HONG KONG — Delegates at the CineAsia conference in Hong Kong were focused on technical matters, but the ever-present problem of piracy continues to occupy people’s minds in the fast-growing continent.

While digitizing the continent’s hardtops and bringing in more 3D opportunities are the main order of business in Asia these days, there is room to push more niche areas as the standard of exhibition in the continent improves.

Joseph Peixato, prexy of worldwide cinema at RealD, told a panel at the fest in the Hong Kong Exhibition Center how the idea of digital hardtop owners allowing alternative content, such as sports, opera or rock shows, was gradually entering people’s consciousness in Asia.

“Alternative content is small so far but it brings more new revenue streams and opportunities than you’ve ever seen before. It adds incremental income and if developed it can be a very big source of revenue,” he said, before giving the auds a stirring taster of their forthcoming 3D version of “Madame Butterfly” by the Royal Opera House.

“2011 has been a terrific year, especially for Barco globally,” Wim Buyens, senior veep of Barco International’s entertainment division, told CineAsia.

“It’s been a great year in China, we’ve announced our joint-venture there, and it brings us very close to the market. There we will introduce a new projector range,” said Buyens.

Piracy remains the biggest challenge facing the Asian market, a theme that all Asian fests inevitably have to deal with, and CineAsia was no exception.

Representatives from the Motion Picture Association and other copyright protection orgs gave fascinating details about a sting operation in Australia, which drove one pirate underground, but also resulted in a drugs bust after one suspect was discovered with a stash of heroin.

“Operation Dusk” followed up on some specially watermarked prints of movies shown at a drive-in in New South Wales to see if camcorded copies of Hollywood titles were coming from there.

“What’s a single male under the age of 30 going to see ‘Rio’ two times, we asked,” said Aaron Herps, director of digital affairs at the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft. It yielded two suspects, one of whom was discovered to be holding a commercial amount of heroin, and while the second suspect wasn’t arrested, he was being sought.

CineAsia organizer Robert Sunshine said attendance at the annual meeting was up by 20% and it was the largest CineAsia yet.

“There is lots of wonderful technology being shown and we’ve had wonderful support from the studios. We’ve got some great movies — ‘Mi4,’ ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,’ ‘We Bought a Zoo,’ Fox is bringing in (producer) Jon Landau to make a presentation, and we’ve had lots of demonstrations of high frame rates,” he said.

CineAsia runs Dec. 6-8.