Tuesday, 26 September, 2006

Digital Cinema - still needs film

Yes Digital Cinema, DCinema, still needs film to get going.

I'm just wrapping up the DI (digital intermediate) for a major Hindi feature film. And they will release that film worldwide with about 800 film prints. Besides, one DCinema company will release the film digitally at hundreds of theatres all over India.

There's still a month for release, so I got into some testing with the Digital Cinema release company. It turns out they work like this...

1. Producer hands over a final negative. And Dolby sound tracks (on Hi-8 or some other medium)
2. They telecine the negative to D-5. Meaning 1:7 compression depending on how they do it.
3. Format is 1080p25. So film is run at 24+1 in telecine. Motion artifacts? Need to see this.
4. They capture this D-5 into their system. Its a PC so maybe they use something like Premiere.
5. Marry the Picture and sound and compress/encrypt.
6. Final MPEG-4 is distributed over satellite or removable hard disks.

The producer gets to pay a fixed sum for the telecine. So maybe they've got a good deal with someone with an old CRT telecine somewhere.

I got into this and offered to give them the movie digitally since we're grading on Lustre. And I have the means (and a good reason) to convert these through our look-up tables into a format of their choice. They chose QuickTime Uncompressed. I made a small 2 min sample (really huge and great looking file).

First we went into a back and forth because their cheap USB drives simply couldn't transfer this without errors. I offered Firewire hard disks at my expense.

After about 10 days they came back and said their method (neg to D-5 to compressed) produced identical results to my digital to digital suggestion.

Look at the chain in the method they follow...

1. Film originally shot on 35 mm film.
2. 35 mm film scanned to hard disk.
3. Graded on Lustre. Digital processing. Mostly lossless.
4. Digital files output to film. Some loss here from the original.
5. Processed film telecine'd. Colour correction and some motion artifacts.
6. Compression on tape. D-5, 4:1 or 7:1
7. Tape captured to disk. Decompression from tape for HD-SDI and further compression in capture hardware.
8. Compression to MPEG4 for transmission. More compression.

Sure they say this looks good. And sure hundreds of theatres have shown this to thousands of people. And sure most people won't tell the difference anyway. But hey, why don't we shoot VHS and distribute VCD? Most people can't tell between that and Betacam anyway right?

I'm running out of patience. So the end result is that this film will be released digitally but with the help of film.

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