Perhaps the most surprising news of March is that two 4K servers and projectors manufactured by Sony Electronics passed DCI Compliance testing and are now listed as compliant on the DCI website. The surprising part is not that Sony equipment complied at all, but that the equipment comprises the first complete digital cinema system to do so. On the TI side of digital cinema, only TI Series 2 projectors are listed as compliant. No TI-compatible server has achieved compliance to date, and so no system using TI projectors can be said to be compliant.
Presumably this gap won’t last long. Rumors fly that Doremi servers will be next to be listed, in only a matter of weeks. But that rumor has been out there since last October, at that time heard directly from the highest of Doremi management. Obviously there is more to DCI compliance than meets the eye, and whether or not a major impediment has now been overcome remains to be seen. While one should not discount the speed by which other servers will be deemed DCI compliant, a safe bet is to say that all servers will meet this goal within the coming year.
Note that DCI compliance could introduce new problems. Sony has already privately warned that strict interpretation of some standards and behaviors could lead to problems in the playback of Interop content. If so, this could very well be a problem that has held back other manufacturers from achieving compliance.
While Dolby was not able to similarly announce DCI compliance of its products, it was able to impress industry watchers with the move to 4K. At ShowEast, Dolby announced its DCOSA effort (Digital Cinema Open System Alliance – another brilliant DCx acronym) to create a standard interface for media blocks. Dolby, as the number four player in the US market, has no chance of imposing such things on market leaders Doremi, Sony, and GDC. But DCOSA does give it an opportunity to mitigate risk as it moves away from engineering in-house media blocks and outsourcing the work to third parties. The success of Dolby’s effort took root at CinemaCon when, in its dealer meeting, Dolby displayed its new in-projector 4K media block, produced in phenomenally short order by Dolby standards. While the media block has a branded Dolby front panel, it was designed by MikroM engineers in Berlin.
This one announcement signaled several things. First is that Dolby intends to stay in the cinema business, and will compete head on with rivals having similar 4K in-projector media blocks. Second is that the use of MikroM as the 3rd party to design the media block insures that the company can be responsive to newer feature sets, such as 3D open text. MikroM has substantial experience as a media block manufacturer, having built media blocks for XDC for many years. If 3rd party vendor MikroM has a fault, it’s high pricing. Dolby has the potential to bring down costs through volume purchasing. However, all costs were not revealed. While Dolby discussed an $8500 list price server to attach to the 4K media block, the expected price of the media block itself was not disclosed. All that is known is that the media block won’t be on the market until late in 2011.
Dolby went further to demonstrate renewed prowess in cinema by dropping prices for its entire cinema product line. Newly designed 3D eyewear was introduced at the $12 point. Audio processors, the mainstay of Dolby’s cinema business, reduced in cost by 30%. A little over a year ago, the industry, if not Dolby itself, was ready to write off the company’s presence in the cinema market. Credit for the change in direction appears due to Dolby’s new marketing director Matt Cuson.