Walt Ordway just might be the man who invented digital cinema. Not the medium, but the nomenclature, anyway. Ordway was an engineer for Hughes Electronics, which was looking for ways to use satellite technology to deliver films to theaters, when the company asked him to find a better name than “electronic cinema.” Ordway suggested “digital cinema” and the term caught on as theaters and studios started to mull how to introduce digital projection and delivery.
After retiring from Hughes, Ordway was lured back to join the Digital Cinema Initiative, a collaborative effort among the major studios to write a report standardizing digital projection practices. Finding a way to keep digital copies pirate-proof turned out to be one of the main jobs of the DCI. “Security was the top issue,” he says.
The report’s 80 pages of detailed security requirements — for instance, operators in theaters won’t be able access the drives that films are stored on — should be useful in the U.S., but getting theater owners in foreign territories to comply is going to be an uphill battle.
When the report was released last year and the DCI disbanded, Ordway went back into retirement — for now.
Will theaters succeed in efficiently making the transition to digital? “I’ve got my fingers crossed,” says Ordway, who says he’d like to continue working on the switchover. “I’d like to ride the horse to the finish line.”