Digital Theatrical Motion Pictures
This technology is already here, but only in about a hundred theaters around the world. Eastman Kodak and others are leading us into this new film-less era.
The concept is not much different than projection video equipment that has been around in schools for a decade or more, but the quality is much higher.
Motion picture release prints have a resolution close to or better than HDTV. Rated at around 1,200 horizontal lines.
Motion pictures work by leaving little irregular blobs of color dyes on clear 35mm plastic film stock. The actual image, however, is only 24mm (1”) wide as they must use part of the 35mm space for perforation and a sound track area. A light shines through this material and then lenses focus the color image on the screen that is 50 or more feet wide. Because the pictures changes 24 times a second and moves you never clearly see the little blobs (they might appear as a swirl effect, especially on something solid such as a blue sky in a given scene) and the brain is fooled so much that any imperfections in the magnified image are not noticed.
Also don’t forget most people view theatrical movies from 25 or more feet from the screen. From that perspective the width of the screen is only 12” (a foot) so the effective magnification of the image is only about 12 times (12x). This is equivalent to blowing a 35mm still picture up to an 11 x 14” picture size. If the original image is sharp then most people find an 11 x 14 picture to have excellent quality!
Theatrical movies are shot with great care. They generally use excellent lenses costing more for each lens than you would pay for the JVC HD camcorder! Now, imaging paying $3,000 for just one lens!
The 35mm motion picture cameras cost $25,000 to $100,000 to buy and $200 a day to rent.
Digital equipment is no different. These cameras, in fact, cost over $100,000 to buy and $500 or more per day to rent. They often use the exact same lenses that motion picture cameras take (so you don’t have to buy new lenses). They use very large 3 chip sensors (some are ˝” or more in size, compared to the 1/6th of an inch sensor found in home camcorders) and record a 1,000+ horizontal line image uncompressed on tape.
To project the image you need special chips, such as those used in the DLP (Digital Light Processing) system. These special DMD (Digital Micro-mirror Device) chips retrieve the three color (red, blue and green) picture information, then use mirrors, light and lenses to project this image on to the screen. The miro mirrors of the chip open and close to the light based on color information received from the digital media (DVD disk, transmission, memory card, etc.). Light shines through a filter. A mixture of red, blue and green light reflected off the mirrors, through the filters then put a color image on the standard white projection screen across the room! It's that simple!
A simple 4 or 5 megapixel three chip image is basically as good as 35mm still film (home camcorders use a 100,000 pixel image for each of the three colors). A single chip 5 megapixel still camera generations a very good quality 11 x 14 print. Most professional photographers use 10 and 12 megapixel backs on their film cameras to deliver a 20 x 24 poster of high quality.
Currently only a few movies are being shot digitally. Star Wars parts 1, 2 and 3 are some examples. These were shown digitally at a few theaters (only about six theaters were ready at the time of Star Wars part 2 release, even today there are only 14 digital theaters in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusettes area of the greater North East United States, with only six currently playing a digital movie in release) and transferred to film for regular exhibition.
If you saw Star Wars II then you saw a movie shot on video tape and transferred to film using special chip technology. You saw a scanned image. A picture made much like those from the Kodak and Fuji digital printing machines we talked about in a past issue!
By the year 2010 almost every theater in the U.S. will turn digital and will get their movies by either subscribing to an encoded broadcast frequency (much like the way “dish” users get HBO, Showtime and Pay Per View movies today) or via a special digital media card (that requires an expensive piece of hardware to extract the images, so pirates won’t have an easy time without access to a professional motion picture laboratory or editing center). Film will be a thing of the past.
Photographic film will probably never see two full centuries of use (the technology was created in the middle of the 1800’s). By the year 2015 there will probably be no more still or movie films in this country. A few labs may print 35mm theatrical movies for foreign releases in countries who can’t afford to convert to digital.
We may also even see the older three strip Technicolor process return for release prints. This uses dye transfer printing on clear 35mm film stock from three color (red, blue and green) original images. This might make some excellent “direct projection” prints from raw digital sources.
We sit on the threshold of a new era with big screen home HD TV, HD DVD on the horizon, 3.5 megapixel still cameras that might deliver film quality images for under $1,000 and HD camcorders that will soon cost lost than $1,000. Add to this digital theatrical movies with CD quality, multi-track, surround sound and pristine images projected from a high quality digital source.
To find a digital theater near you anywhere in the world go to:
Camcorders 2004 | Capture Cards 2004 | HD-DVD
From our archives we have these articles from the 2002 Issues: