One of the biggest dramas in tinsel town today isn't showing on the Big Screen. Rather, it is revolving around how movies of the future will make it to the Big Screen.
Film studios and theater owners are clashing over digital cinema, and the big question is: "Who will pay?"
First, a little history: Back in 1999, when four theaters presented the first digital showing of a movie—Star Wars: Episode I—the technology held great promise. There were predictions that digital projection would rapidly fan out to theaters everywhere. But that didn't happen. Of the world's some 100,000 theaters, only 160 to date have implemented the technology.
"I thought that we had crossed the threshold and that we would be on a more aggressive deployment timetable now," says Doug Darrow, Business Manager for Texas Instrument's DLP (Digital Light Projection) Cinema Products. TI supplies the DLP chips that go into digital theater projectors, as well as hundreds of thousands of other business and home entertainment products (www.dlp.com/#Scene_1).
In the battle to bring digital technology to the theater, interested parties are lining up pretty much the way you might expect: Technology providers like TI insist that their products are proven, and that it's a question of cost and who will pay. Theater owners concerned over the estimated $150K cost per digital projector and who will bear it, insist that the technology is not yet ready for prime time. (Costs are expected to fall, but only as volume increases.) Movie studios, who stand to benefit most from the cost savings in converting from film to digital files (an estimated $1 billion annually)—are focusing on developing specs for the technology and keeping mum about who will ultimately foot the bill.
The reaction from movie goers themselves is mixed, though the truly visually discerning, like EDN editor and EE Brian Dipert, don't like their Jar Jar jaggy (www.e-insite.net/ednmag).
What's happening in Hollywood should be a cautionary tale for engineers and technology marketers alike: Even a technology worthy of an Academy Award will have an incredibly tough time making it to the Big Screen if the people who get the most value from it aren't willing to pay for it.
I only hope Hollywood doesn't try to pass along the costs to you and me.