December 16, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Top theaters on path to digital films

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The big-theater owners say they also want to install the equipment in a test market, where most of a city's screens can be converted at roughly the same time, before rolling it out on a wide scale. That will allow them to test features such as newly minted security, as well as audience response, they say.

Last weekend saw the first showing of a feature film in Hollywood's new format to a commercial audience, with the opening of Disney's "Narnia" in a Brooklyn, N.Y., theater owned by AccessIT. The system there will be similar to what is installed in other theaters around the country over time.

Under this system, a film is sent directly by satellite to a receiving server in the theater. The file, which can average around 200GB, is then moved to a library server that feeds all the projectors in the theater.

"Let's just say that the idea of compliance (with the standard) is a carrot hanging out in front of us, and we're just trying to get everyone to agree what that means."
--Dave Schnuelle, director, Dolby Laboratories' Image Technology division

From that point, playing a movie is similar to cuing up an Apple Computer iTunes playlist. A "projectionist" simply creates a list of trailers, attaches them to the movie itself, sets up a schedule for play times and screens, and the rest happens automatically.

"It really is just a matter of creating a drag-and-drop playlist," said Gerd Jakuszeit, director of Access Digital Media, the Access division that operates the theater in Brooklyn. To operate, he said, "it's not nearly as complicated mechanically as 35mm film is."

Some other equipment vendors say equipment released today still risks being outdated, however. Several portions of the Hollywood standard remain vague enough that equipment produced today could be incompatible with rival wares, and industry engineers are in the process of filling those gaps.

"Let's just say that the idea of compliance (with the standard) is a carrot hanging out in front of us, and we're just trying to get everyone to agree what that means," said Dave Schnuelle, director of Dolby Laboratories' Image Technology division.

Nevertheless, the motion by the theaters is being viewed with optimism by the major studios, most of which have said they would provide films in digital form to both the Technicolor and the Christie/AIX ventures.

"Any time people are talking about digital...it's a positive thing," said Chuck Viane, president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Disney's distribution arm. "The industry is poised, literally, on the threshold. All we have to do is bring together the right set of circumstances."

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consumers... that's who
First thoughts: I went to see the latest Star Wars installment in one of the few digital theatres. I can't say I noticed much difference once I got past the ticket box. I attended the film with a friend who has spend his entire career and much of his free time working with video. Although he was eager to try the digital theatre experience (it was his idea) he also stated he couldn't see much difference.
So the benefits, while huge in convenience and cost to the studios/theatres has not thus far translatted into any benefit for the consumers. However there was no hesitation in charging more for this "service". If that's the theatres of the future, I can say I will be spending even less time inside them. Ticket prices are already ridiculous, and if we're going to be expected to pay more for little to no improvement just so the studios and theatre owners can save some money and generate more revenue streams, I can't say I'm interested in the slightest.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
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No difference?
If you cannot tell the difference between regular film and a digital picuture, especially on Episode III, which was filmed all digitaly, then there is something wrong with you.
Posted by PerfectCr (17 comments )
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This big difference is
that after the film has been played 300 times it still looks as good as it did the first time. But a film will have degraded considerably by the same time. That's where the digital advantage will show the most.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
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Quality of digital picture is overstated
A new 35mm print shown through a correctly adjusted and maintained projector will most likely show a higher quality picture than any of today's digital theater projectors. While state of the art digital theater projectors (like those from RealD) are fantastic compared to your television, they are easily bested by current 35mm and 70mm film projectors.
What most moviegoer perceive as a higher quality picture when watching a movie shown by a digital projector is often the picture stability (poorly adjusted film projectors allow the picture to jump around on the screen) and the sharpness (film prints become scratched and worn with each showing, as another poster has stated). Since digital projectors are so rare, usually a company technician has set it up, adding to the initial quality of the picture projected.
The primary motivation for theater owners to install digital equipment will be the savings in the cost of distribution, the ability to easily insert advertizements before and after a feature film, as well as showing televised events on "the big screen".
Posted by Arbalest05 (83 comments )
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