Digital Cinema Is Coming. Are We Ready?
Digital cinema is expected to overtake traditional analog film cinema within six years. What are the ramifications of this paradigm shift?
As DVDs become ubiquitous, it is inevitable that digital movies should be played in digital theaters. The only question is when? Several major theater owners predict that digital projectors will overtake analog projectors within 6 years.

However, there are several problems to solve. First, when movies are digitally produced, they become pirated quickly. For example, a digital copy of George Lucas' Phantom Menace was available to the Web before the initial screening. Furthermore, the attempts to encrypt digital media have largely failed in that decryption tools were soon available on the Web.

Another critial problem is standardization. What resolution and frame rate and format should be used? Currently, there is no agreement between commercial vendors. When there is no standardization, the digital film producers have to be cautious because there may not be hardware which can play their movies. To complicate matters, the hardware projector companies do not know if there will be films to play on their special projectors.

Once the problems are solved, significant advantages will be seen by the studios, theaters, and viewers. When an analog movie is played in theaters, the film is subject to many stresses which cause picture noise. For example, when the original Star Wars was released again, George Lucas had difficulty finding high quality original prints of it. Digital films on the other hand should remain in perfect condition over time regardless of the number of times they were played.

Another major advantage is that theaters will be able to quickly choose which movies to show to their viewers. Distribution of movies can be eased by satellite or cable transmission. In some sense, theaters could become the ultimate big screen television with 100,000 channels.

At the LML, we have had several discussions on whether unlimited, on-demand, immersive entertainment is beneficial. It is similar to the question posed in the movie, The Matrix, where Neo must choose between the real world and the virtual world. However, it is different because in The Matrix, the people did not know they were in a virtual world, whereas, we would always know. Furthermore, the denizens in The Matrix were largely denied the choice between the real and virtual worlds. We will retain the choice.

What will your choice be?

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