In March 2014, Barco shipped the first units of its Barco Alchemy projectors with onboard ICMP (Integrated Cinema Media Processor). This media server for digital cinema had a lot of lofty ambitions right from the start. In this blog post, we’ll look back on the journey we’ve taken in these past 24 months − and on how the product has evolved from the new kid on the block to the most sold server in the industry.
The next logical step
Predicting the future
The development project started in 2012 with high ambitions: to be the most advanced and most future-proof media server in the industry. The only problem with being future-proof is that it’s hard to make predictions… especially about the future. Those early day discussions were strategic and tactical, but still hands-on. For example: “What format do we choose for our alternative content inputs?” HDMI is a typical video format; while Displayport is more a data format. On the other hand, Displayport 1.1a allows you to do 4K in a dual setup... Similar discussions took place regarding the integration of server and projector functionality: How far do you take this? How far do you take the user?
Implementing market feedback
From a product development and engineering viewpoint, nothing is more fun than innovating and building new things. However, as the manufacturer with the biggest installed base in cinema, we cannot ignore the preferences and priorities of our 100,000+ users. By conducting surveys and interviews, we found out that they actually quite like that thin border. For them, it’s not necessarily a limiting border between technologies, but a practical separation between roles and functions: between a technical installer/service tech profile and a more operational projectionist profile. So we tuned our system architecture to the distinction that market feedback was making.
By the beginning of 2014, we had fully passed our internal testing and validation as well as external certification (DCI-certification and some dozen others). We were ready to launch our product. Of course, the competition had not been sitting still during that period. So there we were, launching our brand-new server, and already we were in catch-up mode. Fortunately, we had a very enthusiastic team that kept on working very hard to add new features, improve performance, and implement market feedback. Using agile product development and scrum, we added new software versions at an incredible pace. Some of the things we added only in the past 12 months include: support for immersive audio, support for 3D on all alternative inputs, playback of 3 synchronized DCPs for Barco’s Escape format, ingest speeds improved by more than a factor of 4, …
Evolving to best-in-class
Today, 24 months after the launch, I am proud to say that we’ve evolved from the new kid on the block to a well-established and well-received product on the market. The vast majority of Barco projectors sold in the past year have been Barco Alchemy projectors, with ICMP on board. The total number sold in the past year puts us in at least the Top 3 of the most popular media servers for digital cinema. And above all: from the market feedback we get, our performance, reliability and stability are best-in-class.
The product’s not finished, of course. It’s never finished − integrating with more and new devices in the ecosystem is always on our radar. As well as improving the user experience. And keeping up with new trends, both technical and operational, will be critical to holding onto our spot at the top. The Barco Alchemy team is ready to deliver some more magic in the next 24 months … and beyond!
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