NAB, SMPTE and Digital Cinema Magazine hosted a two day Digital Cinema Summit exploring the technologies, methodologies and standards for digital motion pictures. SMPTE is playing a key role in documenting digital cinema standards. Members of the SMPTE DC28 committee presented progress reports from their working groups on mastering, compression, content protection, transport, audio, theater systems and projection systems. Chaired by Curt Behlmer, the DC 28 committee was formed a little over two years ago to define the requirements for digital cinema and to identify areas that could be standardized. The rest of the summit consisted of panel discussions providing perspectives on digital cinema from cinematographers, editors, directors, post facilities, vendors, standards bodies, theater owners, etc.
Sunday’s keynote address featured Scott Billups, well-known director and visual effects artist, who provided an entertaining and personal history of the evolution of digital film production and post. Billups reminded attendees that digital cinema is “a work in progress” that will “undergo revision.” There are conflicting definitions of digital cinema. Some people are trying to push high definition video standards while others encourage higher standards. Brad Hunt, chief technology officer of the MPAA, reminded attendees that “digital cinema is not HDTV on a big screen” and “not a television broadcast service,” urging us to “not be constrained by the television standards of the past.” One issue of contention is picture quality standards for digital cinema. Steven Poster (president, ASC) claimed that the picture quality tests done to date have been fraught with problems and done without the participation of cinematographers. The DC 28.3 working group on compression is developing a test methodology using expert viewers.
There was much contention between film traditionalists and high definition apologists. During the digital cinematography panel Steven Poster (President, ASC) asked Larry Thorpe (Vice President for Acquisitions Systems, Sony), “repeat after me, HD is not a replacement for film,” the audience responded with cheers and Larry Thorpe replied, “that is too definitive of a statement.” Steven Poster claimed that, “Sony has done a disservice to create a phony war,” and that each acquisition format “will exist on it’s own.” Why can we live together? The film vs. high definition debate is getting tedious. Each medium has it’s own special qualities. What I think bothers many filmmakers is we should not settle on high definition video as a standard for digital cinema, the standards for the theatrical experience can be and should be higher.
This post is a section from the article “NAB 2002 Roundup” published in the New York Independent Film Monitor, Vol. 7, No. 7 (May 2002)