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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Talk of L.A.

Two people I met with today both brought up this piece from today's LA Times, "Digital Projection: Cost vs. Clarity." Michael Hiltzik scores a couple good points.

As I've pointed out here several times, and Hiltzik observes in his piece, the big question about the digital cinema transition right now is who will pay; the cost of upgrading could total about $100,000 per screen.

Hiltzik reports a new development: "Insiders say the studios are close to offering to pay for installations for at least 10,000 screens [out of approximately 36,000 in the US]. But they still want the exhibitors to pay for upgrades and maintenance, which the theater owners regard as a poisoned chalice. Conventional projectors haven't fundamentally changed in nearly a century; theaters needing replacements for worn or broken parts can still scavenge them from decades-old models. Digital projection technology is much flakier, however, and is sure to involve major technical upgrades every few years."

Hiltzik suggests that if digital cinema was as big an improvement as sound was in the 1920s, then studios and theater-owners "would be falling all over themselves to get it rolled out rather than dickering over price." I think he's somewhat on target: audiences won't feel that digital projection changes the experience as much as the introduction of sound did. But eventually, when the digital distribution network is in place, it'll allow exhibitors to offer a greater breadth of choices than they can today (from foreign, niche, and indie films to live events like concerts, sports, and Broadway musicals.)

Finally, Hiltzik raises the possibility that theater owners will wait until the next generation of projector technology, known as 4K, arrives: "...[W]ill theater owners buy into 2K if they think it's merely a transitional technology to something really super?"

If they wait a couple more years to make the shift, will there still be a customer base conditioned to show up at the movie theater?