Digital distribution showcased at Supercomm

The digital distribution of films is expected to take a major historic step forward today as 20th Century Fox and Internet equipment giant Cisco Systems Inc. distribute “Titan AE” from Los Angeles to Atlanta’s Supercomm telecommunications confab via the Web.

First-time effort will have Cisco transmitting the 80-minute animated pic as a digitized file — 20,000 times the size of a typical MP3 music file — over traditional Internet lines. Pic will then be downloaded and digitally projected using technology from Barco and Texas Instruments.

The effort is expected to take up to three to four hours to download, something that could potentially prove problematic should historic effort be interrupted in any way. Real-time projections from the Internet to the screen are impossible, considering the size of the digital file.

Previous digital distribution efforts, including the indie pic “The Last Broadcast,” “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and even efforts from carmakers General Motors and Volvo, have used satellite technology to get their images into theaters.

“Titan AE” is expected to demo that the technology exists to digitally deliver films to theater screens now via the Web.

Currently, digitally projected pics from studios that have adopted the new exhibition format — Fox, Disney, Miramax — are hand-delivered to theaters on a DVD-like disk.

Pricey undertaking

Should demo prove successful, studios and exhibition chains will still be faced with questions over who will pay the high costs to upgrade theaters with the projection systems and high-speed ‘Net connections, signaling that Internet transmission of movies from studios to exhibitors is still years away from becoming commonplace.

“It’s a small step toward looking at the future,” said Tom Sherak, chairman of the Fox domestic film group. “To me, it’s like being at the World’s Fair.”

The digital projector alone costs about $100,000, not to mention the price of a special screen, sound system and computer equipment needed to download and show “Titan A.E.”

Hacker-proof

Cisco has pacted with Qwest to create a private connection to send the pic, alleviating the chance for hackers to disrupt the transfer the pic. However, should transfer prove a failure, both Cisco, Fox and the possibility for digital projection could be left with a black eye.

Separately, Imax Corp. said that it has finally nabbed the exclusive rights to use Texas Instruments’ digital cinema technology in its future lineup of large format film projectors.

Imax subsid Digital Projection Intl., had already secured rights to TI’s technology for use in regular 35mm film projectors at ShoWest.

Terms of the new agreement between TI and Imax were not disclosed, but regular film projectors built by Digital Projection Intl. arm cost roughly $300,000 each. Nearly 40 digital 35mm projectors are planned to be installed worldwide by next year.

TI’s DLP Cinema unit builds a computer chip, comprised of 1.2 million mirrors, that can project a moving image.

Exclusive rights

New deal gives Imax exclusive large-format rights to the DLP chip, and makes it the third company to receive conventional rights for the technology.

“What’s exciting about this is the ability to use the goodwill around the Imax name and our technical reputation to roll this out into 35 millimeter eventually,” said Imax co-CEO Rich Gelfond. “For the Imax format, we’re still somewhat in the R&D stage.”

There are more than 210 Imax theaters worldwide, which under the Digital Projection Intl. pact, could eventually be retrofitted with the new digital projectors.

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