Digital cinema picking up momentum

But new report says big obstacles remain

LONDON -- Almost 20% of global cinema screens will be converted to digital projection by 2012, driven by a wave of 3D film releases such as Pixar's Cannes-opener "Up" and the forthcoming James Cameron-directed "Avatar" according to new research.

In its most recent digital cinema briefing, London-based film-research specialist Dodona Research said almost 12,000 screens have converted to digital projection worldwide of a total of around 110,000 globally.

The research predicts that 18,000 screens are expected to have converted to digital projection by the year-end.

At present 5,000 screens worldwide are 3D-enabled, a tally expected to double by the end of 2009, according to Dodona.

Further out, the research firm predicts 20% of global screens will be converted for digital projection by 2012, but the global economic meltdown leaves the outlook and timetable for converting the remaining four-fifths of cinema screens to digital projection still unclear.

"Cinema owners still find it hard to justify replacing their 33mm projectors with more expensive digital equipment," the report pointed out, citing difficulties with finding a payment model to support conversion and "tougher financing terms since the onset of the banking crisis last year" as issues that have made the challenge "doubly difficult."

The report came out as Britain's Film Council said Monday it was launching a £1.2 million ($1.9 million) three-year pilot scheme to bring digital cinema equipment to more rural areas here.

U.K. Film Council distribution and exhibition fund head Pete Buckingham said that the project's aim was to bring digital cinema to rural communities without the need to travel long distances.

"This new pilot scheme will bring a top quality cinema experience to the three pilot areas, so that people can enjoy the wide range of films on offer in urban areas, right on their doorstep," he said.