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Friday, February 17, 2006

UltraStar Cinemas is first chain to go 100 percent digital

San Diego-based UltraStar Cinemas announced today that they've now got digital projectors in all 102 of their projection booths. This weekend, the company is showing Disney's "Eight Below" digitally in 12 of their 13 theaters.

That's a pretty cool milestone, but let me shade in a bit of detail:

1. One of the main reasons that UltraStar went all digital so quickly is that Christie/AIX, the joint venture company that installed all the equipment and is taking care of the financing, had promised the studios (several of whom had committed to supplying them with films) that they'd have 150 screens up and running by the end of January, according to Christie CEO Jack Kline. He said they hit that number, in part by digitizing more screens at UltraStar, faster, than they'd planned. (This Variety piece says they were aiming to have 150 done by the end of December, but my impression from talking to Kline was that the contract technically promised the end of January.)

2. When I was at Christie last week, Kline also said that many of the screens that are now digitally capable aren't actually showing digital content, because there isn't a steady stream of it available today from studios. (All of UltraStar's booths now have 35-millimeter projectors and Christie DLP 2K digital projectors.) Both Disney and Warner Bros. have told me recently that the vast majority of their 2006 releases are available digitally ... not sure about the other studios.