Digital Cinema – The Integrated Solution
by Denis Kelly, Former Director for Europe of Eastman Kodak Digital Cinema Activities

One of the many phrases that are used when people talk about Digital Cinema is the benefit of an “Integrated Solution”. What does this mean? Well perhaps a good example is to talk about something most of us use in everyday life – a motor car. Typically, all we normally care about is that we can jump in, turn the key, the engine will start, and we can drive to where we need to go. But in many ways the car is an example of an integrated solution. We rely on the manufacturer to build us a basic model, making sure that all the components, like the engine, battery, exhaust and electrical system etc. are all assembled so it all works together, and that the car is fitted with correct tyres and lights so that we can drive safely within the specifications of the laws of the road. But the “integrated solution” of the motor car needs more to make it work. It needs content – and in this case I mean gasoline fuel and oil – to make it deliver its value. We also need some sort of service option to make sure that over the months and years, the equipment continues to work efficiently and safely.

Another example of an integrated solution is the home “music centre”. Of course it is very practical – and some people want – to purchase a separate tuner, cd player, tape deck, speakers etc., but most of us want a simple solution that we know will work together as soon as we switch on the power.

So what does that mean for digital cinema? Well, like the hi-fi case, it is quite practical to buy individual parts of the system, feed it with content from many sources, and to rely on service back up from the various suppliers. It works, but is that the best way to ensure reliable, quality presentations in commercial cinema? The “Integrated Solution” is much more than a server feeding a digital projector.

It starts with Content Preparation, where the compression and encryption take place. One of the drives within the industry is to ensure that the output from this process is standardised, so that content from any supplier will play perfectly on any cinema system. Slowly, that day is coming! Then the material is sent to the cinema, and there is no laid-down standard of the route – satellite, cable or hard drive – that can be used. It really comes down to a practical business and convenience decision. So while many suppliers for now use hard drives, the type of drives that are used are not all the same. But there should always be a way of getting that content into the cinema server. However, a content preparation centre linked to the server supplier will most likely offer a more efficient option for loading the content into the server.

In the cinema, it’s a case of matching a server with a projector, and linking it to the in-cinema systems such as the automation, audio and ticketing/show scheduling software. Stand-alone servers are fine, but as digital cinema grows, the advantage of a network design also grows. In the longer term, it is network operation that will deliver the most cost effective installation and benefit to the cinema. That is already becoming the heart of the “Integrated Solution”.

In the projection process, security and colour image management are high on the priority list. Most of this comes with the industry specifications, but there are additional features that can enhance the standard show presentation.

The final link in the Integrated Solution is service. The biggest change here is that service becomes much more of an Information Technology business. The ability of the supplier to remotely monitor the performance of the cinema systems round the clock, perhaps even from halfway round the world, enables faults to be dealt with before they become too serious. If there is a serious fault, then usually the required part or component can be sent ahead of a service visit – it is all about avoiding dark screens. Remote Monitoring truly transforms the cinema service business.

The biggest advantage of an “Integrated Solution” is that it offers a “one number to call” option to the cinema owner. Some people call this a “one stop shop”. It avoids situations where it is difficult to identify just where a problem might lie, and where it is all too easy to blame another component part of the system. That’s one of the reasons why Barco and Kodak formed an alliance in 2005 – it’s not an exclusive arrangement at all – but both suppliers will support each others’ products, in sales and service, and the cinema owner can be sure that the combination of a Barco projector and a Kodak server will deliver all these advantages of the “Integrated Solution”.