Home >> November 2007 Edition >> The Bits & Bytes Of Digital Cinema Theater
The Bits & Bytes Of Digital Cinema Theater
by Hartley Lesser

For digital cinema projection, there are currently two projector technologies that actually conform to the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) Standard. In April of this year DCI released their updated version of the digital cinema specification, which is based on many SMPTE and ISO standards. This is known as D-Cinema and its guidelines have been created to withstand the test of time, ensuring a technology with the already historic staying power of 35mm film. Other digital cinema formulations are known as E-Cinema. Those technologies can be comprised of almost any element, with some close to D-Cinema in quality.

Companies who formed the joint venture known as Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC, in March of 2002 included Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros. Studios. DCI worked with the American Society of Cinematographers to create material for evaluation as well as 2K and 4K playback tests as well as compression technologies.

E-Cinema, or the DCI Standard, requires:

  • ISO/IEC 1544-1 “JPEG2000: (.jp2) encoding
  • CIE XYZ color space with 2.6 gamma encoding applied when the film is being projected, with 12 bits per component
  • “Broadcast Wave “ (.wav) audio format, 24 bits and 48 kHz or
  • 96 kHz sampling, under control of a XML-formatted Composition Playlist via an MXF-compliant file with a maximum data rate of 250 Mbits
Dr. Larry Hornbeck at Texas Instruments developed the 20-year old technology called Digital Light Processing (DLP), which includes both front and rear projection techniques and competes against HDTV compliant LCD and Plasma flat panel displays. Barco, Christie Digital Systems and NEC have all licensed the TI technology. But Sony is just around the corner with their SCRD technology, which supports 4096x2160 resolution. Other digital projection forms are in development, but none have been deployed and none are yet commercially available.

Barco offers 2K Digital Cinema Projectors for various screen sizes, ranging from 15m (49 feet) with their D-Cine Premiere DP90 to 30m (98 feet) with their DP-3000. The latter unit features a sealed engine that protects the optical path from dirt and dust and reduces maintenance costs, with 3D capabilities.

Christie brings their 2K Digital Cinema projectors into play with their CP2000, CP200-X and CP-2000ZX systems. The latter unit is their latest system and is designed for small to mid-sized screens, has a universal switching power supply and is 50 percent smaller in size with improved airflow and better cooling.

NEC offers their STARUS product line for digital cinema projection and these 2K units (NC2500S, NC1600C and NC8000C) support screen sizes ranging from 26 feet to 82 feet in width. The NC2500S, for the largest screens, has memory functions for both lens position and lamp output and also has a web server for basic control from any authorized browser. There is also a self-contained liquid cooling system.

Under the DCI spec, there are three playback levels supported. They include…

  • 2048x1080 – 2K at 24 fps
  • 2048x1080 – 2K at 48 fps
  • 4096x2160 – 4K at 24 fps, 36 bits per pixel XYZ

Currently operating within the digital cinema distribution business are Access Integrated Technologies, Deluxe, Technicolor and SDC. Other firms also involved in this distribution method include Arts Alliance Media (signed first commercial digital cinema agreements in Europe with Twentieth Century Fox and Universal Pictures), Dolby and Kodak.

This year, we have seen…

  • By October of this year, more than 5,000 DLP-based digital cinema systems have been installed worldwide, according to the October 19th issue of Dcinematoday.com
  • More than 1,500 Digital Cinema Systems delivered to European- and India-based UFO Moviez Ltd.
  • There are about 1,400 screens with digital projectors in the U.S. installed as of last July
  • The Sony 4K projector can now be found in about a dozen theaters
  • Disney’s Meet the Robinsons feature was shown on approximately 600 screens equipped with Disney’s Digital 3-D brand, the Real D Cinema’s stereoscopic 3D technology
  • Real D has just signed on with Odeon and UCI to install as many as 500 Real D 3D cinema systems throughout Europe over the next two years — last February, the Odeon theater complex in Hatfield and Surrey in the United Kingdom opened with 18 digital screens

As far as what firms are involved in digital cinema manufacture, integration and systems are concerned, we note…

  • Access Integrated Technologies
  • Arts Alliance Media
  • Dolby Laboratories
  • Kodak
  • XDC
  • Ymagis

  • Doremi Laboratories
  • GDC Technology
  • Qube Cinema, Inc.
  • QuVIS

Certainly of interest should Technicolor and Qualcomm who developed the Auditorium Management Systems (AMS). This was the first digital cinema server that could reliably operate in a projection booth and also be seen as “user friendly.”

Leading digital cinema distributor, via satellite, Microspace Communications Corporation has already distributed the DreamWorks feature film The Heartbreak Kid to theaters across the US. Expect the Warner Brothers and Zemeckis’ Beowolf feature, as well as the re-release of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, to be partially released to Real D systems already installed in about one-third of Odeon and UCI cinema venues.

There certainly seem to be a number of opportunities for satcom folk to investigate the up and coming digital cinema and game distribution business. Just look at the numbers for those industries… a piece of the movie and game biz would certainly fit well into the $220 billion satellite industry… such would be quite “entertaining” to become involved with, as well!