Throughout 2011, DCI repeatedly demonstrated that it has learned the art of skating on thin ice, and surviving. In October, we wrote “the next few months will tell if DCI is spiraling downward, or upward.” That was written in reference to the backlog of Compliance Test Plan testing (CTP) that has delayed DCI approval of several products. Several studios gave manufacturers until the end of 2011 to pass CTP, else VPFs wouldn’t be paid for installations utilizing their products. Some manufacturers lost sales for new rollouts because they could not claim that their products were DCI compliant. The mixture of an aggressive VPF policy with a backlog that DCI helped to create through poor planning was a brew waiting to explode.
Fortunately, no bombs went off. Seven months after Doremi’s server passed CTP, nine months after Sony, both GDC and Dolby made it through the pipeline, in the last 2 weeks of December. That leaves Qube still to pass, along with all of the new in-projector media blocks, with the exception of Sony’s and Doremi’s. But the majority of equipment in the field has now passed CTP, and that should be a relief not only to the manufacturers, but to studios and exhibitors.
Where DCI testing becomes difficult is that it was conceived around a model design that doesn’t exist. Every product that has gone through CTP requires rethinking of the tests. It’s often not that a manufacturer has to redesign some code within their products, but that the studios have to agree on changes to the test plan to allow for justifiable behaviors that had not been previously considered. One can wonder if Sony, being the first to make it through the tests, would still pass.
Having shepherded most products over the first hurdle, DCI needs to think hard about how it manages the testing process further on. Products change. Simply adding high frame rate capability to an existing product can cause it to undergo new FIP and CTP testing, if going by the book. And testing is expensive. As manufacturers move into markets that demand lower costs, there will be less will to spend on more tests. Further, in so many years, studios won’t be able to use VPFs as the hammer for beating manufacturers into submission. The only hammer available will be the play or no-play of the movie. That’s an expensive hammer for a studio to wield, and unlikely to happen. The best way for DCI to manage this down the road is to change the nature of testing, and that requires something more than the easy way out.
More threats brewing in 2011 were the evolutionary changes imposed by NIST on its FIPS 140-2 specification, one of the pillars of the DCI security spec. With no useful effort on DCI’s part, others stepped in to solve the dual key problem. What remains to be fully addressed is the elimination of the SHA-1 hash algorithm for digital signatures, a problem that largely does not plague digital cinema, but for at least one small but meaningful detail. Some solutions may impact FIPS compliance more than other solutions, and the jury is still convening on what to do.