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Kodak has unwrapped an early prototype of its digital cinema system, which is currently being tested at the company’s Imaging Technology Center (ITC) in Los Angeles. The company is staging demonstrations of the fledgling system for filmmakers, distributors and exhibitors at the ITC over the next several months.
“We are determined to push digital cinema to ever-higher standards,” says Robert J. Mayson, general manager of cinema operations, a part of Kodak’s Entertainment Imaging division. “The basic criteria are that digital cinema must be affordable and provide realistic financial benefits along with reliable anti-piracy safeguards. At the same time, if digital cinema is going to live up to its promise, it must accurately and consistently represent the artistic intentions of the creative community.
“We believe that digital cinema is not a product, but a process,” Mayson says. “We are developing a system that begins with the conversion of film images to high-quality digital files that are colour-graded by the cinematographer. Once the look is locked in, we ensure that it is faithfully presented to audiences.”
Kodak has developed a cinema operating system, proprietary colour management technology, and high-performance drivers. It is also developing and testing anti-piracy software. In addition, Kodak is testing the new JVC 2048x1536-pixel D-ILA microchip technology in a digital projector for the first time.
SUN Microsystems is providing the server storage and networking platform for the cinema operating system and digital projector. The operating system will support the loading, scheduling, and playback of features, trailers and other pre-show content on multiple digital screens. The colour management software is designed to protect the integrity of image through the entire process until it is projected.
“We envision this endeavour as a collaborative process with our customers,” says Glenn Kennel, digital cinema program manager. “The reactions and advice we obtain during demonstrations will serve as a road map for guiding and perhaps accelerating our ongoing research and developmental efforts.”
Kennel characterizes the ITC as a conduit for enhancing communications between Kodak researchers and the company’s customers in the motion picture industry. ITC’s primary mission is to test and demonstrate new film, digital, and hybrid imaging technologies and provide informed feedback. Kodak scientists and engineers are also participating in the Society of
Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) work groups and in other
forums that are developing standards for digital cinema.
“We anticipate that information will flow in both directions,” Kennel says. “We will keep the industry apprised of what our scientists are thinking and doing and we anticipate that our customers will see this as an opportunity to keep our research pointed in the right direction.”
Kennel anticipates that the first systems will be delivered to exhibitors within one to two years, though there may be test sites earlier. “We need to provide a superior movie-going experience because we believe that’s what the cinema will need to offer audiences in order to succeed in the future,” he says. “We need to demonstrate that we can really offer better image quality while retaining a cinematic look with all of its subtleties and nuances, in addition to providing a system that offers other opportunities and efficiencies.”
Kennel points out that he expects that film and digital projection will coexist deep into the foreseeable future.