Sky-Vue Drive-in makes leap to digital projector

Published on Sunday, 6 April 2014 23:12 - Written by KELLY GOOCH

Films at a local drive-in theater soon will be viewed using newer technology.

The Sky-Vue Drive-in, on U.S. Highway 69, currently uses a 1952 Century projector that was once at the Apache Drive-In. However, Sky-Vue Drive-In manager Robert Phillips plans to retire the projector later this month.

Phillips said he’s replacing the film projector with a digital projector and replacing the platter with a huge reel of film with a server that a hard drive can be plugged into.

That essentially means an image with somewhat less quality, he said.

“You really can’t compete with film. There is such a level of detail in there that pixels on a screen, there just aren’t enough of them. So it’s a little bit less quality, but it’s supposed to be to a point where your eye can’t tell. I’m interested to see what it’s going to be. We don’t know yet what it looks like on our screen,” Phillips said.

Phillips originally purchased the film projector in 2007. Through his uncle, he was connected with the projector’s owner, who had it in a storage building, and was able to purchase it. He revamped the projector, and has been using it at the drive-in ever since.

He said it’s similar to projectors that were used at every other theater in town, but in the past two years, film companies have stopped producing film due to the expense involved. He estimated that a movie made with celluloid film weighs about 80 pounds and noted the labor involved in printing a movie on film and then getting it to the theaters. Now, he said, studios can put a movie on a hard drive for a lot less money.

In recent months, he said he’s also had a hard time getting movie titles that he wants, and has had to hold some films for several weeks.

When that happens, his defined set of customers have seen the movie two weeks in a row, and they won’t come back to see it a third time, Phillips said.

Phillips said the drive-in was supposed to get the new projector on April 11, but it’s been delayed until around April 15.

In order for the warranty on the new equipment to be covered, a certified installer has to come put it in, he said, and “there are a lot of people ahead of us.”

He said a lot of fundraising-type activities, such as selling gift certificates, selling lap blankets to movie-goers and taking donations from people who used the bounce house that the drive-in offered, all helped make the conversion to the digital projector possible, and he will have several movies throughout the year that are free to regular customers since they helped get the new projector.

He estimated that about 70 percent of drive-ins nationwide have been able to convert so far.

Still, “it is horribly sad because I’m trading in something this cool,” he said, adding that he can change the oil, and it doesn’t wear out.

He said most projectors that are being replaced end up in the scrap metal yard because they are not valuable, but his is different because it’s a lot older, and he plans to save it.

He said he wanted the last film that played with the old projector to be the 1948 movie “Strike It Rich,” which was filmed locally, but the copy that he has in not in a condition that would go with the machine.

But he said he has the film on a digital copy and wants to convert that to a format that his new digital projector will play and then play it later in the summer as a second feature.

“Strike it Rich,” he said, is about the oil industry at the time and includes living room footage that was filmed at a house on Robertson Avenue in Tyler, as well as scenes shot in Lindale. He said some outside shots in the film are from a house on Highland Park Circle, and the pool in the film is the pool at Willow Brook Country Club in Tyler.

“It was filmed in Lindale right where I live. It’s where I grew up... You just want to throw back to what stuff was like,” Phillips said.

Sam Kidd, with the Smith County Historical Society, said the movie is “an interesting story about the oil field, and it kind of glamorizes it.”

For more information about the drive-in, visit  ;