Hollywood Comes Together on Digital Cinema Specs

Major Hollywood movie studios announced this week that they, along with movie theater and technology industry players, have reached agreement on the specification for next-generation, digital film distribution and projection. The news comes amid sliding box office sales and heavy competition from home video, which has greatly improved in terms of quality in recent years.

The studios and theater and technology companies comprising the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) group said the new digital projector and theater equipment standards will allow companies to create uniform and compatible digital cinema equipment throughout the United States. DCI was established jointly in 2002 by Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, Disney, Sony, Warner Bros. and Universal studios to develop a uniform digital cinema standard.

Analysts indicated the agreement on the digital projection specifications may speed what has been a trickle to digital technology in the theater industry, adding that the new standards will save time and money.

Common Ground for Competition

DCI said the new specifications — which include file and compression formats and security measures — will provide a common ground to spur innovation in what has become a less viable cinema theater industry.

“As the market gets more competitive, the price of the equipment and its installation — previously thought to be a major barrier to digital cinema — will become increasingly affordable, to the point where that stumbling block should no longer be of consequence,” said a statement from DCI chief technology officer Walt Ordway.

Hollywood studios including Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. and Paramount, and directors including George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis and others, hailed the specifications as a great leap forward that is long overdue.

DCI also said the digital theater specifications were intended for cinemas outside the United States, with translation of the spec for international markets underway.

Dollars for Digital

Meanwhile, however, although cinema operators and others stand to gain significant savings from the new digital delivery and projection technology, which includes satellite and Internet delivery of films, there is skepticism that the struggling industry can afford to upgrade.

Nevertheless, the studios have indicated they squarely support the new specification and are helping others in the cinema industry to make the transition.

“For the industry to flourish and to provide a smooth transition to an all digital future, it is essential there be one digital distribution and exhibition format,” said a statement from Twentieth Century Fox executives Bruce Snyder and Paul Hanneman. “That format is the DCI specification.”

Standard for Speed

Jupiter Research associate analyst Joni Blecher told TechNewsWorld that while some studios and theaters are already dipping their toes in the digital projection waters, so far the transition has been slow — but that should change with the new standards in place.

“It’s been a trickle [so far],” she said. “The fact that there’s a standard means it’s going to happen faster.”

Blecher added that in addition, the standards mean “faster distribution once a movie is finished.”

“The other benefit, besides quality, is it is not going to suffer film degradation,” she said.

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