'Pirates' raising flag of digital cinema community

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When "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" opens this weekend, it will mark another milestone for the digital cinema community.

"At World's End" will be the first feature to be released on more than 1,000 digital cinema screens domestically, Disney distribution president Chuck Viane said. It also will be the first movie to bow on more than 400 screens internationally, Viane added.

As of Monday, "Pirates" was set to open on 1,064 digital cinema screens domestically and an additional 410 internationally. Viane said the number could rise before this weekend's release.

"It went up 20-something (screens) in the last few hours," he said.

There are currently 3,229 digital screens domestically. Precise international figures weren't immediately available, but the pace of digital installations in the U.S. and abroad has quickened dramatically over the past 18 months amid major roll-out financings.

"The benefit of 3-D is showing a secondary reason to get into the digital world faster, and new complexes are opting to open with digital screens," Viane said.

With more films available for digital distribution, the competition for digital screens also has heated up. In addition to ease of distribution and lower costs, industry proponents tout another benefit of digital exhibition: virtually no image degradation.

"I believe 'Pirates' is going to be around a long time this summer (and) this guarantees that audiences will see this in the most pristine way throughout the engagement," Viane said. "In week 15, it will be as good-looking as this Thursday at 8 p.m."
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