NAB 2012: More Than Half Of The World’s Cinema Screens Are Digital

Innovation continues as laser illuminated projection is previewed, anti-piracy measures are developed.

LAS VEGAS—More than half of the world’s cinema screens are now digital, various speakers reported Saturday at the NAB Show’s Technology Summit on Cinema (formerly Digital Cinema Summit), which was again co-produced with the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

That news led discussion of new technology, including the first public demonstration of a new laser illuminated projections system. And during Sunday’s keynote, Chris McGurk, chairman and CEO of Cinedigm, will urge Hollywood to get going on the business model in order to monetize the potential opportunities afforded by digital technology.

Digital projection is now available in roughly 70,000—more than half of the world’s estimated 123,000—total screens. In North America, an estimated 70% is digital with more than 50% 3D ready, according to Michael Karagosian, president of MKPE Consulting (citing figures from IHS Screen Digest).

He also reported that Europe and the Asia-Pacific regions have more than 50% converted, and Latin America, though at 22%, is “starting to take off.”

“Does that (progress) mean we can stop worrying about technology?,” asked Chuck Goldwater of consulting firm Goldwater Partners. “It depends on what you see and where you are sitting,”

He noted that content owners are still exploring how to take advantage of more efficient distribution channels, while exhibitors look at how a greater selection of content might help to optimize seating capacity. For film service providers, he added that “that is coming to an end” and being discussed “publicly or privately.” For small independent exhibitors, he commented, “you are worried about being left behind.”

On the technology side of the equation, a need for brighter 3D images in theaters has been an issue in the professional community. Aiming to address that issue, Laser Light Engines (LLE) and Sony presented the first public demonstration of a developing laser illuminated 3D digital cinema projection system using a LLE laser system and Sony digital cinema projector.

To demonstration the system, several clips were screened, including 3D trailers of Men in Black 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man. These were shown using a “silver” screen, the type of screen technology required by certain 3D systems including RealD.

There has been an increasing amount of industry discussion about replacing established Xenon lamps with lasers for digital cinema projection. Peter Lude, an executive VP at Sony, president of SMPTE, and chairman of the Laser Light Association (LIPA) suggested that lasers could eventually provide advantages such as lower power, less cooling requirements, longer life, and brighter projection.

But regulatory issues exist. Casey Stack, president of Laser Compliance, called requiring laser light show variances “unnecessary and inappropriate,” saying the technology’s potential optical hazard is “commensurate with today’s Xenon lamp technology.”

LIPA, a recently established association of over 20 companies, is working to address the regulatory issues.

With an eye toward the future, the demonstration included laser projection supporting higher frame rates, another growing area of discussion.

During the Summit, George Joblove, who co-chairs the Academy's Science and Technology Council offered an overview of three Council projects: Solid-state lighting, the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES), and digital preservation.

“The Academy is concerned about the implications of the digital revolution in filmmaking for the preservation of motion pictures and the elements of their creation,” Joblove said.

Following the recent release of its “Digital Dilemma 2” report, the Council has developed the Academy Case Study System (ACeSS), a case-study project to investigate the realities of various digital archiving strategies and technologies as applied to motion picture materials.

Piracy was also addressed on Saturday.

A staggering 95% of pirated content is recorded in a theater with a camcorder, according to Mike Robinson, executive vp, content protection and chief of operations at the MPAA.

Speakers agreed that while stopping piracy is not yet an achievable goal, the ability to prevent or delay piracy for as look as possible could still make a difference if it could for instance, at least hold off piracy during a film’s opening weekend. “If we can find ways reduce the quality of pirated copies, that helps too,” Robinson added.

Additional speakers offered a look at technologies and processes being used to identify and thwart sources of piracy. This included forensic watermarking and playback control watermarking.

Steve Weinstein, president and CEO of MovieLabs noted that “nirvana is to stop [piracy]” though “none of the jamming technology we have invested in have made good progress yet.”