digital premiere with a double feature on Friday, July 9th, showing Despicable Me and Robin Hood. Attracting hundreds of moviegoers from around the county, Spud enjoyed its largest crowd of the season, breaking records for its Monday night “$15 Per Car” promotion.
“The image quality was picture perfect, and it was so easy to use – no technical problems at all. The Barco has made my life a million times easier,” says Zednik. Roger Bockert, owner of Heartland Theatre Services who installed the new system, says, “If anyone out there is still uncertain about putting digital in a drive-in, Spud's experience will put their mind at ease. The results have been even better than expected as far as picture quality, light output, and reliable image.”
In business for more than 20 years, Bockert has installed hundreds of digital projectors throughout the Midwest in traditional theatres, and looks forward to additional business in the drive-in market based on the success of Spud's deployment.
“We're honored to work with Spud Drive In to pioneer the first true digital cinema drive-in theatre. This opportunity demonstrates the power and versatility of Barco's products. We applaud Spud's entrepreneurial spirit and desire to extend their entertainment options with alternative content, which will showcase the Barco projector's features and delight patrons for years to come,” says Todd Hoddick, vice president, digital cinema North America.