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As we noted in the previous section, video compression and the relentless progress of Moore s law has made film stock redundant. It is now possible to create a high-quality feature film, from camera lens to projector, entirely digitally. Streaming underpins this glass to glass process. D-Cinema (D for Digital ) is the name given to the digital distribution and presentation of feature films, in place of prints made on traditional film stock. In D-Cinema, films are delivered as digital media files, often on DVD disks. These are uploaded onto a high-resolution video server, using hard disk arrays for storage. A decompressed stream of digits is fed from the video server to the digital projector, on playback, and the digits are
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used to switch tiny micromirrors on a silicon die, one per pixel, to project an image onto a screen. Projectors based on micromirror technology have 750,000 micromirrors to work with. Each mirror can cycle 1.7 trillion times, at rates of up to 50,000 cycles per second, before failing. That equates to nearly 95 years. The brightest projectors currently use 13,000 ANSI lumen lamps. These projectors present images superior to those obtained with film projectors, with contrast ratios of 1000:1 typical of the new digital projectors. Other digital projector technologies exist. Some of these can present QXGA (Quadruple extended Graphics Array) images of 2048 1536 pixels. The advantages of D-Cinema distribution and exhibition over traditional film-based methods are manifold. Streaming adds unique capabilities to D-Cinema, although D-Cinema distribution is possible without streaming. Streaming always takes place on projection, however. Creating film stock prints of a film for general release imposes significant costs on the distributor of the film. Prints cost over a thousand dollars each. At the most competitive rates today, a print can be made, mounted, and cased for approximately $800. Consider that the average release requires 1000 to 8000 prints, depending on the distribution schedule, and that a single print of a five-reel film, in two cases, can weigh approximately 35kg. Making a few thousand copies and sending them around the world under secure conditions costs a lot of money. It is one of the reasons why some films are released in the US ahead of the UK. Besides making it possible to market the film more intensively, by concentrating on individual geographies at a time, the release prints made for US audiences can be reused in the UK. Release prints made on film stock degrade. They pick up scratches and dirt and sometimes tear and must be respliced. With a digital film, however, every screening is made with what appears to be a pristine, perfect print. Because it is just files consisting of digits, played back from highly redundant arrays of hard drives, digital film never degrades with use. Also, there is no need for a projectionist to carefully time the changeover from one reel to another, since the entire film can be played back as an unbroken stream. Sound and picture quality is extremely good, because enough bits are allocated to delivering a detailed payload. There is also no image jitter or weave, which is caused by mechanical variations in how the film travels past the projection lens. Because the only moving parts of the digital projector involve micromirrors and cooling the system, digital projectors are potentially more reliable and produce very stable images.
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Streaming technology gives theatrical distributors the ability to release a film simultaneously to the entire world, with strong enough encryption and security to make digital piracy prohibitively expensive. This could severely curtail the activities of video pirates who steal firstrelease prints and make thousands of illegal copies almost overnight. Hollywood is still nervous about the ability of encryption methods to guarantee controlled access to multimillion-dollar assets, but there is increasing evidence that digital rights management technology will be sufficiently strong to make illegal copies too expensive to attempt. The biggest problem that adoption of D-Cinema faces is the question of who pays for the entire digital infrastructure. Exhibitors are not keen to invest in expensive video servers and digital projection systems, if the film distributors are the ones making all the savings. There is a satisfaction with the status quo in individual cinemas. In many cases, the equipment has already paid for itself and each additional seat sold contributes to profits. If all the old projection equipment is suddenly obsolete, the revenue generated from individual ticket sales will most likely go to pay for the new equipment. This instantly erodes the operating margins of the cinema business, since consumers are not willing to pay a high premium for digital screening. Because of fears about digital encryption and because transport of streams to cinemas is still relatively expensive and difficult, Hollywood is still opting for armed-guard delivery of digital presentations to individual theatres. Streams can be delivered via satellite, but current technology requires on the order of 45 Mb/s to stream the presentation in real time (where it takes one hour to deliver an hour s worth of media). This is a problem, since satellite bandwidth is still relatively expensive and 45 Mb/s exceeds the capacity of single-satellite transponders, meaning multiple transponders must be used, or else the payload is delivered slower than real time. The wider the release, the better the economics of multicasting to cinemas worldwide. There is some dissent over whether or not 45 Mb/s is really necessary to render a high-resolution film image, or indeed if such lavish bandwidth usage is justified for all films. With compression technology improving, better results can be obtained every six months or so with less bandwidth. Meanwhile, metropolitan area networks with fiber optic connections are becoming capable of sustaining such data rates to individual points of presence. What is certain is that the delivery of highbandwidth streams to many places on the globe simultaneously will one day become cheaper and relatively routine.
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