In a world where Film Festivals for films made on mobile phones are getting increasingly in vogue these days, almost every other person who has a digital camera feels like a filmmaker. And one of the best around, at that. And why not, with a Rs. 40,000 digital camcorder, about two dozen video tapes and a good computer with video editing software, one can really make a film worth showing around!
The only thing with (most of) such films is that one would not be able to show the film on a size much greater than that of a TV screen. Because the picture quality would be of very low resolution and look more like an archives footage of a news channel, rather than a 35MM or 70 MM motion picture.
And hence it cannot really be called digital cinema! Or can it be?
There are two schools of thought about digital cinema: one that says that Digital cinema refers to the use of digital technology to distribute and project motion pictures and the other that considers Digital Cinema to be ANY application of digital technology applied to making motion pictures.
Since this forum is not appropriate to get too technical with details, we shall get over and aside the debate and take the middle path, involving full well, the usage of digital technology in the recording of the image too.
Going by the approach, digital cinema can be explained best by segregating it into three major stages of movie-making:
Production (the method and making of movies), Distribution – (the transfer of movies from the production company to movie theaters) and Projection – (the screening, presenting or the projection of the movie on screen).
In digital cinema, celluloid’s analogue screen image is replaced by (what are technically called) pixels, so that, instead of using chemicals on film (a reel of film), there’s a very large data file detailing each pixel in each frame of the complete film. All existing digital cinemas showing feature films use a screen resolution of 1280 x 1024, so that at 24 fps (frames per second) and assuming 10-bit colour, the uncompressed file size for a two-hour feature film will be of the order of 850 GB.
The main advantage of digital technology (such as a CD) is that it can store, transmit and retrieve a huge amount of information exactly as it was originally recorded. Whereas, analog technology (such as an audio tape) loses information in transmission, and generally degrades with each viewing.
Morever, it is possible to see the video and make any necessary adjustments 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 digitized for editing and then re-converted to film for projection.
Digital Cinema Distribution (DCD) is the process of transmitting the Digital Cinema Package (DCP) – compressed and encrypted sound and images – to theater (or their servers) via physical media delivery (in the form of DVDs, LTO3 tape, BluRay Discs etc), network delivery (transfer of digital files via shared or dedicated network connections) or satellite delivery (transmission of the film to theaters via satellite – a bit like TV).
There are currently two types of projectors for digital cinema: Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing (DLP) Projectors (of 1280 x 1024 resolution) and Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) specification digital projectors, with three levels of playback – 2K (2048×1080) at 24 frames per second, 4K (4096×2160) at 24 frames per second, and 2K at 48 frames per second. Sony is soon to deploy its own, ‘SXRD’ technology projectors, that would have resolution of 4096×2160.
And therein lies the root of the problem – there are far too many different technologies or standards or products. Since not everything works with everything, theater owners, technology companies and film-makers can never have an agreement on which technology should the latter go for.
And more than that, the big question is who bears the cost of transforming a normal theater into a digital one?
Issues are in plenty and are of great technical complexities. Unfortunately, this forum does not allow us to go into that depth of the subject. What we can learn and remember at the moment is that digital cinema indeed is the future of cinema. But at the moment, it is at a bit of ‘trial and error’ stage. The costs involved are huge; ironically both in terms of opting for the technology and in terms of the saving on the making and distribution of films!
For the moment, we should just hope that the film world arrives at the digital standards soon.