National Association of Theatre Owners Unveils New Tech Test Program for Exhibitors

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The industry-wide digital cinema evaluation program will report its initial findings in 2020.

Movie theater owners will be able to test evolving digital cinema technologies to see what works best in the cinema space with a new program set out by the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), the organization said Tuesday. 

“Digital cinema has opened up the door to a wide range of technological advances,” John D. McDonald, NATO's Technology Committee chairman and executive vp operations at AMC Entertainment, said in a statement. “Exhibitors — the primary consumers of these technologies — along with other industry stakeholders, need an open, rational testing program to determine which of these technologies will work in the cinema space.”

The technology evaluation program was approved last month by NATO's executive board at the organization's annual meeting. Efforts are already underway to get the process started, which has included reaching out to members of the American Society of Cinematographers, as well as equipment manufacturers, service providers and other organizations, for input and participation.

The Digital Cinemas Initiatives (DCI) specification — a technical blueprint for digital cinema — was first introduced in 2005 with version 1.0 and set up at a time when this transition was being subsidized through Virtual Print Fees (VPFs). But VPF agreements will soon be ending for most players in the domestic market, meaning that exhibitors will have more responsibility for the cost of new cinematic projection technology.

The new testing program will allow "exhibitors to take the lead in evaluating the impact of light levels, contrast and colorimetry on their patrons and the exhibition environment," NATO said.

The initial findings will be reported at NATO's annual meeting next year.