Movie studios commit to digital cinema

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Just over a year ago, in the December 2006 issue of IEEE Spectrum, author Russell Wintner predicted that computer servers and digital projectors were poised to blast film projectors out of commercial movie theaters. It was a brash prediction; at that point only 2000 of some 36,000 theaters in the U.S. and Canada were projecting with bits instead of film, and North America was ahead of the rest of the world.

Wintnerâ''s company, Access Integrated Technologies, one of several companies that sell digital cinema systems, along with industry veteran Technicolor, had an idea of how to spark the change; they proposed charging movie studios a virtual print fee. That is, the vendors of digital cinema equipment would install the equipment in theaters at no charge, and, since the cost of providing a movie in digital form is far lower to the studios than the roughly $1200 to $2000 cost of a movie print, the movie studios would pay a fee for every digital â''printâ'' loaded onto the theater servers until the vendors were reimbursed for the equipment cost and then some.

Well, it looks out like itâ''s going to all work out just as Wintner told us. Last week four motion picture studiosâ''Disney, Fox, Paramount, and Universalâ''agreed to pay virtual print fees; in return, Access committed to installing 10,000 digital cinema systems in U.S. and Canadian movie theaters, on top of the 3750 installed in the last year or so. That means, if you live in the U.S. or Canada, digital cinema will likely be coming to at least one of your local theaters soon.

If you want to read Wintnerâ''s article detailing digital cinema technology in general, Accessâ'' system in particular, and the companyâ''s virtual print fee plan, look here. If you want to find out how digital cinema will bring about a burst of 3-D offerings, look here.

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