The Digital Challenge

In India, around 23 per cent of about 9,400 digital cin­ema theatres run on the d-cinema format; the rest are all on e-cinema. But d-cinema’s share is expected to rise to 30 per cent and beyond as there are no more an­alogue theatres left for digital makeover. “With more investments, we prefer to install either a mix of d-cin­ema and e-cinema systems or get only d-cinema equip­ment,” says a theatre operator in Bhopal. Compound­ing the problem is the fact that about 3,000 theatres — mostly single-screen ones — have closed down in the past decade or so. Of the 12,000 single-screen the­atres that existed before the multiplex revolution of the late 1990s, around 9,500 are in business, of which bar­ring 100 or so, all have adopted digital cinema. These screens are either new, or ones that have been con­verted by their owners to accommodate new technolo­gies. The rest are either shut or are in the process of converting their single screens to digital cinema, say film distributors.

What’s roiling up the waters further is the steady rise in


Digital Cinema: Resolutions in digital cinema is represented by horizontal pixel count of 2K or 4 K (2.2 megapixels or 8.8 megapixels). It reaches theatres as digital files or digital cinema package (DCP), usually 90 GB to300 GB of data delivered via satellite/f ibre-optic broadband. DCP, an encrypted file, gets copied to internal hard- drives of the server. Decryption keys are separate and time-limited. D-cinema: Adopted in North America. DCI standard requires 2K or 4K resolution projectors: defined minimum contrast ratio, precise brightness level, calibrated minimum colour gamut. Projectors, servers conform to DCI specification. Anti-piracy devices protect copyright. Multiplex chains run mostly on d-cinema. Theatres pay Rs 8,000-40,000 per month on investments of Rs 15-50 lakh. Criticism: Expensive, long recovery horizon, consumes more electricity, not fit for smaller centres.

E-cinema: Adopted in India, Brazil, China. It typically uses 3-chip DLP projectors that produce better quality than 35mm film. Servers are either DCI compliant or MPEG MXF Interop format in order to adopt both standards. Projection systems utilise 1080p resolution (rather than d-cinema’s 2Krequirement). Colour points also are not as per DCI specifications. Most Indian theatres run on e-cinema.

Criticism: Low in quality, fit only for smaller centres (Rs 8-15 lakh investments per theatre; 4-5 years recovery period), long-term, fixed fee deals where theatre pay Rs 3,000-17,000 per month.

“Hollywood studios know that
wider release of their films means
better business. So, e-cinema and
d-cinema can co-exist in India”

KAPIL AGAR WAL joint managing director of UFO Moviez

the number of Hollywood releases in India. Compared to 20-25 films that hit the theatres here in 2009-10, now more than 60 play in cinema houses in a year. The num­ber is expected to climb to 100 in two-three years. Also, revenues from Hollywood films in multiplexes have soared from 5 per cent in 2006 to 21 per cent now and may cross 30 per cent in the next couple of years.

So which format will prevail? Or will they co-exist? Ex­perts are divided on the question. “Growth will come from new screens in smaller towns,” says Agarwal of UFO Mov­iez. “These won’t be the multiplexes but two-screen thea­tres because we have four to five models within e-cinema and five-six models within d-cinema. Not everyone wants bigger investments. The share of d-cinema may margin­ally rise to 27-28 per cent while e-cinema will continue to dominate.”

Cinepolis’s Sampat believes that if you invest in a supe­rior technology, the returns will be more. “We will be on d- cinema in all our current and future screens,” he says. “While there may be more e-cinema screens, a majority of our collections come from d-cinema screens.”

Taking into account the current dominance of e-cinema theatres and, buoyed by the commercial success of Furi­ous 7 due to wider distribution, sources say the next big summer release Jurassic World might open in both e-cin­ema and d-cinema formats.

This points to the snooty Hollywood distribution com­panies falling in line with small-town Indian reality. ED