Digital cinema not ready, biz vets say

Design must be perfected, sez Sony's Hummel

HOLLYWOOD — A ShowBiz Expo panel of industry pros discussing digital cinema Thursday were in agreement about one point regarding the emerging technology: It ain’t here yet.

“Digital cinema won’t work until the design is perfected,” said Rob Hummel, senior veep for digital cinema at Sony Electronics. “The goal for digital cinema isn’t to rush it into use. Digital cinema should not be a compromise in quality; it should not be like video.”

That followed a comment from fellow panelist George Spiro Dibie, national prexy of the Intl. Cinematographers Guild, who said the union tries to encourage new technologies but won’t help “market” digital cinema as some other proponents seem to be doing.

“I am for any new technology,” Dibie insisted. But the multiple Emmy-winning lensman added that movies screened by digital projection still look like a “CNN (show about) the Palestinian problem.”

Unresolved concerns

There are also unresolved concerns that certain electronic distribution schemes — notably satellite delivery — could fall prone to image piracy, Hummel said.

“I spoke to some friends in the defense industry who laughed at the idea that (the) encryption technology couldn’t be cracked,” he said.

Satellite delivery may be useful only for movie trailers, he suggested, with movies delivered over more secure fiber-optic networks and stored onsite at movie theaters for use over the course of a motion picture’s run.

Another sticky area, panelists agreed, involves who will pay for the costs of converting movie theaters to digital projection. Exhibs are famously cash-strapped at present, and studios so far have resisted absorbing the costs — pegged at somewhere between $150,000 to $300,000 per screen.

Yet another challenge involves constructing a uniform set of engineering standards for the new technology. Thomas MacCalla of the Entertainment Technology Center said the group’s Hollywood Boulevard screening facilities have served as a test lab for standards-design work by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, studio tech pros and others.