Article: Cinema - The Next Generation...

As I mentioned before in this blog, I have been severely lacking when it comes to movies and the whole cinema experience over this past 12 months. In fact up until last week my last visit to the cinema was to see Slumdog Millionaire... before it got nominated for the Oscar; may I add... and that experience was less than ideal from a picture quality perspective.

Don't get me wrong the actual overall experience was awesome, the theater (and no I haven't gone mad, the spelling is correct as I saw it in the US) is by far one of the best I have visited in a long time, Cinema Arts in Fairfax, Virginia truly cares about movies... not to mention REAL popcorn with REAL butter, 32oz diet cokes, real coffee, reclining seats and an ambiance that is suited to movie fans rather than the standard multiplex experience. But the print was average, so much so, I found myself making the comment that a Bluray movie at home on a good LCD screen was actually more enjoyable to watch!

So last week I girded my proverbial loins and headed off to my local 'mini-plex' to see The Final Destination in 3D, now, outside of theme park 4D rides my experience of 3D in cinemas has been less than salubrious... Jaws 3D, Friday the 13th Part 3 (in 3D), the list goes on and even thinking about them gives me a headache, so imagine my surprise when RealD turned out to be not only enjoyable and immersive, but also completely painless! But the 3D was not my Eureka moment, what actually got me was the digital projection... quite frankly I was amazed and blown away by finally being able to watch a long run movie in a cinema and not have to suffer the pain of abysmal print care.

So is digital projection the future, for once I'd say yes... now I am someone who can insist on being a Luddite when it comes to digital technology, I was a very late adopter to digital photography, just because I hung on to the fact that traditional film was a much higher resolution, until it dawned on me that digital provided the opportunity to shoot more photos at no extra cost, instant photo review and unless I was blowing up the photo to poster size I was never going to need that pro resolution that traditional film could offer me... so by that rationale I approached the idea of digital cinema projection (DCP) as just another way for the industry to make cinema even more disposable and average, but thankfully I was very, very wrong.

After watching the film (which was a most enjoyable diversion, if not up to the calibre of the first movie) I started to investigate the technology and what precise method my local VUE cinema was using, turns out they were projecting via one of the new Sony SRXR220 projectors, roughly translated that means the theatre can project 4K movies, 4096x2160 (roughly 8.85 MP at 24 frames per second) resolution and produce four times the number of pixels of 2K projection, and almost 16 times the quality of Bluray.

So apart from the quality increase what does this mean for movie fans and the future of cinema, well the benefits are many fold, and don't just appeal to the hardcore fans either...
  • Cheaper distribution - A single film print can cost around US$1200 (or $30,000 for a 1-time print of an 80-minute feature), so making 4,000 prints for a wide-release movie might cost $5 million. In contrast, at the maximum 250 megabit-per-second data rate (as defined by DCI for digital cinema), a typical feature-length movie could fit comfortably on an off the shelf 300 GB hard drive—which sell for as little as $40 (retail price, volume prices are even lower) and can even be returned to the distributor for reuse after a movie's run. With several hundred movies distributed every year, industry savings could potentially reach $1 billion or more. Meaning distributors and theatre owners will be more likely to show movies with a more 'niche' appeal, such as shorts and indies, not to mention the fact we could see more classics coming back (we are seeing this phenomena already with the imminent re-releases of M*A*S*H and An American Werewolf in London).
  • Bespoke Content - An added incentive for exhibitors is the ability to show alternative content such as live special events, sports, pre-show advertising and other digital or video content. Meaning localized or highly targeted film festivals could become the norm, again giving us access to previously unavailable content on the big screen.
So will it save cinema... that is yet to be seen, let's hope so, I think if the eventual savings can be passed on to the consumer, then I think cinema still has a chance. No matter what happens it is nice to see a format fighting back, maybe the reports of the death of cinema were premature after all :)


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