This article intends to look at the future of cinema in now that we have arrived into a digital age. What intends to look mainly at the arguments for and against digitial projection and will look at the future developments of cinema and provide another view on what is likely to happen. For the most part this is likely to be an ongoing work which is added to over time. As many of the resources used in writing this article will be placed in the bibliography at the end.
If I could predict accurately what was going to happen to cinema in the futre, I would be a very rich person, but these are some of my ideas and thoughts based on the literature which is currently available.
Let’s start at the beginning though. At the moment there are lots of acorynms and words flying around which really need explaining. Two words which appear a lot are E-cinema and D-cinema, but what do these words mean? Are they the same?
The short of answer is no. E-cinema has come to refer to the whole process of the delivery of all audio video through the use of electronic processes and also includes the delivery of movies via the internet to users homes, while D-Cinema refers only to the process of digitially projecting an image or the replacement of film with a digital image at the exhibition stage.
The Current Situation
The debate on D-cinema and E-Cinmea is huge and on going. In the last few years things have really started to move along. It is fast becoming a question of when cinemas will have digital projectors (DLP) in them, rather than if. The truth is inevitable. An ever increasing number of films are being produced to show on this equipment, along with the increasing quality of the picture that they produce. Recently I saw a demonstration of DLP in Birmingham, and while the picture isn’t perfect yet, it is not far off that of film. Currently there are three cinemas where digital projectors have been installed as part of the setup in Britain. The first entirely digitial film was Toy Story 2 which was released in 2000. Since then there have been approximately 30 other digital films made available. To see a list of the films follow this link
Also included in this article is the technical workings of DLP as there are plenty of sites available which provicde that information. This essay will look instead at the more social future which is going to happen.
How DLPs Work
This is where everything could go horribly wrong! I will attempt to explain how a DLP is different from a 35mm system and how the DLP works. If it doesn’t make sense, the you are probably better off reading about it from another souce!! Ok here goes. Firstly the differences. The main differences between DLP and 35mm are:
- DLP requires no film at all. There is the potential for no phyisical media at all.
- There are no moving parts on DLPs.
The Pros and Cons (discussion)
Like everything there are both advantages and disadvantages to it. Below I have detailed what I believe to be the main advantages & disadvantages for DLP.
There are a number of advantages in cinema’s having DLP systems:
It will allow cheaper distribution for the film studios as the films can be distributed using electronic means, rather than having to use vans. The time it takes for a film to get a from a studio to the cinemas all around the world is considerably reduced. This of course depends on the method used to distribute the films. As at the moment there are three different ways being considered, although it is quite possible that all three will be used. Firstly the film could be sent out on a DVD rom type of media. This would then be put into the central computer at the cinema where it would be uncompressed and decrypted. The second method would be to send the film along a cable system of some sort, be it dedicated line, internet, telephone, fibre optic or some other. The final possible method is to use a satellite uplink. Each of the these methods have their own problems and costs related to them.
More cinemas can show the same film at the same time, allowing the film companies to make more money on the now critical opening weekend. Which ever method of distribution is used, the cost would be considerable reduced to producing prints and copies of the films. This means that more cinemas could have the option to show the film in its first weekend. This would also, it is hoped, cut down on the amount of piracy which goes on.
Programmes can quickly and easily be swooped around screens, allowing a greater amount of flexiability in the cinema. More a weak film from a large screen to a smaller screen and a strong film to a bigger screen would simply be a couple of presses of a button. This allows for my control and flexiblilty in the cinema when it comes to programing. Cinemas would be able to respond to the demand for a film. It would be possible to drop a film mid week or keep a film longer if it was necessary. This would also allow more cinemas to show the same films.
The cinema venue has a greater number of opertions available to it, allowing the possiblity of conferences or other entertainment events. This will help an industry with low income. One of the biggest advantages being seen by many are the other potential revenue sources which would be possible with the large screen venues. Football matches and other sporting events, or maybe computer games could all make use of the technology. Infact there is a possibility that there is going to be a computer game challenge taking place between to cinemas in Britain later this year. In many ways cinemas are looking to go back to the way they were when they first started – entertainment centres, where people go to see more than just one film. In the ‘old days’ there would be several features, a live intermission and band.
More localised cinemas can be created, surviving communiies which do not have a large enough population to justify building a multiplex. Altermatily the equipment required will be much more mobile than it is currently. It is well known that building and running a cinema is a costly business. Digital technology offers the potential for more mobile and localised cinemas to be created again. Bringing both the quality and experience of the modern multiplexes to the community.
The quality of the picture will always be the same quality and will not degrade, and there will no longer be any splice marks. This is the one advantage which is seen to be the real selling point of digitial cinema above everything else. It won’t matter whether the film has been shown 1, 100 or 10000 times the quality of the film will remain constant. D-cinema films won’t suffer the same degrigation which occurs with 35mm film as it does now. The film can be seen everytime, first time of 1000th time in the same way. The quality of the picture and sound is ideantical no matter how many times the film is shown as there is no picture degregation.
Local advertising campaigns can be created and be fair more flexible than they are currently. At the moment in order to be cost efficiant it is necessary to produce a large number of adverts to show in a cinema. This of course means that there are times when the adverts are not relievant to a certain area. With digital technology it would be possible to send specific adverts for a specific film with little cost implacations. Advertisers would prefer this of course because they would be able to target a much more specific target audience, currently only seen in journals.
It is easy to produce DVDs and videos from the master material as there would be no need to telecine the film.
A greater diversity of films can be released commercially because the distribution costs will be reduced. For instance films made by small independent producers will find a market for their films to be shown.
The process of making and breaking down a programme each week will muchy easier. With a few taps of on a computer interface it would be able to programme each of the screens for the forthcoming week, changing ads, trailers and film. In fact it could be possible for the ads and trailers to be automatically created to take over the previous set without any human intervention at all.
Of course thre are disadvantages to this system as well, and some of these are listed below:
At the moment the lenses and chips for DLP cannot be made quickly enough to be able to keep surply. Therefore, keeping the cost of the system out of reach of many.
Currently it is only possible to hire the DLP systems, much like the days when cinemas first started.
With over 100 years of films it will far to costly to transfer them all to DLP format in one go, it will take many years to happen, if ever. This means that it will be necessary to have traditional projectors in operation.
Traditional projectors can usually be fixed on site by the projectionist, something which is not possible with DLP
The cost of the DLP is currently not very competative. DLP costs three or four times that of ordinary projectors and last for only three to four years. Although if there was higher demand then it is quite possible that the costs will drop.
What about backwards compatability and the archival factors? Although film suffers from the vinegar symdrome, film is known to last for a number of years and it is possible to play material which is over 100 years old on todays projectors.
There is currently no standard for DLP around the world. Everyone is working to their own specifications. While this is beginning to be addressed by the industry it is going to be a number of years before a standard is agreed. Traditional cinema allows film to be played all over the world without any worries about compatability. It doesn’t matter if you are in a first world or a developing country.
A huge amount of the film industry will suddenly become redundate.
The cost replacing projectors which are in perfectly good condition.
It is not practical for all previous films to be converted to a new format so there will still need to be a number of orginary projectors left in existance
When video was first invetned in the 70s it promised to be the end of film and this was going to revolutionise the industry. As it happened video technology only revoolutionised the television industry. Admitterly in the production process it is easier to use video formats, many still add a film like feel to the work.
Some viewers have been heard to say that dlp films are ‘too perfect’ a picture! The quality is so clean and crisp that it starts looking unreal.
DLP will still need to be setup correctly so that the image in one cinema looks the same as the image being projected in a cinema several hundred miles away, or just down the road. Just as correctenly there are variations in the quality of sound from cinema to another despite many of them being fitted with the same equipment, it is likely the same will be true of the dlp.
Without any doubt I believe that most cinemas will eventually have digital projectors inorder to show the new release films. However, the cost of converting all the cinemas over means that there is likely to be a number which retrain the 35mm film projectors. Linked to this is the 100 or more years worth of films which have already been produced. It is never going to be an economical or practical process to convert them over to the digital format. To this end I think it is likely that many art house and specialist cinemas will remain as they are at the moment. It may even be that, in the initial stage, dlp and 35mm projectors will sit side by side so that some films will be avable and run in digital and others will run the 35mm films. In an online poll most people predict that it will between 5 and 10 years before DLP is the norm in cinemas.
It will be very sad to see the beautiful projectors leaving the cinema, but it is an inavitable thing which is going to happen. It might happen that the two systems work side by side, but it is likely that newer cinemas will have the new equipment. Older and art house cinemas, along with most student cinemas will are likely to remain with mechanical projectors.
Linked to all of this is the possibility that much of what happens in the cinemas now could be operated automatically. For instance, a large number of cinemas now offer on-line booking and ticket collection, both of which only require computer systems, rather than any human intervention. If DLP does take off, as was said earlier it would be possible to automatically create the programmes for each screen. In fact it could be quite possible to set up a system which used the tickets sales to work out which films to show on which screens, which to move to smaller screens and which to drop automatically. Add into this the automatiion of confectionary into machines, and other than the need to clean the screens of popcorn after each performance and for safety reasons, it is quite possible to reduce the numbers of staff required to run an operation.
Personally I would not like this to happen, and I think it would be a very sad day, if it ever did, but I am just saying that it is perfectly possible for it to happen. The technology is nearly (and in some cases is) for it to happen.
Things are beginning to hot up though. There are a number of trials going on all over the world. With more films starting to come out in digital format it is providing a change to develop. So watch this space.
Michael KARAGOSIAN has been quotated as saying “…we are replacing a 100-year-old technology that has proven itself to inspire vast creativity, and one that interoperates around the world effortlessly. This is not something any of us should rush into without a lot of thought.” (Image Technology Jan/Feb 2002, p15)
References & Bibliography/Resources
This has only been a quick overview on the subject, and I could not hope to be able to cover the whole subject in enough detail here. However there is a huge amount of information available on the subject from a vast number of resources, both printed and electronic. Below I have included a number of links to some of this vast amount of information which available on the internet and other places in relation to this subject, some of which have been used in the writing of this essay. I have also included details for a number of printed sources.
Digital Projection is one of the main websites on this topic http://www.digitalprojection.com
MKPE Consulting (http://www.mkpe.com) provide a long and comprehensive list of Digital Cinema related links, which can be found by following this link (http://www.mkpe.com/cinema/cinemalinks.htm) along with a number of articles on digital cinema.
Various issues of the BKSTS journals Image technology and Cinema Technology have carried a number of articles relating to E-Cinema and D-Cinema.
Texas Instruments run an in depth site dedicated to the DLP technology and issues found at http://www.dlp.com
George Lucas believed there would be over 2000 screens showing his latest Star Wars film in digital form when it was released in 2002. As it happens there are little over 20 across the whole world. The following link provides information on Star Wars Episode II Digital Projection Theater Listing
There is an interesting 28 page report on Digital Cinema on the SabuCat website.
Preparing for Digital Cinema is an article looking at the current projectionists role in a digital cinema age.
CILECT D-Cinema Workshop – details of a two day workshop, and background readying, which took part at the NFT3 on Digitial Cinema.
ZKM Media – ZKM Center for Art and Media dedicated an interesting exhibition to the Future of Cinema argument. The catalogue is available under the MIT Press homepage.
In fact doing a search on a search engine such as Google for “digital projection or DLP” will bring up a larger number of useful sites on the subject.
If you have a link, comment, or views on the subject then please let me know and I will add them to this part of the website. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.