DCI has served the industry well by providing certain implementation details, particularly in the area of security, that are not covered – nor should be covered – in standards. NIST FIPS security compliance has been criticized – including by this journal – for bringing into play a US government compliance process which is not necessarily in tune with that of the motion picture industry. However, while an expensive process, manufacturers have consistently demonstrated an ability to pass FIPS. But six years after the release of version 1.0 of the DCI Specification, only two servers have passed the DCI Compliance Test Plan. A very weak showing, when there are at least eight manufacturers of media blocks in the industry.
A complaint heard from several manufacturers is that Cinecert’s DCI test lab is booked, and additional staff is not being hired, resulting in a long queue. The test lab at Keio University in Japan is said to have a shorter queue. But to support product testing properly in Japan, one needs an office there. The testing process itself is long and arduous. Cinecert says that a full test takes 6 weeks. But actual testing appears to take as long as a year. Once a product fails a test, the test lab provides consulting to help fix it. After which the full suite of tests is applied to make sure nothing has changed.
The messy part is that at least one studio, Paramount, publicly threatened to stop delivery of movies to non-DCI-compliant installations beginning in December. Other studios now require new deployments to install DCI-compliant products. Some manufacturers are losing sales over this requirement. The surprising part is that no formal complaints have been made against DCI for restraint of trade.
The situation appears to be getting worse rather than better. Dolby, a public company, and GDC, now owned by Carlyle Group, have sales at stake. If one or both of these companies are unable to get products approved by year-end, there may be some whistle blowing.
As difficult and expensive as it is to get a product through DCI testing, it would seem to be a major burden on manufacturers to require retesting when designs change. A board design could change simply due to the early obsolescence of parts. Or firmware changed to accommodate new features, such as high frame rates. If a change is made, it can be claimed that the product should be retested. At least one studio requires this in its VPF agreements. But if testing requires, say, six months, will studios refuse to play movies on the revised product during the interval? Taking this further, say, five years from now, if a compliant server is replaced for maintenance reasons, and the new device has not yet passed DCI testing, will studios refuse to play their movies on the new device?
One might also ask to what important end a painfully strict testing process can accomplish, if FIPS compliance is already in place for security? There are other ways to deal with compliance that have been successfully implemented by other organizations, such as Open Group. But at some point, testing is required. The obvious point about DCI testing, that no studio wishes to discuss, is that it’s not practical. It needs to be rethought, revamped.
If it is to maintain a path for compliance, DCI doesn’t have any other option. In lieu of rethinking the test plan, there is the brute force option of throwing more resources at it. Cinecert is unlikely to do this, as the risk level is too high. It is very aware that the level of business it enjoys today will not be sustained in this limited, niche market. If Cinecert cannot invest, then studio investment would seem to be the next step. But this, too, is not a welcome path. Studios will say they want an independent lab for liability reasons, and there is no way that all six of them will agree to get into the testing business. With no way out other than to rethink the entire process, DCI has created its own albatross. We’ll soon see how adaptable DCI is. The next few months will tell if DCI is spiraling downward, or upward.