Using lasers as the ʻlampʼ in digital cinema projectors has several dramatic financial and quality benefits over the xenon gas discharge lamps used for the past several decades in cinema projectors. Although people tend to worry about eye exposure safety when they hear the term ‘laser’, it is very important to note that in digital cinema applications the projected light from a laser illuminated projector is essentially no more hazardous that the light from current cinema projectors!
In fact, the light emitted from laser-illuminated cinema projectors is processed in such a way that it doesn’t even legally qualify as ‘laser light’ when it leaves the projector.
This realization is creating recognition within the U.S. and international safety-standards agencies that regulations need to be revisited and revised to ensure safety yet still make it economically possible to harness the inherent advantages of laser light over Xenon or other candescent lighting approaches.
Addressing Laser Regulations
The multitude of multi-national regulatory and legislative organizations requires the industry to be well-coordinated and strategic in its approach to making smart and effective changes to safety requirements. LIPA is taking appropriate steps to begin collecting data to influence regulatory institutions worldwide.
In the U.S., for example, antiquated regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently require laser illuminated projector equipped theaters to be legally treated as a high powered laser light show, because the light was originally generated with a laser device.
These regulations — left over from traditional rock concert laser regulations — require cinema exhibitors to perform costly and time-consuming actions. This includes obtaining a special license, called a Laser Light Show Variance, prior to purchasing or operating a cinema projector.
The variance requires pre-show safety checks and an operator to watch the theater space during every showing, specialized laser safety training for all employees, as well as ongoing paperwork for governmental reporting for each show. LIPA believes this work is required under current regulations due to earlier definitions when in actuality, new laser projections are no more hazardous than the movies exhibitors have been showing for 50 years, without incident.
The FDAʼs Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), tasked with regulating Laser Light Shows, has expressed a willingness to implement new legal requirements as appropriate for this emerging technology, while lifting the oppressive requirements created for a different industry some 35 years ago.
However, the CDRH requires that the projector manufacturers, cinema industry, and all stakeholders speak with a single unified voice via a formalized representative industry association. LIPA, the Laser Illuminated Projection Association, has been formed in response to this request by FDA.
LIPA is taking steps to resolve this matter promptly — well before industry begins installation of laser based projection systems into theaters worldwide and begins to lower their total costs of operation.
Gathering industry consensus for application to the FDA for change is only one part of LIPA activity. Other activities include understanding and helping revise international regulations and definitions within the International Standards Organization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSH), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the CDRH’s Board of Laser Safety.
LIPA will continue to conduct baseline technical tests and measurements and submit the results to these expert bodies to help them understand the characterization of laser light in use for projectors.