EU Commission [Including EDCF Response] Wants To Hear from You re: DCinema

European Cinema in the Digital Era Questionaire, EDCF response attached:

The US currently has the lead in digital cinema. A digital master is already available for 90% of all US new films whereas in France (the EU’s biggest film producer) less than half of new films are available on digital. In addition, the US developed the VPF (Virtual Print Fee) model where third parties collect part of the money saved by film distributors which can then be used to finance digital equipment. In Europe, only 2428 screens have been converted so far for digital projection. Worldwide, some 12.000 screens have been digitally equipped on a total of around 110.000 worldwide. By 2012, it is estimated that nearly 20% of cinemas worldwide will be converted.

Recently, the European Commission issued the document European Commission seeks views on the opportunities and challenges for digital cinema. The paragraph above comes from the text immediately following the invitation for “EU film exhibitors, distributors, national film agencies, and public and private film organisations to share their views.”

One reads a document like this, giving it an extra dose of substance due to the gravitas of the agency. Yet it proofs the rule which asserts that everything one reads, if not written by an expert in the field, and/or not given enough space for nuance, is subject to being very wrong while appearing very right…which is OK, as long as one knows that one has then entered into the propaganda world that some special interest has thrown into the author’s universe.

The US currently has the lead in digital cinema – as a statement is somewhat correct, as long as one qualifies the word ‘lead’ as a dubious honor (as will be shown below.) By quantity and percentage there are perhaps more digital screens  and more digital movies on US soil. The projector though is doubtlessly designed and manufactured in Canada/Japan (Christie) or Japan (Sony or NEC) or Belgium (Barco), since those are the only projectors compliant with the security-centric specifications of the major studios. The servers as well are probably not entirely of US origin; Doremi, with the largest installed base, is as much a French company as a California company. Except for Dolby, which also has a large presence in England, most successful server manufacturers are from outside the US.

The VPF model may have developed in the US, but the first implementation (though not immediately successful) was attempted in Ireland. And frankly, the VPF agreements are a large band-aid on an even larger problem. The companies who have used them thus far are shells of their former selves, with much more debt and diluted stock than dreams of excitement for being in the ‘lead’.

And finally, to the 3rd sentence of the Commission’s paragraph, that 2428 screens have been converted is not a bad thing. The dirty little secret in the mix of the systems that are in the field is that none of them (with the likely exception of the Sony unit which has only been shipping relatively recently) will meet the standards that all equipment must meet after (somewhat nebulas) 2010 deadline. The deadline is a contractual obligation to run to the next level of security mandated by the ISO Standards (as described by the SMPTE standards and as initially described in the previously mentioned studio mandate, the DCI Specifications.) In practical terms, the Texas Instruments engine which powers almost all of the projectors in the field must be upgraded to a Series 2 level. It is unlikely that any Series 1 equipment will be able to be upgraded to those standards. It is not only a security issue as the Series 2 engines allow for other features that the modern facility needs, allowing a better level of subtitles, as well as open and closed captioning for the hearing and visually impaired.

And that is merely the quickly scribbled notes from one paragraph. Nothing earth shattering really. Nothing to say that the early adopters were wrong. Some of them can point to valid statistics that showed that digital screenings out-pulled film-based movies by 5:1. The current flurry of 3D movies were also only shown on digital equipment.

But it would be an easy premise to support that it would have been wrong for every facility to have converted by now, even if it were financially or technically possible. Certainly the science experiments that began appearing in the field in 2002 had all the excitement of a program that would lead one to believe that one was falling behind if they weren’t digital. But since the digital equipment is 2.5-3 times as expensive as the equipment it replaces, that is not necessarily the case. And given that few can point to a computer that works reliably 100% of the time for 100 stressful hours a day, and which is also 5 years old…well, there is a lot to be said for waiting.

So, following the grand question that insiders have asked for every year since George Lucas’ May 2002 digital Star Wars II release, “Is this the year?” and, “How do we get there?”

Respond to the EU Commission’s interest at the link: European Commission seeks views on the opportunities and challenges for digital cinema

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