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Monday, September 26, 2005

NY Times on the New Era of 3-D

David Halbfinger of the NY Times has a piece on the front of the Business section today about the "rebirth" of 3-D, and how it might help push digital projectors into more theaters.

Some interesting elements of the story.

- It says that 85 theaters will be outfitted to show Disney's "Chicken Little" in 3-D next month. That's a bit lower than the "approximately 100" theaters Disney and Dolby announced in their joint press release back in June.

- "The main disadvantage of the Real D [3-D] system is cost: the company charges at least $50,000 upfront for each theater, and $25,000 a year." Halbfinger doesn't tell us if that's in addition to, or instead of, the $85,000 conversion cost he mentions earlier in the piece, for turning a traditional projection booth into a digital projection booth. (I'm hoping it's instead of.)

- Once theater-owners have spent that money, "Real D guarantees at least two 3-D movies will play in those theaters each year..." Tom Stephenson, the CEO of Rave Motion Pictures says, "Is that enough? No, but if it turns out people are really drawn to this technology, you'll get more than that." One would hope so.

- Halbfinger describes the structure of standard digital cinema financing deals that are now taking shape:

    Theater owners pay roughly $10,000 toward the $85,000 cost of converting each auditorium. The balance is recovered, typically over 10 years, from the movie studios, which pay "virtual print fees."

    These fees, which start at around $1,000 for each copy of a movie delivered to a theater, are intended to approximate the studios' financial savings on film prints and shipping. They have agreed to steer that money to the suppliers of digital cinema equipment.

- The story ends with a curious wet blanket quote from the National Association of Theater Owners. Most of the digital cinema servers I've seen use industrial-strength, corporate-style servers - not PC components. But NATO's consultant compares them to PCs:

    "In order for the market to have confidence in the digital experience, we need real experience," said Michael Karagosian, digital cinema consultant to the National Association of Theater Owners. "We need at least 1,000 systems, with all the vendors delivering content to theaters in a flawless way, so the movie arrives, it's shown, the audience is entertained with the same reliability as today with film."

    That's a tall order, he cautioned. "We now have a 99.98 percent availability rate" for film projection, he said, referring to the incidence of equipment malfunction. "That means that 2 out of 10,000 shows fail, where you have to get a voucher. We don't expect to hear, 'The server didn't work.' But there are plenty of stories already about expired encryption keys, the date set wrong, somebody didn't push the right button."

    He added, "We're talking about putting desktop technology in the theater. Do you trust your boot-up every time?"