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The Next Old Thing

Illustration Spur Design

Granger (Welles)

Granger (Welles)

The Technology: Digital Projection
The Product: Sony 4K Ultra Short Throw Projector
The Forebear: Orson Welles

If asked who’s responsible for the riot of special effects on our cinema screens today, you might be tempted to say George Lucas, or maybe Steven Spielberg. In fact, that dubious honor probably belongs to Orson Welles, whose 1941 drama Citizen Kane employed so much cinematic trickery that Roger Ebert once remarked that the film relies more heavily on special effects than the original Star Wars.

In the digital age, the push-pull between storytelling and spectacle in cinema has swung wildly toward the latter. This is why Sony, in unveiling its new 4K Ultra Short Throw Projector, didn’t hesitate to announce that the system comes with a sticker price between $30,000 and $40,000. This thing allows you to turn your living room wall into a massive (up to 147 inches) screen, with impeccable definition, and people are willing to pay for that.

The device’s selling point is in the name. While most projectors cast light across a “throw distance” of yards in order to generate a large image, short-throw projectors like this one use digital technology (and special lenses) to operate close to the screen. But this one is “Ultra Short Throw,” meaning the projector is on the floor right in front of the screen (or, more likely, the wall), making for vastly improved picture quality.

Set to be available in the U.S. in the summer, this all-in-one “entertainment window” has home entertainment geeks slavering. And yet, for all its next-generation hoo-hah, the device isn’t a million miles away from the world’s first visual effects technology—the magic lanterns that transfixed viewers in the 17th century. As the English diarist Samuel Pepys wrote after encountering one of these contraptions: “[It made] strange things appear on a wall, very pretty.”

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