CineEurope 2012: Higher Frame Rate of Peter Jackson's 'The Hobbit' to Cost Exhibitors

6:57 AM PST 06/18/2012 by Stuart Kemp
Warner Bros.

The industry gathering in Barcelona kicked off Monday with a discussion about the higher costs for movie theater operators.

BARCELONA, Spain -- The prospect of Peter Jackson shooting his much-anticipated movie The Hobbit with a higher frame rate than the current standard set chins wagging as this year's CineEurope gathering got under way here Monday.

The four-day conference, aimed primarily at European theater operators, kicked off with exhibitors and distributors hearing that the filmmaker's decision to shoot his fourth J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation using 48 frames per second rather than the current 24 fps (25 in some parts of Europe) will cost them more. Still, exhibitors have largely signaled that they want to show the hotly anticipated movie.

Warner Bros. is orchestrating a worldwide distribution rollout plan for the film and will deliver it in multiple formats for theaters.

Delivering a digital film shot at that speed -- "frame rate" refers to the number of images displayed by a projector within one second -- enhances details and means sharper and more colorful images but will require upgrades to movie-projection systems to properly handle the shows.

European Digital Cinema Forum CEO David Monk, who has helmed a united effort to seek standards across the industry since digital movie delivery was first talked about more than a dozen years ago, said the adoption of higher frame rates is driven by the filmmakers. "Movie costs will be higher," Monk said. "And the films will cost more to distribute, and it will cost the exhibitors."

Filmmaker James Cameron, who has attended the European exhibition shindig in the past to extol the virtues of all things digital and 3D, also was cited during the panel called "What Next for Digital Projection?"

Cameron has told distributors and exhibitors alike he plans to shoot Avatar 2 and the film's third installment using digital equipment that delivers 60 frames per second.

"As we know, software updates are not free to exhibitors," Monk said. "They take time and money, and you have to shut down the systems to install. Then they have to be tested." He noted that the speed of adoption by exhibitors likely will depend on the box-office success of the titles using it. "It is a truth that commercial success tends to drive adoption in the digital industry," he noted.

Warner Bros. showed 10 minutes of 3D footage from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at 48 frames per second at CinemaCon in April, and Jackson said in a videotaped message there that he hoped his movie could be played in 48 fps in “as many cinemas as possible” when it opens in December. But exhibitors must pay the cost of the additional equipment, and some have wondered how much of a ticket premium they would charge to offset that cost.

There are nearly 4,000 screens in North America that have Barco Series 2 projectors with the required software update to play 48 fps, plus Sony expects the majority of its 13,000 installed 4K digital cinema projectors to support the high frame rates by the time The Hobbit is released in December.

Other members of the panel at the conference -- staged in Barcelona for the first time after the show relocated from its Amsterdam home of the past 25 years -- included DLP Cinema director of technology Reiner Doetzkies; Dolby Laboratories marketing director Matt Cuson; and Oliver Pasch, head of European digital cinema sales at Sony Professional Solutions Europe. Nicolas Hamon, projection and sound manager at European theater operator giant Kinepolis Group, chaired the panel.

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