Network: The end of the silver screen?

Digital technology is poised to revolutionise the film industry. Audiences will benefit with scratch free images, sharper soundtracks and the quicker distribution of films. But, after a century of the projector, is the industry ready to change? By Chris Lakeman Fraser

For a century, images have been projected on to the big screen through the medium of film. Within the immediate future, though, the infrastructure could be in place to beam movies by satellite to cinemas around the world for showing on digital projectors.

In the United States, the public has already had the chance to see a limited run of a digitally projected Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace.

Staging the showing were the two big players at the cutting edge of this new field - Cinecomm (a consortium of Hughes-JVC and telecommunications giant Qualcomm) and Texas Instruments.

George Lucas facilitated the operation through his company, THX, which oversaw the creation of the digital film masters and technically aligned each of the four theatres that were showing the film.

Reports vary from ecstatic to cautiously welcoming. Gary Reber, writing in Widescreen Review, said: "What will first impress you are the absolute focus, clarity and resolution of the images being projected, exhibiting all the qualities of image brightness that is all too often lacking in most movie theatre presentations."

Scott Norwood, a film buff who attended the screening said: "Pixels were not visible in most scenes, although extremely bright areas like the desert sand revealed them in some areas.

"The only real deficiency in the DLP [Digital Light Processing] system seems to be that it tends to wash out really bright areas, like windows and skies. Was I impressed? Yes!"

DLP Cinema is an enhanced version of the Digital Light Processing technology which Texas Instruments has been marketing over the last three years. At the heart of the system is the Digital Micromirror Device, an optical semiconductor with more than 1.3 million microscopic mirrors, each of which is capable of switching a pixel of light. The digital image is built up by switching the mirrors on or off more than 5,000 times per second.

The technology is being leased out to companies around the world, including the UK-based Digital Projection, where the system has been incorporated into its projectors. The company made a small piece of movie history in October 1998 when a feature film, The Last Broadcast, was successfully beamed by satellite to five North American cities, and projected on the company's DLP-based projectors. It was the first time that a movie had been digitally created, transmitted and projected from the first scene to the last.

The CineComm consortium is working on producing a complete transmission and projection system, using Qualcomm's expertise to provide the compression, encryption, transmission and computerised theatre management systems while Hughes-JVC supplies the projectors. By an ingenious blend of old and new technologies, Hughes-JVC has produced a projector which generates a digital image for the big screen.

The small cathode-ray tube within the projector produces a high-quality image which is not in itself bright enough for the large screen. But combined with high quality optics, a xenon arc light, and boosted by light amplifier technology (ILA), the complete system produces a bright, high-resolution image with high contrast ratios, rich colours and a broad band width.

What are the likely benefits of this radical change in distribution and transmission of feature films? Audiences will see images with a quality close to, or exceeding, normal 35mm projected film, free of dirt and scratches and with a superior soundtrack. With sophisticated encryption techniques and simultaneous release of feature films all over the world, distributors will benefit from the reduced risk of piracy.

Directors and producers are also likely to appreciate the fact that digital copies of their movies can be made and dispatched much faster than film prints, and will not be subject to rapid deterioration over time. Exhibitors will benefit from cost-efficiency for smaller venues and being able to channel special events through the system.

But how soon is it likely to happen? "All the technology needed to make digital cinema happen exists today," says Steven A Morley, Qualcomm's vice-president of technology. The two major contenders appear to have similar timescales in mind. Doug Darrow at Texas Instruments estimates: "It will be a couple of years before all the elements of digital distribution and projection are in place". Michael Targoff, CEO of CineComm, adds: "We expect to have commercial roll-out by the first quarter of 2001."

However, even with established technology, glitches are constantly emerging. This revolutionary new system will require agreement on worldwide standards for equipment, building reliable backup systems, and the retraining of staff. There is a marked difference between a prestige showing of a major film supervised by a raft of high-powered technicians from THX, and a small cinema in the sticks showing the same film with the aid of a hastily re-trained projectionist.

Moreover, a major cultural shift will have to occur. Exhibitors will need to be convinced that the system works and that the massive financial outlay will pay off in the end. In the United States, exhibitors have had a chance to see the system in action, whereas their European counterparts have not.

"When we do demonstrate it, we will rapidly win over the doubters and convince them that not only can we equal the image quality of film, we can improve on it," according to Dave Monk, manager of Texas Instrument's digital imaging division in Europe.

Possibly. But acceptance may be slower to materialise than manufacturers would like. A more likely scenario is a roll out in the two-year period in a limited number of prestige theatres, then a slow worldwide take-up over an extended period.

On the basis of the success of the digital showings of The Last Broadcast and Star Wars and the long-term benefits of adopting the system, it does seem certain that digital cinema will be coming to a screen near you.

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past