Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Digital Cinema Projection

I love going to the movies. And so far, watching movies at home just isn't the same as going out to the local multiplex. I like the big screen, the great sound, being around other people, the popcorn, going on a date with my wife ... the whole idea of making a movie an event.

I also like watching movies at home, and with the large-screen, high-definition TVs, watching movies at home is far better than it was a decade ago, but it's just not the same as the theater.

Despite the latest craze of 3-D movies that have come out, there hasn't been much that has changed at movie theaters in the past few decades, except one thing: digital movie projection. Digital cinema projection has been coming for a long time. It used to be that whenever a movie came out, the studios had to spend about $25,000 per copy to send to movie theaters around the world. Multiply that by a few thousand theaters and you can see where distributing a movie gets pretty expensive.

However, replacing the film projectors with digital projectors was an expense that the local cinemas would have to bear in order to receive something other than a film copy.

Luckily, the economics to both the movie distributors and cinema owners has finally come to pass and many, if not all, of the movies you see in a theater are now digital. This means there are no longer reels of film in the projection booth.

So instead of a movie studio sending out large reels of film, it can send out optical discs, or even transmit a digital file directly from the studio to the theaters.

For you and I, who go see a movie, what's different? First of all, the images will generally be clearer, as there's no film jitter that could be caused by film moving through a projector.

Second, there's far less chance of the inevitable dust, scratch or other artifact on a screen in the middle of a movie.

Third, there's no chance of a film jamming and melting in the projector, as those of us over 40 have probably seen.

The current standard for cinema projection is called "2K," which has a resolution of 2048 x 1080 pixels — high-definition video has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. A new standard is out but not yet fully deployed called "4K," which has a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels — a full four times the resolution of 2K. See this website for a sample digital cinema projector. As the new 4K movies come out, expect to see higher clarity images that will make our current crop of movies look like old hand-cranked silent movies.

With the holiday season upon us, there is always a vast number of movies to see and always something for every taste.

So, while I will continue to see better and more diverse movie entertainment in my home, I will always want to go out to see movies in the theatre, if not just to enjoy the time with who I'm with, but also to check out the latest bit of Hollywood magic.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 14 December 2011.