Digital Cinema: Coming to a Theater Near You?

Recently, Texas Instruments and Technicolor unveiled what they term "the latest major expansion" of digital cinema technology, at the AMC Empire 25 in New York City, which they say is the world's only theater to feature two all-digital screens. AMC Empire 25 is currently using a digital system for a special showing of the digitally animated feature film Dinosaur.

TI and Technicolor also announced that the worldwide DLP Cinema demonstration program is being expanded (see previous story). The companies say that, in addition to New York City, new installations are being set up in San Diego (AMC Mission Valley) and near Boston (General Cinema Framingham 16). In addition, new DLP Cinema sites are planned for theaters in Germany, Korea, Mexico, and Spain, joining systems already installed throughout the US and in Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, and Japan. Some film-industry predictions see most of the world's 150,000 screens shifting from traditional celluloid to digital film in the next 10 to 15 years.

TI's Doug Darrow says that "during the past nine months, we have installed 18 DLP Cinema prototype projectors around the world, and our plans call for us to effectively double this number in the next three months." Projector manufacturer Barco also sees a bright future for digital projection systems, estimating at least $200 million in additional sales once the film industry shifts to digital projection. Barco's Sjoerd De Clerck states, "as long as the industry moves in that direction, the size of the opportunity makes it an extremely interesting proposition."

In concert with TI, which is providing the projection hardware, Technicolor says it is taking an active role in the evolution of digital cinema and the DLP Cinema demonstration program, from the digital delivery and installation sides. Along with creating the digital distribution medium in the form of DVD-ROMs, the company states its job also includes providing the expertise to deliver, install, upload, and test each digital cinema installation. Additionally, the company says it is allocating significant funding to help offset the costs of the demonstration systems' installation and service.

According to Technicolor's Rob Hummel, "we're gaining invaluable knowledge and insights that will keep Technicolor at the forefront of the emerging digital film-distribution industry." Since the program was introduced, TI estimates that close to half a million moviegoers worldwide have had the opportunity to experience all-digital cinema firsthand.

TI's Brooke Williams adds that "the purpose of these digital cinema demonstrations are threefold. First is to demonstrate the outstanding image quality of which the technology is capable. Second, it allows us to demonstrate the viability and reliability of the technology in real-world installations. And finally, it gives us, together with Technicolor and the distributors and exhibitors with whom we're working, the opportunity to gain valuable experience in what it takes to make digital cinema a commercial reality."