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.
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Some other equipment vendors say equipment released today still risks being outdated, however.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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