Digital Cinema Continues to Grow

Star Wars—Episode 1: The Phantom Menace might have grabbed all the attention as the first movie to be screened in the US from a digital source rather than a film print (see previous story), but it's not the only one to use the new technology. With virtually no fanfare at all, An Ideal Husband is being shown from a digital source at Laemmle's Sunset 5 theater in Los Angeles through July 15, 1999.

Instead of using a hard-disk array like Phantom Menace, An Ideal Husband uses D5 digital video tape as the source. A Hughes/JVC 12KEC ILA projector with a 7kW cinema-lamp housing achieves a center peak-white light level of 12 foot-lamberts on a 34-foot screen, which is equivalent to the SMPTE standard of 16fL from an open-gate film projector. The video is mildly compressed and projected in the 1080i format. The 6-channel audio is uncompressed AES/EBU, although two channels must be matrixed because the D5 format can record only four discrete channels.

John Banks, a service engineer for Hughes/JVC, is operating the system for its 30-day run. It's so much easier to use than traditional film projectors that he let his 4-year-old son start the movie one day by pressing a single button. After seeing the movie start up on the screen, he turned to his father and asked, "Daddy, am I dreaming?" To which Banks replied, "No, son, this is real!"

The image looks fantastic. The color is exceptionally well-balanced, with a gray-scale color temperature of 5600 kelvins. (The NTSC standard of 6500K is actually a less-accurate compromise to increase the apparent brightness of color CRTs so they could compete with the light output of black-and-white sets in the 1950s.) Detail is also exquisite: You can clearly see each gem in the delicate jewelry worn by the women in this romantic, serio-comic tale (based on an Oscar Wilde play) of personal integrity and intrigue in late-19th-century London.

After the screening, Banks gave us a tour of the projection room. It was quite amazing to see the Hughes/JVC projector and D5 tape machine next to 40-year-old film projectors and huge film platters. The clanking, clattering film mechanism seemed to be gasping its last in the face of technology's inexorable progress toward digital cinema.