Digital cinema

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Template:Split Digital cinema refers to the use of digital technology, digital video or HD, to make, distribute and project motion pictures. Specifically specialized digital camcorders are used to shoot the movie as digital files on tape, hard disk or other electronic storage device rather than on film. The final movie can be distributed electronically and projected using a digital projector instead of a conventional film projector. Note that digital cinema is distinct from high definition television and in particular, digital film is not completely dependent on using television or HDTV standards, aspect ratios or frame rates, though recent developments in HDTV have led to a resurgence of related interest in new digital specifications, known as HD cinema.



The basic idea of digital filmmaking is simple: to use electronic camcorder devices to capture and store motion images in binary data (similar in process to digital photography), as well as record synchronized digital audio. Thereafter the image and sound are edited via non-linear editing and then send for projection in a theater with digital projectors or pressed straight for video in playback capacities like DVDs. In many cases though digital is transferred back to film for distribution, although this would lead to higher cost of production.

Digital capture

Number of CCDs and pixel counts

Charge-coupled devices (CCDs), are integral parts of a digital camcorder that reads light and captures video or still images. Basically current camcorders are divided into one-CCD or three-CCD based models. Professional and prosumer digital camcorders like the Canon XL1S/XL2 use three CCDs than the usual one for consumer models, allowing for richer separation of colors, with each CCD capturing one of the three colors red, blue and green into its final image. Each CCD is also of a higher resolution than a consumer model, e.g. 960 x 576 pixels (16:9) or 720 x 576 pixels (4:3).

Frames per second

The usual frames rates of digital video are 60 (NTSC), 50 (PAL), 29.97 (NTSC) and 25 (PAL) frames per second (fps) in either interlaced or progressive modes. Traditional video are all interlaced, but recently many camcorders allow progressive modes to micmic the look of film. A huge step towards integrating film and digital cinema came with the arrival of 24p (24fps progressive) in the late 1990s which is the common projection rate for film. Prosumer models like DV cameras Panasonic AG-DVX100 and Canon XL2, as well as professional HD models like Sony's Cinealta HDW-F900 HDCAM or Thomson Viper use 24p.

16:9 vs 4:3

Widescreen is commonly seen in present-day movies, and many of the newer digital camcorders have widescreen lenses that capture native 16:9 instead of the Academy ratio of 4:3. This gives the final image more bandwidth instead of being matted or cropped for theatrical distribution, thereby degrading image resolution.

Digital projection

There are several types of projectors for digital cinema, the most common one in the US being DLP technology. Current DLP projectors use 1280 x 1024 resolution. The DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) has included 2K (2048x1080) and 4K (4096x2160) resolutions in its system specification for digital cinema. Sony has developed a projector intended for digital cinema, which has a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels.

Digital end-to-end

During October 23-29, 1998, The Last Broadcast became the first film to be end-to-end digitally produced and distributed when it was exhibited in theaters in Providence, Orlando, Philadelphia, Portland, and Minneapolis, transmitted by satellite and projected with DLP projectors, 7 months before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was distributed to digital cinemas electronically. This Star Wars film would become the first time a film was projected digitally at a movie theatre for a paying audience, led by CineComm Digital Cinema. (CineComm founder Russell J. Wintner would go on to lead digital cinema development at Technicolor, and later at Access Integrated Technologies, Inc.)


There are some like George Lucas or Robert Rodriguez who think celluloid is as good as dead and the future is an all-digital medium. Directors such as Steven Soderbergh and Michael Mann have filmed some parts of their most recent pictures on digital. Many think digital filmmaking will democratize the world of film and point out how inexpensive shooting digitally can be considering the cost of film, especially if the output is on video as a movie can be edited on a home computer and burned to DVD.

Given the constant year-on-year improvements in digital cinema technology, it appears that the long-term future of cinema is likely to be digital, as digital film already approaches the performance of film in some aspects, and is likely in the longer term to surpass it. However, digital cinema still has some way to go before it can completely replace film.

For the last 100 years all movies have been shot on film and nearly every film student learns about how to handle 35mm film. Digital, especially the new high-definition equipment, has not had the time to become as widely accepted, though the growing popularity of this equipment in the television domain will certainly have an effect in the future.

Some purists would argue that digital does not have the same "feel" as a movie shot on film. While this may be a matter of personal preference more than anything, digital cameras have been evolving quickly and quality is improving dramatically from each generation of hardware to the next. While today's digital cameras can achieve the same level of quality as 35 mm film under most conditions, 70 mm may offer a sharper picture. IMAX remains well out of reach for now, since the equivalent resolution (around 30 megapixels) is far beyond the capability of any digital motion picture camera today.

It is also hard to say how democratized cinema would become if it were to turn all digital. There are over 5,000 films shot a year in digital. With such a huge supply, a digital filmmaker has difficulty getting seen and, therefore, often doesn't get the upper hand in distribution negotiations. It has actually given more power to large distribution companies, because now they can play the gatekeepers, in picking which films are seen and which are not.

Technical Challenges

Template:POV-section Film is in many ways more portable than its high quality digital counterparts. The chemical process initiated by exposing film to light give reliable results, that are well documented and understood by cinematographers. In contrast every digital camera has a unique response to light and it is very difficult to predict without viewing the results on a monitor or a waveform analyser, increasing the complexity of lighting. However, accurate calibration techniques are being developed which eliminate this as a practical problem, and the possibility of inexpensive post-production color grading can make digital cinematography more flexible than film in achieving artistic color effects.

More seriously, most digital cameras have an insufficient exposure latitude when compared to film, increasing the difficulties of filming in a high contrast situation, such as direct sunlight. This is a much greater problem, because if highlight or shadow information is not present in the recorded image, it is lost forever, and cannot be re-created by any form of exposure curve compensation. Cinematographers can learn how to adjust for this type of response using techniques garnered from shooting on Reversal film that has a similar lack of latitude in the highlights. Digital video is also more sensitive than film stocks in low light conditions, allowing smaller, more efficient and natural lighting to be used for shooting. Some directors have tried the "best for the job" route, using digital video for indoor or night shoots, but using traitional film for daylight work outdoors.


Digital cinema has some big economic advantages over film. Digital video is very cheap compared to film. For instance Rick McCallum, a producer on Attack of the Clones, said that it cost US$16,000 for 220 hours of digital tape where a comparable amount of film would have cost US$1.8 million. Obviously this matters most to low-budget films which are often shot for a few million dollars or less.

Digital cinema can also reduce costs while shooting and editing. It is possible to see the video and make any necessary adustments immediately instead of having to wait until after the film is processed. Digital footage can also be edited directly, whereas with film it is usually converted to digital for editing and then re-converted to film for projection.

Digital cinema has also big advantages when it comes to distribution. Making and distributing copies is a lot easier with digital files than with physical film. A film print can cost up to $2000 so making 3000 prints or for a wide-release movie can cost up to $6 million.

On the downside the upfront costs for converting theaters to digital are high: up to US$150,000. Theaters may be reluctant to switch without a cost-sharing arrangement with distributors. Another potential downside is that digital copies may be more vulnerable to piracy than film.

Digital cinema companies

See also

External links

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