While the next revision of the DCI spec is probably buried on some unsuspecting attorney’s desk somewhere, entities around the world attempting to sign virtual print fee deals find themselves agreeing to comply. The knee jerk reaction is to lock the spec to a revision number and date. But is this the smartest move?
In the “early days” of the DCI spec, the Compliance Test Plan (CTP) did not exist, and not inconsequentially, neither did DCI Compliant equipment. Nor were the SMPTE specs complete. These minor details did not detract studios from paying VPFs, nor did it stop exhibitors from installing equipment. Those who had a better grasp of the issues – the manufacturers – were more cautious about guarantees of supplying DCI compliant equipment. Banks were also concerned about the risks of changing equipment specs. No one really knew what the risks were, so the way of placing a cap on those risks was to contractually limit changes to the published DCI spec.
The risks were real, as it took 6 years following the release of the DCI spec before one digital cinema server was qualified as compliant. Thousands of screens had been installed in the interim, none of which were fully DCI compliant. Manufacturers and deployment entities have been slow to upgrade equipment, causing friction with studios. Complaints about upgrades are heard, and fingers point to changes in the DCI spec as the cause.
The truth is more complex. The DCI spec was released in July 2005, following which the majority of technical standards for digital cinema were passed. Even the distribution format changed. The Interop DCP format used in today’s digital distributions is not the SMPTE DCP format specified by DCI. Certain features have been added to the DCI spec, but more often than not, many of the changes made solved problems that hadn’t been properly addressed, or were necessary to allow equipment to pass CTP as the testing process matured.
Today, the CTP exists, and most equipment on the market has passed. Now that compliant equipment is on the market, the risks associated with changes in the DCI spec have also changed. The risk to deployment entities is not that the DCI spec will continue to change, but that their agreements governing such changes are poorly written.
DCI itself provides the key to mitigating risk of change. Studios may have a commercial interest that exhibitors upgrade equipment to incorporate the latest features, but these features go beyond DCI compliance. The key to managing risk is written on the Compliance page of the DCI web site, at http://www.dcimovies.com/compliance/. On that page is posted the Compliance Test Plan Change Policy Statement. The policy states the rules for passing CTP should changes in the CTP occur while a product is under test. In other words, compliant products are not expected to incorporate the latest changes to the DCI spec. Once equipment is pronounced DCI Compliant, it remains DCI compliant, immune to changes in the DCI spec. This policy allows rolling changes to take place, both in the DCI spec, and in the nature of compliant products.
The best guidance to deployment entities and exhibitors that are faced with the contractual requirement to comply to the DCI spec is that only equipment proclaimed as DCI Compliant on the DCI web site should be employed, and there should be no further guarantee to comply to the DCI spec. The guarantee of compliance is now assured by DCI itself through DCI member acceptance of products that have passed CTP. The term “DCI Spec Compliant,” therefore, should only mean “equipment that has passed the DCI Compliance Test Plan.” In doing so, the burden of compliance moves to the manufacturer, in a process that requires studio approval, with no burden of risk to the deployment entity or exhibitor.