Just when the industry thought that digital cinema had found its value-added feature, Texas Instruments had a different idea. Why not, TI thought, charge an additional fee for turning on the 3-D feature in projectors? To enable this, TI introduced the ability to lockout the sequential 3-D capability of its projectors with its latest software upgrade, v13. To insure that exhibitors install the new software, TI requires its upgrade alongside the required Gore Board security hardware projector upgrade. Christie Digital, having the most projectors in the field, had already released the upgrade to its customers. The new software gives the exhibitor a 7-month window in which to license its projectors, after which time the 3-D feature will no longer work.
In its execution, TI fumbled in every way imaginable. There was no announcement of its licensing plans to equipment owners. The introduction of the 3-D key and 7-month grace window was posted on the web sites of its OEMs as a feature of the v13 upgrade. Its beta release of v13 software didn’t have the 7-month window, and was employed in the projectors used at CineAsia. Dolby Laboratories first learned of the requirement for the key at CineAsia when its in-theatre 3-D demonstration didn’t work: no one had a key. In a NATO call with Nancy Fares, who leads TI’s DLP Cinema business development, I was stunningly told that “this feature didn’t affect exhibitors.” TI planned to have only the 3-D add-on companies pay its licensing fees, which turn out to be over $2K per projector. RealD refused to negotiate with TI, saying it would not license products it doesn’t sell. When I pressed Nancy for how this model would apply to a company such as Xpand or Master Image, whose 3-D add-on products can be moved by the exhibitor to any TI projector, the answer was that “there aren’t many of those systems in the US.” To be fair, Nancy said that TI would offer permanent 3-D keys to those who had already purchased projectors, although none of the deployment entities were given such keys, and she could not articulate how the cut-off date would be determined.
TI is undergoing significant changes, and the 3-D licensing snafu appears to be symptomatic of its current condition. Doug Darrow, who held Nancy Fare’s job before moving on to lead DLP TV, left the company end of January after his sales group was eliminated. Doug reports that the faster-than-expected success of flat screen displays reduced DLP TV sales to 1/10 of where they were a few years ago. At the January Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, TI’s customarily large, extravagant booth, complete with large enclosed theatre, was conspicuously missing from the trade show floor. This was the first year where no DLP sets were on display at CES. To compensate, the DLP division was folded into the Analog division at TI. The Analog group is chartered to seek new uses for the micro-machine fabrication technology used in the building of DLP chips. With Doug’s departure, it is apparent that no one is left in TI’s management who understands the exhibition industry.
Following my discussion with Nancy Fares, TI sent emails to a few companies saying that it will refrain from licensing 3-D in its Series 1 projectors, but will carry forth with licensing plans for the Series 2 projector, scheduled to appear on the market next year. Notably, no communication of any kind was sent to NATO. Two weeks after discussing the matter with Nancy, a set of written follow-up questions have yet to be answered.