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Film projection riding the crest of digital wave

Suresh Krishnamoorthy
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The entry of digital film projection systems in Andhra Pradesh has turned out to be game changer for the movie industry in more ways than one. Reducing costs by about two-thirds of that of old-fashioned film spools, it has also significantly widened the impact of release in terms of number of screens.

July 30, 2009 marked a watershed in this direction, with ‘Magadheera' hitting a whopping 1,000 screens across the globe, making people sit up and take notice. In A.P. alone, there are 1,800 screens of which 1,600 are active, including single screens theatres and multiplexes.

Equipment

Film reels (analog prints) transported is passe. The new equipment comprises a digital projector, a server and a V-Sat. The server has proprietary software, enabling decryption and playback of an encrypted film, using formats like Qube, PXD (Prasads Extreme Digital) and UFO.

Once the exhibitor (cinema screen owner) enters into a deal with a distributor, he gets a licence/password. In a three tiered industry - producer, distributor and exhibitor, the digital cinema distribution company falls in between the distributor and exhibitor, charged with the responsibility of quality projection.

The digital wave has swept the sector, with about 1,200 screens now converted. Allu Aravind of Geetha Arts, an early bird, advocated the digital conversion of over 60 screens in the Andhra region alone before the release of ‘Magadheera'.

U. Lakshminarayana, CEO of Cinematica Digitals, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Geetha Arts, is appreciative of the change in mindsets of exhibitors. Proof of this is found in the fact that since it launched operations in June 2010, it has converted 450 screens in A.P., digitally, to use Real Image's Qube format.

Producer D. Suresh Babu says it works well for big films to release across a large number of screens and get money back soonest. “Business has gone up for big films. But the flip side is that small films, that need good word-of-mouth publicity, are affected because there is no time lag with wide releases,” he says.

For example, a typical big film now needs about Rs. 20 crore upwards. By releasing in a minimum of 400 screens upwards, it just takes a week for the producer to get money back.

According to Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI), an international compliance standard set in March. 2002, projection had to be ‘2K'. The aim was to have in place, voluntary specifications for an open architecture to ensure a uniform and high level of technical excellence, reliability and quality control of digital cinema.

Standardisation

But given the costs for DCI compliance, Indian audiences are forced to see lower resolution formats (LRF) called electronic cinema. “For the director/director of photography, it is painful to see the final product in LRF even after incorporating digital intermediary and special effects,” Mr. Suresh points out, adding that there was a need for standardisation of formats.

From the days of ‘Raja Harishchandra' (Marathi-1913), the first silent and full-length Indian feature film directed and produced by Dadasaheb Phalke to the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Sholay' released on August 15, 1975, with just four prints, the industry has come a long way.

The obviously-superior technology is here to stay, magnifying viewing pleasure manifold.

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