Satellite-Delivered Digital Cinema Signals Transformation In Film Industry
With Microspace Communications Corp.’s digital cinema premiere of “Transformers” in Los Angeles June 27, the Raleigh, N.C.-based provider of broadcast video, data and audio satellite services may have found a metaphor for the future of the film distribution industry.
The exclusive North American pre-release screening of the new DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures film
represented one of the largest film premieres in history when it was screened simultaneously to thousands of viewers at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Nevertheless, “it certainly isn’t a novelty,” said Greg Hurt, Microspace’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We’ve been delivering full feature movies for several years, and there’s a movement in the industry to support digital cinema … We believe that digital cinema by satellite is the way that distribution will be done long-term.”
He noted that the traditional distribution method using reels of celluloid offers logistical and practical challenges that Microspace renders obsolete.
“Celluloid film has been shipped for many, many years and there are logistical challenges in shipping multiple films to multiples locales, both in the amount of shipping time and regular wear and tear on the film,” Hurt said. “Digital cinema offers better quality more economically and saves time.”
Hurt added that “the theater owners certainly see the advantage in getting the material quickly, and it allows them to think of other things to improve their product. From the movie goers’ standpoint, it’s better quality, especially as for each time it’s shown. We think it’s a win-win for all. The satellite footprint we have covers the entire country. You broadcast once and it can be received in multiple points.”
Microspace’s footprint is provided by Intelsat’s Galaxy-3C at 95° West, SES Americom’s AMC-1 at 103° West, and SES New Skies’ NSS-7 and NSS-806 satellites. Microspace’s primary focus is in North America, though the company plans to extend its reach into other markets.
In terms of hardware, all that is required of the end-user theater is a small satellite antenna on the rooftop, the digital file server that stores the movie and a digital projector.
In November, Microspace delivered the animated Disney feature "Chicken Little" to the Galaxy Cineplex in Ontario, Canada, via its Velocity satellite service and Kodak’s Digital Cineservers.
In March, Microspace distributed a 4k digital-cinema package of Sony Pictures’ "The Da Vinci Code" via satellite from Raleigh to Sony’s laboratory in San Jose, Calif.
"Da Vinci"’s distribution was a test of the viability for distributing via satellite 4k content, which is four times the amount of information – including both display aspect ratio and pixels – found in the more common 2k format.
"4k is getting rolling," said Peter Lude, senior vice president of solutions engineering at Sony Electronics. "We want to assure ourselves and the industry that we have all aspects of an end-to-end 4k solution.
"We tested the satellite distribution of the 4k content for security, reliability, and for compatibility with digital-cinema projection systems," Lude said. "We were impressed by Microspace’s ability to streamline the integration and process of delivering such a large file. This demonstration provided a great example of the viability of digital cinema 4k content for theaters."