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TOPIC: Digital Cinema coming soon?

Digital Cinema coming soon? 27 Sep 2004 11:33 #9153

  • Mike
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Is A Digital Cinema Rollout Eminent?

by Michael Karagosian
©2004 Karagosian MacCalla Partners, all rights reserved worldwide
Published in the October 2004 issue of INS Asia Magazine



Every so often, and certainly more often than is reported in the press, one hears that a new group or entity is planning to roll out digital cinema. Sometimes these announcements are timed for trade shows, where the proponents can make a big splash. Sometimes these announcements are timed for the release of a movie. The release of Star Wars: Episode II in April of 2002 got a lot of attention in the US press in the producer's quest to show the movie on digital cinema screens.

Those who have seen a movie digitally, or heard of cinemas buying digital motion picture projectors, may think that digital movie screens are already rolling out. In fact, this is not the case. Currently, there are 249 digital cinema screens in the world employing DLP Cinema? projectors, 114 of which are in the Asia Pacific region. When compared in number to the approximately 150,000 commercial cinema screens worldwide, less than 0.2% utilize first-release-motion-picture-worthy digital technology. That hardly makes the current lot of digital cinema systems a trend, let alone a rollout. Recognizing this fact, digital cinema installations today are referred to as "trial systems". They are important test sites for proving new technology - but they are not the beginning of a rollout.

The real technology for a digital cinema rollout is yet to come. The Society of Motion Pictures Engineers (SMPTE), along with Digital Cinema Initiatives in Hollywood, are still in the process of finalizing industry specifications for systems worthy of a large scale rollout. The process for determining baseline specifications could take up to another year, and it will take a few years longer to finalize these specifications in worldwide standards. Recognizing this, the major Hollywood studios are extending their jointly financed Digital Cinema Initiatives through September of 2005. As it will take one to two years following the determination of final specifications to implement real products, digital cinema could be in trial mode for some years to come.

However, these facts only represent the technology side of digital cinema. The business side of digital cinema also has its own hurdles to cross. For business issues, we must first look to the US. North America is the clear economic market leader in world cinema, as it generates nearly 50% of the world box office with only a quarter of the world's screens, and a fifth of the world's admissions. Business issues that need to be addressed are the financing of equipment (as digital equipment costs several times that of film equipment), abating exhibitor concerns for early technology obsolescence that will require continued investment, and the need for a structured rollout so that small business owners are not disadvantaged. Some business issues cross-over with technology, such as concern for how secure digital cinema equipment will be certified, managed, and maintained. This dialog has begun in part, but much more work in this area remains.

Three years ago, in late 2001, many vendors began ramping up to provide digital cinema equipment to the world in preparation for the movie Star Wars: Episode II. The technology that Lucasfilm encouraged cinema owners to acquire at the time employed MPEG2 image compression having 8-bit color representation, and DLP Cinema? projectors with image resolutions of 1280 x 1024 pixels - commonly referred to as "1.3K" projectors. Since that time, a higher resolution version of DLP Cinema? became available with a resolution of 2048 x 1080 pixels, approximately 70% more pixels than the original version. This is called "2K" projection technology, of which some 40 are now installed in the Asia Pacific region. Most notable are the 20 Eng Wah installations throughout Singapore. Prototypes of 4K projectors are also being demonstrated. While the 4K prototype projectors do not use DLP? projection technology, they will be designed for use in the commercial cinema market. The industry has also raised the bar for color representation to 12-bit color, of which the newer projection technologies are capable of supporting.

Obviously, had exhibitors bought into 1.3K projectors 2 ? years ago, they would be sitting on technology that would be considered obsolete today. This is a humbling thought, and sits heavily on the minds of exhibitors today. Soon they will be encouraged to buy 2K projectors so that the 2005 release of Star Wars: Episode III can be displayed in digital. While 2K digital projection of this movie will surely provide excellent results, these same exhibitors will be thinking about the 4K projection technology that is appearing on the horizon, while thinking back to the push they experienced to buy now obsolete 1.3K projectors 2 ? years ago.

Film has been with us over 100 years. The maturity of the technology has allowed the movie exhibition business to operate on narrow margins that only allow cinema owners to upgrade their equipment every 15 years or so. In the US, where there are no public funds available for subsidizing digital cinema equipment purchases, exhibitors have to be cautious about the investments they make. Even where public funds are used for digital cinema purchases, caution must be used to leverage those funds in the best possible way. The UK Film Council's Digital Screen Network (DSN) project, which will install up to 250 2K DLP Cinema projectors, is a well-managed example of a publicly-funded project. The DSN seeks digital cinema installations today, but requires the vendor to upgrade the systems at a future date to industry standards, with the expectation that industry specifications will mature in the chosen time frame. (Karagosian MacCalla Partners is a senior technology consultant to the UKFC.)



Michael Hurley
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Re: Digital Cinema coming soon? 27 Sep 2004 17:44 #9154

  • Ken Layton
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Not VIDEO again....yuch.
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Re: Digital Cinema coming soon? 27 Sep 2004 19:00 #9155

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Still too many issues to work out, from what I see.

Personally, I don't worry about it. When I see chains like Regal and AMC start a full rollout... outfitting their buildings with true digital cinema systems, 10 & 20 at a time, then I'll start paying attention. They just got fully converted to red light readers... and just in time.

As it is, while a DLP system has a shelf life of 2 or 3 years, compared to 30 - 50 for a film machine... when DLP runs 150,000 to 200,000 per screen, compared to $15,000 to $50,000 for film, sound, digital, speakers, etc... when Regal starts talking about their stratgegic partnership with Texas Instruments or Barco, instead of long-term deals with Ballantyne for Strong projectors... when the time comes when there's more than one digital projector in my entire state...and it actually gets used from time to time instead of taking up space in an otherwise crowded booth, then I'll start ramping up for my little piece of the industry. Until then, I'll keep my ulcer meds on the shelf!



oh yeah... all those other little nagging incidentals... like transmission standards, rights applications, control of local keys, ability to move "prints" around the building without permission of some (?) in Hollywood, privacy of local sales databases, etc... those are also minor little details that I'd need to know about... but I guess they're still working on it.



[This message has been edited by rodeojack (edited September 27, 2004).]
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Re: Digital Cinema coming soon? 29 Sep 2004 19:07 #9156

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I will add---when ALL prints are Cyan, then maybe I will start thinking about digital--I am on SECOND set of LED's and yet to have a Cyan sound track. Yet when I installed the reader almost 9 years ago it was because Cyan was suppose to roll out that year.

Bad part is the readers are much cheaper in price than when I intalled
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Re: Digital Cinema coming soon? 30 Sep 2004 12:02 #9157

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I sure can relate to that last comment. We have our original Kelmar red light reader on the shelf. We installed it in '98 at our single screen and ran it until 2003. We could have installed it in the 4 screen but felt that we would be better off installing a new BACP which allowed an easier changeout of LED's. So we have an expensive Kelmar on the shelf which isn't quite obsolete -but close - and we have also never run a cyan print.
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Re: Digital Cinema coming soon? 30 Sep 2004 12:29 #9158

  • Mike
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I'll bet I'm retired before digi makes it on screen in a big way.

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Re: Digital Cinema coming soon? 30 Sep 2004 13:22 #9159

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Yer old!


I'll bet I'm retired before Digital Cinema makes and inroad. But we will hear more at Show East.
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Re: Digital Cinema coming soon? 14 Oct 2004 18:00 #9160

  • leeler
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"What a crazy business"
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Re: Digital Cinema coming soon? 22 Oct 2004 14:01 #9161

  • John Pytlak
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Unfortunately, some reviews of "Final Cut" were very critical of the projection quality, as in many cases, it does not use Digital Cinema quality projectors.



John P. Pytlak, Senior Technical Specialist
Customer Technical Services
Entertainment Imaging
Research Labs, Building 69, Room 7525A
Eastman Kodak Company
Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Telephone: +1 585-477-5325 Cell: +1 585-781-4036 Fax: +1 585-722-7243
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Website: http://www.kodak.com/go/motion
John P. Pytlak, Senior Technical Specialist
Customer Technical Services
Entertainment Imaging
Research Labs, Building 69, Room 7525A
Eastman Kodak Company
Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Telephone: +1 585-477-5325 Fax: +1 585-722-7243
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Website: http://www.kodak.com/go/motion
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