Movies via Satellite from Harmonic Data Systems

Films as physical commodities have begun to disappear, thanks to companies like Harmonic, Inc. Eventually, most films shown in theaters—and many films viewed in homes—will be delivered not as film reels or video discs but as digital signals beamed from satellites.

Harmonic provided the technology that enabled Boeing to transmit the Miramax film Bounce from a satellite in geosynchronous orbit to the AMC Empire Theatre in New York City on November 14, 2000—the first full-length commercial film to be so delivered. "CyberStream IP-over-Satellite," as the technology is known, was developed by Harmonic Data Systems, a division of Harmonic, Inc.

Two key obstacles that Harmonic engineers had to overcome were data rate limitations and copyright security. According to a Harmonic press release that appeared several days after Bounce was transmitted, the film was compressed in a proprietary digital format using a QuBit digital disc recorder by QuVIS. A Harmonic CyberStream system was used to uplink the movie from the VyVX earth station in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the film was then downlinked to the AMC Empire Theatre in New York City where it was saved (presumably on hard disc) and projected.

"Harmonic played a very important role in the success of the project," said Fred Medina, co-director of Digital Multimedia Systems, at Boeing Satellite Systems. "The CyberStream end-to-end solution provided key elements of the overall delivery platform." Filmmakers expect to save enormous sums on duplication and distribution when direct satellite feeds to theaters become commonplace. "Boeing Satellite Systems has successfully proven the viability of distributing digital movies to theaters," said Tom Dennett, director of Strategic Accounts, Harmonic Data Systems. "It was exciting working with Boeing on this historic event and we feel privileged to be involved in this distribution model."