The Plugfest blues continue, as vendors move at a snail pace to unravel what took place during the tests conducted in July. Three test materials were used, two produced and mastered by Fox (Avatar and a home-brew Killer Stress Test), and a revised version of Disney’s The Game Plan mastered by Cinecert. Of the three contents, only the Avatar clip reliably played both open and closed captions. Numerous things could have gone wrong. It was felt that the March tests successfully demonstrated basic caption performance, but the breaking point had not been learned. Revised test materials were prepared for July to test performance to the full capabilities of the specs. It was expected that some players would break. What was not expected was that all players would break. The next Plugfest is planned for November 16.
In early 2009, ISDCF published its transition timeline for moving to SMPTE DCP distribution. The goal was to incorporate full SMPTE DCP support in all new products sold beginning April 2010, and to fully update systems in the field with SMPTE DCP capability by April 2011. As SMPTE DCP incorporates the packaging requirements of DCI, the timeline is expected to be realistic and achievable.
There is question, however, as to whether the April 2011 date will be met in earnest. This is particularly true for the US, where 4000-5000 early generation digital cinema servers are installed that are incapable of meeting DCI compliance. These servers will have to be fully replaced, but replacement is unlikely to happen until DCI compliant versions are available. Thus, there is a string of serial dependencies that must be met before studios can safely transition to SMPTE DCP distribution.
One of those dependencies is the achievement of DCI compliance by a digital cinema server. That goal is expected to be met before 2010 is out, with Doremi the first out the chute. While one will hear from the various manufacturers that they’ll all achieve compliance by year end, your author believes that at least three digital cinema servers will achieve DCI compliance by the end of 2nd quarter 2011. The compliance process is arduous. There are hundreds of tests to pass in order to comply, and the industry’s compliance expertise is primarily invested in one entity: Cinecert. For this reason, manufacturers hire Cinecert not only as the DCI-authorized testing agency to determine if their products are compliant, but also as a consultancy to instruct them on the modifications needed to meet compliance.
Cinecert is one of three authorized compliance testing entities in the world. One, in Italy, reportedly has yet to engage in testing. The second, in Japan, is said to be busy with Sony product. The advantage of having a small number of such experts is that it should lead to uniform results. The disadvantage, of course, is that the consulting-testing process is overloaded quickly, decreasing throughput. This will likely introduce a longer-than-expected delay in the introduction of product versions that meet DCI compliance, and an equally long transition period for SMPTE DCP compliance in the field.