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Bye Bye Film Projector, See You In the Smithsonian Some Day

Hal McClure Posted by Hal McClure in Blogs December 21st, 2012

You knew it would happen. But so soon? By the year 2020 — or earlier — projectors that project film might only be viewed in the Smithsonian or some other museum. You remember film — that “celluloidy,” sprocket-holed thing?

There are more than 125,000 screens globally and nearly 52,000 are already digital, the Los Angeles Times reported. The paper also quoted Jack Kline, president of Christie Digital Systems in the US, and a major player in digital installation, saying:

"When we started in 2005, we really thought it was going to take 10 or 15 years for digital cinema to be fully adopted, but in a matter of a few years we've gone past a tipping point. It astounded us at how quickly it was adopted.”

Roughly half — 12,620 — of those digital screens were equipped to show movies in 3D and 244 of those were IMAX installations. Christie licenses technology from Texas Technical Instruments, which has shipped and installed more than 26,000 digital cinema projectors.

Today, about two-thirds of all U.S. movie screens have digital projectors — nearly 40,000 — reports the National Association of Theatre Owners — NATO. About 2,620 of those digital screens were equipped to show movies in 3D. And 244 of those were IMAX installations. Popular blockbuster 3d films, such as Avatar, which mostly requires digital projectors, has helped the expansion.

NEC digital projector.

Texas Instruments, Inc., maker of the DLP digital projectors, reported that over 51,000 installed around the globe, with the larger increases in China and Europe.

No wonder exhibitors — and studios — have welcomed digital projectors, if only to replace those costly film prints. Digital can be delivered to theaters via hard drives, optical disks — DVDs, Blue-ray discs — or satellite.

There has been a downside to the digital invasion, however: Not all neighborhood or other small film-only theaters have the money to make the expensive switch to digital. “We're faced with digital doomsday,” said Jason Clark, owner of Parkhill Cinema, a three-screen theater in Tarboro, N.C. He says installing three new digital projectors will cost $50,000-$70,000 each.

NATO said they were pushing all members to make the switch to digital projectors — "but all won't make it."

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