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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Roger Ebert on the digital cinema standard (sort of)

I'm a big fan of Roger Ebert's online Movie Answer Man column.

In the August 7th edition, Ebert is asked, "What do you think of the new digital format agreed to by the studios? In the past, you have said digital projection was not as good as the current 35mm film format. Is the new format the same as the former digital format? Do you think the new format will help or hinder film piracy?"

The short answer is that Ebert isn't that enthused. He seems not to acknowledge the fact that certain anti-piracy measures can only be deployed with digital distribution and projection. And he says that digital cinema is "about the same projection quality" as the public can see at home. (Granted, I only have an average 19" non-high-def TV, but I find 2K digital projection to be a vast improvement on the home experience.)

Ebert goes on to tout something called Maxivision, a non-digital technology that no one in Hollywood is talking about:

    If the movie industry had true visionaries among its most powerful executives, Maxivision 48 would be given a try. It shows movies at 48 frames a second, uses only 50 percent more film than currently, and because of a patented method for moving the film through the gate, eliminates scratching and jiggles; it would cost only $12,000 per screen to install the equipment. The picture is four times as good as current film projection, and that would provide a powerful incentive for people to see movies in theaters. I've heard genuine enthusiasm from people who've seen movies like "Batman Begins" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" on IMAX screens, and I know that audiences do respond to picture quality. If one industry leader announced a movie in Maxivision, there would be a stampede to the format because digital would be instantly upstaged.

This of course, presumes that a studio would be able to convince a network of theaters to install Maxivision equipment. (Or pay for it themselves.) And commit to producing a steady stream of Maxivision films.

This is not to mention that Maxivision wouldn't do anything to reduce film distribution costs (at 48 frames per second, it sounds like studios would be shippinng even more cans of celluloid around the country.) And a higher-quality non-digital projection would improve the quality of back-row camcorder rip-offs. (Digital offers the ability to embed data in the image, which could help stymie or at least investigate incidents of piracy.)

Here's an earlier piece Ebert wrote about Maxivision.


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