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Exhibs cautious over digital

D-cinema talk hushed at ShoWest

LAS VEGAS — It’s like everybody’s agreed to mark time.

For now, vendors of wares and services for digital cinema have to occupy themselves with creating brand awareness and maybe some jockeying for strategic alliances.

That’s because exhibs still show precious little interest in spending dollar one for electronic storage and projection technology they fear could quickly become outmoded when d-cinema systems sort out lingering issues of standards and formats.

So at ShoWest 2002, there has been scant d-cinema news, other than assorted product-upgrade announcements from wannabe vendors like Texas Instruments/DLP, Kodak, Barco and others. And would-be providers of electronic-distribution services such as Technicolor Digital and Boeing Digital are circling potential clients while knowing enough to keep quiet on how anybody might pay for the proposed conversion to digital exhibition.

Last year at ShoWest, a proposal by Technicolor to finance up to 1,000 digital-projector installations produced a loud, collective yawn from the exhibs. So, at ShoWest 2002 there’s little more than a giant educational seminar afoot, as d-cinema proponents attempt to demonstrate how systems work and how remaining engineering challenges are being addressed.

A Boeing pitchman explained to those passing through the aerospace giant’s d-cinema suite that satellite systems would “store and forward” movies and programming to theaters. That involves downloading content to ground-based computers for forwarding to individual theaters, rather than live feeds from airborne birds as in TV satcasting.

As for the hardware involved, Boeing touts “open-architecture” systems compatible with any of the goods being hawked elsewhere around the Bally’s hotel ballrooms that are site to d-cinema displays here. Similarly, Kodak’s d-cinema maestro Bob Mayson said the film giant is currently talking with four companies about distributing d-cinema programming to prospective installations by satellite, fiber optics or DVD.

And as for the movies themselves, there’s been a handful of studio product available for digital distribution to the 20 d-cinema test sites scattered throughout the U.S.

In fact, MGM is offering a digital screening of its upcoming “Windtalkers” feature film via a DLP installation at ShoWest. But much more content would be needed to provide a steady supply of digital movies, should d-cinema spread substantially.

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