There are those in the industry that continue to believe that DCI has burdened the motion picture industry with a huge expense, and they each have their solutions. There is the annual bloom of nubies touting (wrongly) how their application of consumer technology can do everything that DCI can. More annoyingly, there is always a politician waiting in the wings to lend them an ear. (Americans don’t have this problem…but nearly everyone else does.) None of this would take place, of course, if there wasn’t an audience of independents looking for low cost solutions, whether the art house cinema owner or the independent movie distributor.
It’s understandable that the independent mainstream and art house exhibitors seek a means to reduce exposure to the cost of new technology. Independent distributors have a different, less permanent reason, seeking to avoid a VPF payment per digital booking, which is more expensive than serially booking a single copy of a film print. In this particular case, both parties have the US studios as a common “enemy,” which leads to memorable press releases such as that recently issued by AG Kino in Germany, asking for establishment of a VPF through legislation and an alternative playback system to that promoted by DCI. Politicians just eat this stuff up.
To many people, an alternative system implies a non-DCI-compatible type of distribution. But a potentially troublesome possibility is introduced when the alternative system is file and key compatible with its DCI compliant brethren. Qube has an “e-cinema” server along this line, which accepts content packaged in the digital cinema DCP format, although it is not DCI compliant and sells for less. In addition, it has been long been reported that Doremi and Qube each developed file-compatible e-cinema projector-server combinations with Delta Electronics of Taiwan. Delta specializes in projectors having 5000 lumens or less, which would meet the needs of 2-D auditoriums with 8-meter or smaller screens. Exhibitors looking for low cost ways to convert might be attracted to such devices, and independent distributors might even encourage their installation. Further, with the emergence of DCI compliant in-projector media blocks, the situation gets even more complex.
For independent distributors, the logic of systems that are file-compatible but non-DCI-compliant works. They could create a compliant digital cinema DCP, and play it in both e-cinema and d-cinema-equipped auditoriums. The exhibitor that owns such a system, however, is restricted to only those distributions for which they can get a security key. If, say, a major studio authorizes key delivery messages (KDMs) on the 6th week of release for a blockbuster, then the exhibitor could play the blockbuster on its e-cinema system.
But for major studios, the logic of file-compatible but non-DCI-compliant systems faces some very real challenges. To release a movie on such a system could open a security hole if the system were not DCI compliant. Such objections could be overcome if the system were to utilize the new generation of DCI compliant media blocks. (While Texas Instruments might have a problem with another company copying its in-projector media block interface, let’s assume there are ways to bypass this objection, too.) The result would be a projector that may not pass the DCI tests for color and contrast, but would be no less secure than with a DCI compliant system, resulting in a new breed of second-tier system.
If a true second-tier system were to emerge that is file compatible and key compatible, it would require booking decisions to be made on the basis of system in adjunct with the usual business practice. One possibility is the emergence of multiple types of “trusted device lists,” or TDLs, where there would be the TDL of devices acceptable to major studios for on-the-break release, and a TDL of systems for after-the-break release. To complicate things, since DCI-compliant in-projector media blocks could move from non-compliant projector to a compliant projector, it wouldn’t be sufficient to know the security credentials of the media block. One would have to know the security credentials of the projector, as well.
There’s a very real possibility that a manufacturer not currently involved in the digital cinema market attempt to enter it by copying the TI in-projector media block interface. There’s also the possibility that such devices find their way into some markets, encouraged by independent distributors in the region. The mechanism for controlling this, however, already exists in the KDM itself, through the mechanism called “authorized device list.” This list can contain the security credentials of all of the projectors in a projection booth. Since a DCI compliant media block will know the security credentials of the projector to which it is connected, it can validate that these credentials are included in the KDM.
The idea of authorizing the projector-server combination through the KDM is not popular among exhibitors, who have need to move equipment around on occasion. Happily for them, not all studios make use of the authorized device list today. But if a second-tier projection system were to emerge, use of the authorized device list would quickly elevate. And a second-tier projection system could easily emerge if a politician-in-waiting in some remote region gets their way.