Anybody care to comment on the prospects for future film technology? This story has Qualcomm and Technicolor teaming up to foot the bill for initial installation of digital projectors in theatres nation wide (in exchange for a future percent of profits.) I seem to remember a story about Hughes offering a similar deal (becasue they own the satellites which would be delivering the content to these digital theatres.) I can't find the link to that one now, mabe they are part of the Qualcomm Technicolor coalition. I know Lucas screened the Phantom Menance at a couple of digital theatres using the Texas Instruments digital projector. Reviews I read were sharply mixed with the digital crowd being totally wowed, and the analog cinema crowd basically seeing the digital demon as the end of art as we know it.

Roger Ebert (what's the take on this guy?) is pretty convinced that digital is a no go:
"I have seen the future of the cinema, and it is not digital. No matter what you've read, the movie theater of the future will not use digital video projectors, and it will not beam the signal down from satellites. It will use film, and the film will be right there in the theater with you.
He goes on to describe MaxiVision48 a new 48 frames per second analog film technology that is described as 500 times "better" (whatever that means) than old 24 fps film, OR digital, "take your pick."

I've shot a bunch of miniDV footage, and while it is quite sharp, this is almost a criticism when compared to the gorgeous look an expert (like, say, Steve) can get with decades old super8. So what's the deal? Does a new analog technology (like MaxiVision48) really have a chance? Or are we going to be watching all the big hits on digital projectors in the next year or two? Or will 24 fps trudge on by default? Does it matter? Will the resolution on digital simply get so high that any of these other technologies can just be simulated (right down to imitating specific types of film stock, or specific personalities of different camera equipment?)
- jim 3-12-2001 4:35 pm

I know absolutely nothing about the subject, but when someone of a certain age says that some new technology is never going to matter, they're usually wrong.
Ebert's an interesting guy, who scripted for Russ Meyer, and went on to arguably raise the level of popular discourse as a TV film critic, but I wouldn't take his guarantee to the bank. I suppose time frame (and who's going to make the money) are the only real questions. I've got to believe that digital quality will ultimately match and/or reproduce film, but how fast it gets mainstreamed is another question. Seen any good HDTV lately?
- alex 3-12-2001 5:34 pm [add a comment]

  • Is film better? Probably. Does what we think (or Ebert thinks) matter? Not at all. The film industry will implement the technology that makes the most money for the least outlay, and the knuckleheads will either pay $9.50 for it or they won't. If it makes money, that will be the new standard. If it turns out to cause headaches or seizures, or if "underground film screenings" become the rage, then it may not become the new standard. This is one area where I think critics like Ebert and Godfrey Cheshire will have absolutely no influence, however valid their complaints. Ebert has tried to make a distinction between the sense of "reverie" one has with film and the reverie-free experience of digital video, but ultimately that's a matter of aesthetic sensitivity beyond the range of ordinary commerce. In popular culture, commerce rules.
    - Tom Moody 3-12-2001 9:04 pm [add a comment]

    • I thought casuing seizures was good for business. Isn't that the Pokemon lesson? ;-)

      Otherwise I agree with you. Money rules.
      - jim 3-12-2001 9:15 pm [add a comment]

    • I agree. Quality will not drive the industry, profit margins will. I personally doubt that we will see the resolution of video match that of film any time soon. The Current standard for sound film in the US is 24 frames per second. This means that 24 individual frames are exposed by the camera per second. The projectors project the film at 24 frames per second in order to have the motion of the subject (lets say a person running across the street) play back in "real time" If the projector were to play the film back at 12 frames per second the runner would appear to be running in slow motion. If played back at 50 frames per second the runner would appear to be running in fast motion. Thus the film must be shot and projected at the same frame rate. In the old days of silent film the standard was 16 frames per second. When these films are played on a projector running at 24 frames per second they appear to be moving in fast motion. When sound film technology was finally utalized the technicians decided to run at 24 frames per second.
      The slower the frame rate (fewer frames shot per second) the jerkier the motion and the more motion blur occuring on each frame. The faster the frame rate the more fluid the motion and the less motion blur per frame. 24 frames per second is a happy compromise. The motion blur is not too bad and, since only 24 frames of film are shot for one second of screen time it is realitively cheap (ha).
      If one were to run the camera at say, 50 frames per second and project it at 50 frames per second it would use up twice as much film and cost twice as much money to record that same one second of action. But the quality of the image would be twice (or is it 4 times) as sharp. Photosonics makes a camera which shoots 2500 frames per second. We've all seen the results, those sparkeling cans of soda tumbling through a splash of water. Milk and cereal flying and splashing into a bowl of milk, each globule of milk quivering, each flake of cereal on it's own acrobatic path through space. This type of footage is shot at 900 to 2500 frames per second and projected (actually transferred to video) at the 24 frames per second standard rate.
      If one were to shoot at 2500 frames per second and project at 2500 frames per second the motion would be "real time" but the quality of he image would be incredibly sharp, virtually no motion bluring would occur on any frame. If one were to examine a single frame of our person running across the street (shot at 24 frames per second) the hands and legs would be blurry enough to be almost indecipherable. But when 24 different frames flicker by in one second the human brain sees the succession as being sharp.
      Clearly, 48 frames per second would produce images sharper than any we have seen in movies. But the projectors would all have to be replaced, (I think a used 35mm arc lamp projector is upwards of 40 grand, imagine the cost of a new 48 fps monster!) the projection booth's soundproofing would have to be redone, (these projectors would be loud!) the movie sets would require 2 times more light, (the faster the exposure the more light required) requiring bigger lights, more people to operate them, more trucks to move them.... Electricians are getting somewhere around $400 for ten hours on a feature film these days. Double time after 12 hours I believe..... I'm barely scratching the surface here
      The cost just isn't worth it. In the late 70's there were two video formats the consumer had to choose from, Beta was clearly the better format in terms of image and sound quality, but VHS was just slightly cheaper and so that is what the consumer went for. (Sony really blew that one but that's another subject) Beta was phased out by the mid 1980's.
      I am afraid that Roger Ebert may be wrong on this, I wish he wasn't, It would be beautiful, but I just don't see how it could work financially. Teamsters deliver the film prints to the theaters fer crissakes, anyone know what a teamster gets these days? The new digital projectors may cost $150,000 each but I suspect that is a drop in the bucket compared with the increased production costs of each feature film should they use the faster frame rate technology. I think the industry will save millions anually if they are doing a satalite feed to digital projectors in the multiplexes.
      It is true that digital video is making strides in the resolution department, but so is film. I have forgotton what the DPI is on a frame of 35mm film but I believe it is hundereds of times that of digital video. Film stocks continue to improve at an astounding rate. I see no end to the improvements which could be made in the advancement of film technology. Take a look at what Kodak has to offer, stuff which only 5-10 years ago was unimaginable. I personally believe that if film were as cheap as digital video then it would always stay ahead in terms of sharpness color reproduction/saturation and ASA speeds. But because it is expensive, cumbersome, hard on the invironment etc. I'm betting it's on the way out. But it is not happening quickley. Virtually every television commercial (with the exception of those advertizing the Psychic network and their ilk) Every sitcom and most every feature film (including independant and foreign) is still shot on film.
      - steve 3-13-2001 1:10 am [add a comment]

      • Back in the '80s, Douglas Trumbull (Silent Running, Brainstorm)was promoting a many-more-frames-per-second technology--like the one you're describing--called Showscan. My brother saw a demonstration in a Chucky Cheese/pizza theatre type place and said it was amazing. (Brainstorm, with its pre-digital vision of virtual reality, was also a teaser for the process.) Trumbull honestly felt that high-speed film was the future of the industry. I'm not sure exactly when he gave up trying to promote it.
        - Tom Moody 3-13-2001 1:34 am [add a comment]

        • Yeah, I have heard of such high speed projectors being demonstrated. Would love to see one.
          Just because a technology is 100 years old (still pretty damn new really) doesn't make it out dated.
          Potter's wheels, shoe laces.
          - anonymous (guest) 3-13-2001 1:55 am [add a comment] [edit]

      • Guess I should have read the Ebert article first. only 10,000 to retrofit the existing projectors with the 48fps "upgrade"
        I still can't imagine it going the way Ebert, actually I can and wish it would be so, I just aint holding my breath.
        - anonymous (guest) 3-13-2001 1:49 am [add a comment] [edit]

        • Yeah, me too--actually I did read that article months ago, but I forgot he mentioned Showscan as a not-quite-as-good alternative. I love his description of Lucas as a "propellerhead."
          - Tom Moody 3-13-2001 2:00 am [add a comment]

I have been a projectionist for 34 years and have seen a lot of film systems (not MaxiVixion48). Higher frame rates yield better picture fidelity: facial blemishes are more pronoounced, round objects look rounder, etc.
I am currently working on a 48 fps system that fits into the current architecture of motion picture exhibition with a minimal of cost and downtime impact on the theater. No $10,000 projector head, no BS about changing between the standard 24 fps and 48 fps. Change should take no more than 5 minutes using the equipment already; in place.
Developing this process is tedious since I am using my own funds to finance the project, which means work gets done based on personal finances. Someday in the near future, 'though.....
- mpaapilot (guest) 4-28-2004 7:40 pm [add a comment]

  • Cool. But what about the added costs to the movie production?
    - steve 5-04-2004 4:35 am [add a comment]

  • Why not 60 fps? It's not a nice multiple of two, but it allows easier telecine to 720p.
    - mark 5-05-2004 10:24 am [add a comment]

Regarding Steve's comment about 24 fps being "good enough" to capture motion. I think 24 is okay for most people, so long as the motion isn't very fast. For sports, the 60 (or 50) fields per second of standard def. video makes a big difference is the smoothness of the motion.

Back in the early nineties I worked on a digital broadcast system that dropped video frames when the video became to difficult to compress easily. (An old video conferencing trick.) I tuned the rate control in the broadcast system, and in the process trained my eye to detect even one repeated frame of video. After that experience, the inherent judder (judder = lack of smoothness in motion) of 24 fps film is never transparent to me. And when a camera pans, I cringe.

I recently did an HD demo in which 24 fps film content was displayed at 30 fps without the normal 3:2 process. My reaction was "The Horror!", while others said "What are you talking about, it looks fine." That motivates my question about 48 fps film. It's hard to get that to HD video without problems. One could 3:2 this to 720p, but then it wouldn't progressive. So it would really be 720 @ 120i rather than 720 @ 60p. Sacre bleu, not another format!

But back on topic, what role will digital and or video play in film? Other than Indy production, an actual film camera will remain the norm for quite some time. There are some many aspects to the "look" of film that are deeply ingrained.

However, I've heard that digital intermediate is becoming very common. Can digital distribution and projection be far behind? The numbers I heard long ago are $10,000 per print and 10,000 screens. That works out to $100 M in print cost to do a major release. Compare the cost of a distribution print to the cost of a stack of DVD-ROMs to carry 4k resolution lightly compressed ... umm ... moving images. And satellite distribution to servers could even eliminate the shipping.
- mark 5-05-2004 11:16 am [add a comment]

"the inherent judder (judder = lack of smoothness in motion) of 24 fps film is never transparent to me. And when a camera pans, I cringe. "
For me it depends on the rate of the pan. Sometimes it gets so jumpy it almost makes me sick.
- steve 5-05-2004 7:40 pm [add a comment]

I was speaking with someone at lunch today who opined that 4k digital cinema may replace the whole production chain except the actual film in the movie camera. Any current thoughts?
- mark 5-06-2004 1:17 am [add a comment]

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