Tag Archives: movies

AMC and Regal Forming New Venture to Acquire and Release Movies

The following LA Times piece goes into some of the details, but many of the implementation details are unknown…probably not completely worked out.

In addition to the many studio/cable cross-ownerships, within the labyrinths of movie making and cinema exhibition, there are already close connections. Major player Paramount is only a theoretical Redstone family member away from the 1,500 screens owned by National Amusements (which also owns MovieTickets.com 50/50 with AMC.) There are also connections within Regal, as the primary stockholder (Philip Anschutz) owns Walden Media, the production group who put together Narnia, Winn-Dixie and Charlotte’s Web.

See the LA Times article at: AMC and Regal forming new venture to acquire and release movies

Also, see FirstShowing.net’s article for some interesting views: AMC & Regal Partnering on New Acquisition/Distribution Company « FirstShowing.net

Excerpts from the Times article:

The nation’s two largest movie theater chains are about to encroach on Hollywood  studios’ turf.

Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Inc. are close to launching a joint venture to acquire and release independent movies, according to people familiar with the situation, a part of the business historically dominated by the Hollywood studios.

The move potentially disrupts the longtime and delicate business relationship between theater operators and studios, in which they have acted as partners and divided a movie’s box office ticket sales. Instead, the venture would essentially thrust theaters into the studio’s role of distributor, turning a partner into a rival as the theaters’ own movies compete for screens against those from the studios.

It also is occurring against a backdrop of increasingly strained relations between theaters and studios as the latter are looking to release movies directly into the home through video-on-demand shortly after they have appeared in theaters. Theater operators fear that will dissuade people from going to the movies.

The still unnamed company has yet to acquire any movies. However, the partners have hired a chief executive: Tom Ortenberg, a former senior executive for the Weinstein Co. and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., who has been working as an independent consultant since 2009.

AMC and Regal hope in part that by acquiring their own movies for distribution they will fill the supply-and-demand gap created by Hollywood’s downshift in movie making. From 2007 to 2010, the number of movie releases in the U.S. dropped 16%, according to Box Office Mojo. At the same time, the theater industry’s trade group estimates that the number of screens in the country has risen 3%, making fewer pictures available for a larger number of screens.

And with attendance flat over the last five years and down 5% in 2010, theater owners have been experimenting with ways to draw more people into their venues, such as showing live sports events and concerts.

Some chains have already taken steps to promote independent movies. AMC currently runs a program called AMC Independent that helps market independent films that play in its theaters. However, the company does not buy distribution rights to the pictures as its joint venture with Regal would.

People familiar with the plan said the joint venture will not compete with the studios by acquiring big-budget event films. Instead, the new company will seek out independently financed movies that may not otherwise make it into theaters, such as low-budget dramas, comedies and horror pictures.

Independent or specialty films have been largely eschewed by the studios in recent years but are experiencing a resurgence thanks to such broad-appeal movies as Oscar contenders “Black Swan” and “The King’s Speech.”

The venture’s movies will have automatic access to theaters owned by AMC and Regal, which together control 31% of the nation’s nearly 40,000 screens, but will also be offered to other cinemas. AMC and Regal also will aim to release movies on DVD, television and the Internet, which would also provide new sources of revenue that theater companies sorely need.

While a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court consent decree barred the major studios from owning movie theaters, the federal government has relaxed the rules over the last two decades. In 1996, MCA Inc., the former owner of Universal Pictures, bought a large stake in theater company Cineplex Odeon. Also, the parent company of Sony Pictures Entertainment previously owned Loews Theaters.

Currently, the Massachusetts theater chain National Amusements Inc., is privately held by Sumner Redstone, the controlling shareholder in Paramount Pictures parent Viacom Inc. And, the largest shareholder of Regal, Philip Anschutz, also owns the movie production company Walden Media.

In addition, independent film financiers such as Mark Cuban own small movie companies and theater chains.

Ortenberg did not respond to a request for comment, nor did a representative for Regal. An AMC spokeswoman declined to comment.

— Ben Fritz and Richard Verrier

Stone: Movies On Computers Depressing

“Watching my children and friends look at a computer screen with a movie — with the lights on, with interruptions, trying to multitask — is very depressing to people like me,” Stone said at a filmmaker panel discussion on the Las Vegas Convention Center floor. “Now, my daughter had [a movie on] a phone the other day. I found it, literally, sad. I feel like we are the last of the Mohicans, in a way.”

Read the entire article, complete with a short video (unfortunately without Mr. Stone’s commennts) at:
Consumer Electronics Show: Three directors ponder film’s future
At the Las Vegas expo, Oliver Stone, Michael Mann and Baz Luhrmann talk Blu-ray, 3-D and other technology, the integrity of classic films, and new ways of watching movies.
By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times        January 10, 2011

Stone made that fading-frontier analogy for the benefit of director Michael Mann, his generational peer who was sitting beside him and who had just shown the crowd an especially vivid sequence from the new Blu-ray edition of his 1992 epic, “The Last of the Mohicans.”


Mann chuckled, but Stone wasn’t smiling. As Hollywood moves further into the era of portability and pixels, the “Sunset Blvd.” words of Norma Desmond spring to mind: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

The panel, which also included “Moulin Rouge!” director Baz Luhrmann, was a bit of an anomaly at the hardware-obsessed event. The discussion, organized by Fox Home Entertainment and moderated by this reporter, was focused on high-definition Blu-ray discs.

While all three of the famous perfectionists expressed enthusiasm for the format — Mann said “Blu-ray does a better job [than DVD] by a factor of about 12 or 13” — they voiced less certainty and even flashes of anxiety when the talk turned to other technology topics.

Luhrmann, 48, said he worries about the integrity of classic films when modern technology adds too much clarity to the images …

And Mann, who spent months preparing “Mohicans” for last year’s Blu-ray version, noted that despite his affection …

Still, Luhrmann said he is “fantastically optimistic” about technology in general and eager to see where 3-D leads to … Mann also said he would like to see what 3-D might bring to a carefully constructed dialogue drama as opposed to …

Although more and more entertainment is moving toward digital delivery, Stone said the Blu-ray format may be able to extend its life if people consider it a collectible.

“This is about film preservation … it’s the last hardware, the best of the last hardware. There won’t be any other hardware now,” he said. “It’s going to be on a digital phone or on a computer or on a TV screen.”

[email protected]

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

First Run Movies|Premium Prices|Home–Celluloid Junkie

On Tuesday, Sony’s CFO, Rob Wiesenthal, said that his company was not only looking to cable and satellite operators to provide early releases for the studio’s titles, but has high hopes for its new streaming video service, Qriocity. The service was established earlier this year to beam content directly into Sony’s consumer electronics products (televisions, video game consoles, Blu-Ray players, etc.).

Speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, Wiesenthal spoke of the “big white space” between theatrical and home video release dates for movies, stating there was “a real consumer desire for a premium offer” for such content. He did not cite any studies or reports to back up the claim that consumers were clamoring for such services.

So begins J. Sperling Reich‘s December 13, 2010 article Titled:

First Run Movies Headed Into The Home At Premium Prices

It is heavily excepted here, but the rest is very compelling.

One will also notice that Prima Cinema has job openings for Senior level software engineers. One is suspicious. 
Senior Software Engineer (Embedded Software) jobs – Dice.com
Senior Software Engineer (Web-services) jobs – Dice.com

Other articles of note about the Prima Cinema misdirection (they later announce that the news was spread too soon and incorrectly), are at:
Prima Cinema: The High End is Not Dead Yet | CEDIA Crosspoint
Prima Cinema – AVS Forum

Frankly, though Universal knows much better than I do (if, indeed they have invested in Prima), it is difficult enough to ensure piracy prevention in a ‘known friends’ circuit. I can’t imagine that this will get off the ground, at least in the way they presume currently.

In fact, it often seems that the only people making such statements publicly are the studios themselves, rather than moviegoers. This is probably because a number of studios are exploring premium video on demand models that will enable them to release movies for home viewing during their theatrical window but with significantly hire prices; around $30 per viewing.


Then on Wednesday the Wall Street Journal ran a story that got a lot of play around the Internet, if only for shock value. At the center of the piece was Prima Cinema Inc., a new company that is actively working on bringing first-run movies into living rooms through high-end home theatres. There’s just one tiny little catch; customers will have to shell out USD $20,000 for digital-delivery equipment and will be charged USD $500 per film.

It’s easy to think that a company with such pie in the sky ideas won’t get very far, but Prima has already raised USD $5 million in venture capital from the likes of Best Buy and Universal Pictures. With such a high price tag Prima’s market would seem relatively small, however the company has a target of 250,000 homes and hopes to be serving up movies by the end of next year.

In-Three Finds Digital Domain

Perhaps larger than the movies that In-Three has been a part of (Alice but importantly, not Clash), was the major news of a year ago that In-Three was working with the Indian firm Reliance Media to form a partnership to establish a 1.000 person group in Mumbai: Reliance of India in 3-D Movie Partnership With In-Three Inc. of U.S. – WSJ.com

The formula press release explains the details known thus far:

Digital Domain Holdings Acquires In-Three

–Florida based media group expands digital services and technology portfolio–

Port St. Lucie, Fla. — November 18, 2010 — Digital Domain Holdings, parent company of Academy Award®-winning digital studio Digital Domain, announced today that it has reached an agreement to acquire 3D stereo studio In-Three, Inc., developer of the Dimensionalization® process that converts 2D films into high quality, 3D stereo imagery.

Digital Domain Holdings CEO John Textor said, “In-Three has been a pioneer in the research and development of stereoscopic technology. This partnership adds large scale production to In-Three’s world class technology, while creating new jobs in the state of Florida.”

Digital Domain studios in California and Vancouver recently completed production on Walt Disney Studios’ TRON: Legacy, which was generated and produced in stereoscopic 3D. In-Three completed 3D stereo work on Tim Burton’s visionary blockbuster Alice in Wonderland, which grossed over $1 billion at the worldwide box office.

“For over 10 years we have been intensely focused on bringing rich and immersive 3D images to the screen,” said Neil Feldman, In-Three CEO. “We are excited to work with Digital Domain to deliver quality 3D stereo entertainment experiences for today’s audiences.”

“3D stereo movies exploded on the market this year,” added Digital Domain CEO Cliff Plumer. “Alice in Wonderland was a visually amazing 3D immersive experience, and TRON: Legacy will end the year with another dazzling 3D entertainment event. I have known Neil and the talented artists and technologists at In-Three for a long time. We will collaborate to provide the highest quality 3D stereo solutions to filmmakers.”

The In-Three team will be based out of Digital Domain Holdings’ headquarters in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

About Digital Domain Holdings

Digital Domain Holdings is the parent company of California-based Digital Domain, the Academy Award®-winning digital production studio. In 2009 Digital Domain Holdings began developing a large- scale digital production studio in the city of Port St. Lucie, Florida. Due to the growth and success of Digital Domain in California and Vancouver, Digital Domain Holdings has accelerated its hiring plans in Florida to provide additional capacity for both traditional and stereoscopic 3D visual effects. The company has also recently announced plans to build the Digital Domain Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida, a four-year program in advanced digital media supported by the College of Motion Picture Arts at Florida State University.

Founded in 1993 by film industry icons, Digital Domain is an Academy Award®-winning digital production studio focused on visual effects for feature film and advertising production. Among its 80+ film credits are three features that were awarded the Oscar for visual effects, including Titanic, What Dreams May Come and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. A creative giant in advertising, Digital Domain has earned scores of Clio, AICP and Cannes Lion awards for some of the world’s most memorable spots. The studio works with top directors and has become renowned for its technical innovation, claiming four Scientific &Technical Achievement Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Digital Domain is charging forward with its pioneering work in photo-real digital characters as well as projects that cross traditional media boundaries. The company is based in Venice, California and recently opened a studio in Vancouver, British Columbia. www.digitaldomain.com

About In-Three, Inc.

Organized in 1999 to pioneer research and development in stereoscopic reconstruction of two dimensional images, In-Three, Inc. developed and patented a process called Dimensionalization® that makes it practical to convert 2D films into high quality, artifact-free 3D films.

In-Three is unique in offering a director the ability to select the dramatic impact appropriate to each scene. It does this by providing a range of style and degree choices. This capacity to incorporate artistic intent in 2D to 3D reconstruction is an inherent and distinguishing feature of Dimensionalization.

In addition to developing and continuing to refine Dimensionalization, In-Three has created the staff and systems that make “Dimensionalization by In-Three” an appropriate choice for directors and studios.


Stan Szymanski Digital Domain Holdings | 772.345.8000

RealD and Polaroid — Possible Promise PR

All stereoscopic technology, popularly (though not properly) called 3D, depends upon each eye receiving a slightly different picture, just as the spacing of the eyes gives each eye a slightly different picture in nature. 3D animation and camera systems try to duplicate this natural system, as do post-production systems. During exhibition, the projector then sends 6 images every 1/24th of a second, 3 identical left alternating with 3 identical right. Most systems block one eye while the other eye is receiving its picture. Then combined with other 3D clues that we use[1], the brain ‘fuses’ these nearly identical ‘parallax’ images together to give us a hopefully more realistic motion picture.

RealD and MasterImage systems use a “circular” polarizing technique to give each eye a different picture. After the projector sends the light of each picture, the light is given a “spin”. One lens blocks light coming at the eye with a clockwise spin, while the other lens lets that clockwise light come through. The next picture is given a counter-clockwise spin, and the corresponding lenses block or allow light. To maintain that polarized spin, the screen must be coated with a special paint, which screen manufacturers sell as Silver Screens.

Dolby uses a different technique, giving each eye different frequencies of light, which alternate before the projector lens. XpanD uses a 3rd technique, making its glasses lenses actively turns on and off in sync with the left and right image being transmitted from the projector. [This is the technology that most types of consumer TVs are using, for several reasons.]

In nature, light comes at us from all directions, bouncing off of many objects with different properties, one of the properties being the absorption and reflection of different frequencies giving us different colors. Another property is that the particles of light, the photons, come at us with different spins. Dr. Land, the inventor of the Polaroid process discovered that “glare” comes at us with a particular aligned spin, which could be blocked with a particularly aligned filter. The alignment in most cases is linear, that is, in a horizontal line, so this technique uses a linear filter. [The other techniques for creating home 3D images is using a linear filter over the TV screen, with linear lenses in the glasses. This is harder for manufacturers to do perfectly and there are other technical compromises with this type. So even though the glasses are cheaper, it doesn’t seem to be the trend in home 3DTV.]

Polaroid has just announced that they are licensed to carry the RealD brand name, and endorsement, on a line of 3D glasses. Polaroid isn’t the company that they used to be, but they are a force in the market. Polaroid shipped 7.5 million pairs of glasses last year, according to the website of their Swiss parent company Stylemark (of a total 50.5 million of Stylemark’s other brands.) They were developed in Scotland, and shipped predominantly throughout Europe, east through Russia and south through Asia, India and Australia. One guesses that none of them were circularly polarized. 

One also guesses that they have a lot of style, something that has been missing in theater 3D glasses. There are a couple of reasons for this. For glasses from Dolby and XpanD, which are reusable many hundreds of times, they must stand up to the abuse of wearing, collection, washing and distribution. But the real style-breaker, the thing that all the complainers whine about, is that the ear pieces are bulky, not elegant little stems. Here is a full sized picture of the Polaroid 3D glasses, while we discuss the temple arms, the stems that go from the lenses to the back of the ears. 

Polaroid 3D Glasses, Large Photo

One of the problems of tricking the brain, making it believe that there is a 3D image being presented on a 2D surface, is when one eye is given a lot of information that is different from what the other eye is getting. This doesn’t typically happen in nature. But it does typically happen in a cinema theater because they can get extra information from EXIT signs, reflections from the neighbor’s 3D glasses or popcorn bucket, and especially from reflections from the rear of our own glasses. The reasons that people get headaches from 3D movies is not fully examined, and may be from multiple and varied sources, but one reason seems to be this problem of non-symmetrical images. Blocking much of this extra light is possible with substantive temple arms, regardless of how they look. (No one talks about your ears for example…as far as you know…)

Also, if the glasses fit better, then the reflection from the rear (including re-reflected light that comes from the skin below the eyes) would be less of a problem. But “free glasses” have to be substantial enough to be mis-handled and “one size fits all”, even though people’s faces are different shapes and  sizes, and more importantly, so is the distance between people’s eyes (actually, people’s pupils, but I didn’t want to sound silly or get technical – the Inter-pupillary distance, the PD, is important for another 3D conversation.) One of the cool things about the Dolby glasses is that they are made from spherical glass, so that the distance from the lens to the pupil is the same, making it easier for the eye and eliminating edge distortion which is inherent with shaped lenses. But since the distance between people’s eyes can range from the low 4+ centimeters to the low 8+ centimeters, this is a problem that needs to be addressed, which the Polaroid press release says they have: 

And prescription lens wearers are not forgotten, with a range of premium 3D cover styles that fit comfortably over any optical frame. There is even a junior style for the younger audience to enjoy. 

But emphasizing the style issue is just plain wrong. They should be educating the public on why they need to block top and side light, which is not a ‘style-compatible’ issue. The ear stems must be bulky enough to block light entering from all directions.

Another benefit that Polaroid will hopefully bring is some consistency. One engineer reported that he recently measured 10 pair of 3D glasses, and none of the 20 lenses were close to being the same in terms of passing light and color. 

What the press release doesn’t say is when and how much. 

References: Schubin’sCafe has an article which explains many details of pupillary distance. He also describes several important 3D concepts, both in terms of cinema, and in terms of how it is not so simple to transfer digital “prints” and technology to 3DTV: The Other Three Dimensions of 3DTV

[1]Matt Cowen from RealD has made several presentations describing the several 3D clues that we have all used while watching 2D movies without stereoscopy, to understand where in space an article or person is relatively located.
3D; How It Works 

Glasses also are relevant to darkness in the room, so these two articles might come in handy:
Scotopic Issues with 3D, and Silver Screens
23 degrees…half the light. 3D What?


adjustable frames for US Army 3D lensesShades with leather side pieces for blocking sun.

23 degrees…half the light. 3D What?

Sillver Screen Light Failure Point3D Luminance Issues—Photopic, barely. Mesopic, often. Scotopic? Who knows…? 

We don’t mean to be picking on the good people at Stewart Film Screens by making an example of their Silver Screen light rolloff curve. They just happen to grace us with the most usable graphic description of what is happening to our light. Looking at Harkness Screens Data Sheet for Spectral 240 3D Screens is not better and may be worse. 

We know the problems of getting light to the eyes for any of the available 3D systems. The initial filter eats up to 50% of the light from the projector, plus the manner of each eye getting turned off 50% of the time, and the darkness of the glasses all steal a lot of light. If the projectors could produce enough light to overcome all these transmission problems…which they generally can’t…it would just mean more burnt expensive bulbs and higher electricity costs. 

But even if the exhibitor cranks it as best as possible, and tweaks the room to get the best RGB balance at the best seats of the house, if the auditorium is using a ‘silver’ screen to maintain the polarity of the RealD or MasterImage system, the patron who is 23 degrees off the center-axis will have half the light available. Put another way, as you can see from the full picture at the Stewart site, 3 seats away from center is a totally different picture…as is the 4th and 5th, etc., as the situation just gets worse. 

If the cinema had achieved 5 foot Lamberts (17 candela/m2) behind the glasses (most don’t get 3ftL – 10c/m2), then 3 seats off center will be 2.5ftL (8.5c/m2). At this point, bright reds have all turned to brick red or darker, and blues are becoming relatively dominant – it isn’t that there are fewer yellows or greens in the picture – it is that the eye becomes better able to discern the blue in the mix. (Another way to describe what is known as the Purkinje shift is that an object that appears greenish-yellow in brighter light will appear to be greenish blue as the intensity of the light descends lower than below 10 candelas/m2.) Combine that with stray light from a few EXIT signs, which not only mess with the contrast but puts non-symetrical data into the normally “practically-” symmetrical 3D mix, plus some reflections in the back of the eyeglasses and the patrons should not wonder why they don’t universally have an enjoyable experience. 

We won’t beat this into a pulp since most real-life scenarios just get worse.

What will make it better?

Consumer education to begin, which is the real excuse for this article. Patrons must know what to insist upon. 

Projectors can’t generate enough light to get 3D up to the 14ftL (48 candelas/m2) that 2D movies are shown at. But the new Series II projectors can do ‘more’ and industry tests show that ‘more’ is better, especially if the original was ‘mastered’ to be shown at ‘more’. James Cameron was prepared to ship theaters a ‘print’ of Avatar that was mastered at hotter levels for cinemas who asked for it…up to 10 ftL! Patrons must insist that if they are paying more for the experience, they should get better…perhaps 10ftL is not going to be the standard this year, but 7 or 8? Grass roots effort anyone? The studios set the intention in the DCI spec at 14, so one would think that they will come to the plate with ‘more’ if asked. [DCI Specification 1.2; page 48…and tell them that you want an order of Uniformity and some of that ±4 Delta E while they’re at it.] 

The future also holds at least two potential ways that will give a better picture. Brian Claypool at Christie points out that one of the features of the Series II projector is “more native support for faster frame rates.” For example, many people in the creative community believe that higher frame rates will do more for image quality than having more pixel resolution. Again, Brian Claypool, “Do you remember how rich every frame was in Avatar, that your eye just kept wanting to look around? Well, imagine having 2 times as many frames for your eyes to follow… it will feel like looking out a window on another reality”.


The other, also long-term, change is replacing bulbs with lasers in the projectors. Good news on that front was announced by one player, Laser Light Engines. We deconstructed their newest announcement and some of their potential at: Laser Light Engines gets IMAX funding—Putting Light on the Subject

Some mark this as digital cinema’s 11th year, but it wasn’t until 6 years ago that 2K was delivered, an example of the evolution of this industry. 

Links: Luminance Conversion Table

Scotopic Issues with 3D, and Silver Screens

Knoting Laser Light

The State of Digital Cinema – April 2010 | Part One

Two years ago, the evolution and rush to all things digital in the cinema world reached a classic chasm point, especially for digital cinema presentation to the theater screen. (See bottom question/answer.) It seemed that the technology was worked out, it seemed that the politics were worked out, it seemed that the financing models were worked out…and yet, the number of installations and new sales sat flat…or worse.

Huge companies like Texas Instruments (TI) and Sony had spent millions getting the technology ready for a secure and marketable implementation. Their OEM partners where ready to throw the handle to ‘Plaid’ to fill the needs of 125,000 screens in a world that needs to go from film-based to digital server based systems. The changeover requires a 60-80 thousand euro projector and 20,000 euro server to replace a 30,000€ film chain, a mature technology that typically lasted multiple decades with minor maintenance. But to the rescue, the studios offered plans that would pay back the initial investment by a mechanism known as a Virtual Print Fee (VPF). These were developed to compensate certain cinemas, over time, for playing inexpensive digital copies (distributed via hard disk and eventually satellite and fiber) instead of expensive film prints (distributed by trucks and airplanes.)

So, with all the ducks so apparently in a row, why weren’t the 7,000 ‘innovators’ and early adopters of 2007 joined by 10’s of thousands more screens by early 2010, when the number was merely double that (even after the initial 3D explosion)?

The reality was that the technical, political and financial realities weren’t really ready. Notwithstanding the world financial collapse that hindered access to the billions needed for the transition, there were nuances that made financing not so simple. In addition, the standards were still in transition, both on paper and in the labs and factories.

Financially, the major Hollywood studios are prepared to finance the transition up to the amount that they save in print costs and distribution. The nuance is that they only send out prints to the first-run cinemas, leaving the 2nd and 3rd level cinemas with no funding. (The background nuance is that once the digital transition is complete, the studios save billions per year forever, but are only helping to fund the initial roll-out. The exhibitors save a few low cost employees, and benefit from better quality and the ability to present features other than movies.)

World-wide, the Hollywood studios that developed the VPF mechanisms also didn’t find it fair that they should have to finance cinemas which made income from movies other than Hollywood movies. Nor did they want to overpay for equipment if a cinema made money from operas, concerts, sports or other alternative content that digital projection allows. This caused many national groups, in particular those in the UK, France, Italy and Germany to search for ways to fund the smallest to mid-sized facilities so that they would have digital equipment when enough critical mass was reached for film prints to become ancient history.

The UK funded several hundred screens with lottery money in one partially successful experiment, but it exposed a few holes in the plans. Simply stated, a movie’s life starts in one screen for a week or two, then moves to a smaller screen while the next movie in line attempts to take the larger audience in the larger room. But if there is only one set of digital gear, and that in the larger room, then the cinema still needs a film print to complete the movie’s run. One of the points of a Hollywood VPF is an agreement to get 50% of screens digital in one year and 100% in three years (with at least one capable of 3D.)

When the slow wheels of national finance plans got past the proposal stage, the largest cinemas in France and Germany complained that the ‘tax’ they paid per ticket was funding their competitors. Both plans were recently (in the last few months) thrown out as unfair by the country’s legal systems. (Norway figured it out on their own and are on their way to digitizing the entire country’s cinemas.

Meanwhile, the standards committees within the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) completed the last of the standards documents in 2009, submitting them to the ISO in the process. What should have been to no one’s surprise, some of the equipment, in particular the installed projectors that utilize the Texas Instruments chipset (the vast majority), didn’t meet those standards. In fact, the first projectors (dubbed ‘Series II’) to meet those standards were released in March 2010, at the industry’s ShoWest convention. Unlike the WiFi industry’s ability to ship equipment for over a year before the standards validated their presumed compliance, there are several pieces of older digital projection gear that will need expensive updating, with some equipment updatable and technically passing compliance requirements, but not able to include some important ‘modern’ features.

In addition to finally getting compliant projectors, those who waited for the new Series II equipment will also be getting equipment that is able to run with lower power consuming bulbs, and of course, give more light to the all important 3D image.

The invasion of 3D movies has been a boon to cinemas. The studios have all embraced it by announcing an ever increasing 3D release schedule, first with animated releases, but now (famously with the Avatar release) with CGI enhanced live action. The exhibitors not only are able to attract larger audiences with this nascent technology, but they are able to charge more per ticket in the process. This helped give the industry its first 10 billion dollar year in 2009, and keep actual ticket sales on an upward trend. In the alternative content area, live opera is still the most prevalent and successful, but live pop concerts have been successful, and more are slated. Sporting events have been experimented with, some in 3D, and will probably become more successful in the near future.

Coincidently, a few major installation groups have gotten financing in the last few months – It appears that the three largest US chains have the financing to cover 10 or 12 or 14,000 of their 17,000 screens. The disparity between PR and reality is not a trifle, but public information is hard to come by. The announcement that they were working with JPMorgan for money in 2007 mentioned numbers that were twice (Celluloid Junkie-More Rumblings About DCIP’s Financing) what they announced recently. And, the recent announcements don’t mention how they will finance 3D equipment, which costs up to $30,000 per screen…and is not covered by VPF agreements.

Notwithstanding those hidden nuances, it finally is movement across the chasm from innovators to more conservative early adopters. In addition, several integrators in Europe, India, China, Japan and Korea have recently announced hundred and multi-hundred piece installation deals in their areas. See: DCinemaToday for up to the minute market news for the exhibition side of digital cinema.

With the release of the Series II equipment, other features that were built into the standards are driving manufacturers to build matching equipment. Most welcome is equipment for the deaf/hard of hearing and visually impaired communities (HI/VI). There was a special exhibition at ShoWest of these company’s works-in-progress; devices that use special glasses that create closed captions which float the text over the screen (so that one doesn’t have to constantly look up and down to see both), and another system that will use WiFi to put captions on one’s iPhone (among other devices), as well as new ways to put dialog-enhanced audio into earphones.

The best news for the HI/VI field is that the SMPTE and ISO standards are are in place, have been recently ‘plug-fest’ tested for interoperability, and contrary to the previous film-centric systems, the new standards are based upon open, not proprietary (read: patented, licensable, expensive, frustrating) technology. (For a brief discussion on HI/VI captioning and the `enthusiasm’ of differing viewpoints, see: Smashing Down The Door – Digital Cinema and Captions For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing)

The arguments still persist around the excellent qualities of film, much like the arguments in the audio world about the qualities of tape recording and vinyl. While some of the arguments are interesting and some of those even true (the ability/inability to wash a screen with the indescribable transitions of Lawrence of Arabia‘s desert sunset comes to mind), the arguments against film are too many. Film is an ecological nightmare, the prints are expensive to ship around, re-gather and store, and whatever qualities that they exhibit at first runs are grossly diminished after a week of getting banged around within the film projection process. And unlike the audio business, where specialty houses can still afford to make tape for those who want to record on it, as fewer companies use film for shooting and exhibition, the cost of material and processing will become too expensive for the budgets of even the Spielberg’s of the art.

Fortunately, the evolution of quality in digital production and post-production equipment has substantially gone beyond the requirements of ‘film’ makers. As with all recent digital technology, quality points are also being hit at the low end, so that artists can make motion pictures which can fill the big screen for less money and take advantage of the substantial distribution benefits of the digital infrastructure. At the high end, artists can do more, perhaps more quickly and certainly with more flexibility and features. For the consumer, this means that quality is possible from a wider range of storytellers and the possibility to see material from other regions around the world becomes more easily accomplished.  

Part II of this series goes into more detail on specifications, some current realities of 3D technology, what “substantially gone beyond the requirements” really means, and a brief excursion on how it relates to the home market.

MKPE’s Digital Cinema Technology FAQ

This Series now includes:
The State of Digital Cinema – April 2010 – Part 0
The State of Digital Cinema – April 2010 – Part I
The State of Digital Cinema – April 2010 – Part II
Ebert FUDs 3D and Digital Cinema