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Technicolor Opens Digital Cinema Test Lab To Squash Bugs

For seven years Technicolor Digital Cinema has tried to make the digital cinema model work, spending the last year developing the business and finance plans.

Thomson's Technicolor Digital Cinema division has opened a digital cinema research and equipment test lab, supporting the entertainment industry's move to shed celluloid for bits and bytes.

Originally built for Disney Animation, the Technicolor Digital Cinema building now houses two projection rooms and digital cinema technology center with networked projectors and servers.

Upstairs in the control room, projectors from Sony Electronics, Christi Digital Systems, Barco Digital Cinema and NEC undergo a series of 144 compatibility and performance tests. About 34 have been performed.

A handful of servers shelved on racks from Dolby, Doreme Cinema, Kodak Digital Cinema, QuVIS and NEC that can store a combined 15-terabytes are being closely analyzed, too. Approximately 60 projector and server configurations are being tested.

For seven years Technicolor Digital Cinema has tried to make the digital cinema model work, spending the last year developing the business and finance plans. Joe Berchtold, Technicolor Electronic Distribution Services president, dispenses a pearl of wisdom. "This is about an industry in transition," he said. "It's fundamentally changing how business is done."

Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. executives said their respective companies would release nearly all movies this year in digital format, making them available for distribution either by broadband, hard drive or satellite to theaters.

Distributing digital movies via satellite would prove the most efficient and cost effective because companies can transmit movie files to multiple locations simultaneously.

Maybe so, but there is still work to do, Berchtold told reporters who gathered on Wednesday at the Burbank, Calif., facility to get a rare glimpse at the site and equipment.

For starters, compressed 250 gigabyte files take 20 hours to transmit by satellite. These files uncompressed are 2 terabytes, Berchtold said.

Cameras weren't welcome in the lab, because some equipment manufacturers plan to launch the products next month at the National Association of Broadcasters conference. Reporters were given permission to record the question and answer session. (Comments from Berchtold; Julian Levin, executive vice president at 20th Century Fox; and Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. in podcast form to listen to or download are available here. )

A host of problems, however, remain. Berchtold said there are "substantial incompatibility and technology issues that need to be resolved." Some have been identified, such as piracy and projection uniformity across the screen, but there's much more testing to do before perfecting systems.

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