DCI-compliant integrated media blocks designed for TI projectors are rapidly entering the marketplace. Doremi was the first, then GDC, and now media blocks from Christie and Dolby (USL) are approved. It took years for stand-alone servers to pass the DCI compliance test plan, but it appears to be taking only weeks for IMB approvals to take place. What has changed?
DCI approval is not what the industry believes it to be. While studios and exhibitors might be tempted to applaud the speed of recent approvals, it would be wise to take a close look at how these products perform in the cinema. For at least one manufacturer, even though the product has passed DCI, enough problems have been found that the board remains in development. Of course, problems occur, and problems get fixed. But it does beg the question as to how could a product that passes DCI compliance testing need fixing?
The answer might be surprising. Although DCI likes to pride itself on insuring that products are fully interoperable, this is not synonymous with fully operational. It’s possible to pass DCI testing and not have a useful product. That’s because DCI doesn’t test for performance in several important areas, such as 3-D operation, audio routing, closed caption support, and little things such as the glitches that may occur in-between compositions while rolling through a playlist. It’s perfectly plausible that a DCI-compliant product can fail at correctly routing SMPTE DCP audio to the correct outputs, or even fail to play a 3-D movie correctly. Either way, the product has limited use in the cinema.
A big difference between the IMB development cycle and that for older stand-alone servers is that all stand-alone server designs first passed trial-by-fire in the field before updates were made to satisfy DCI. Feature sets and operational performance were polished, possibly to the detriment of DCI compliance testing. IMBs, on the other hand, have an inverted development cycle, where the design is submitted to DCI before a customer even sees it. Feature sets and operational performance are not necessarily polished.
The priority to pass DCI compliance testing comes about from the requirements of virtual print fee deals, where no VPF will be paid if installing equipment that has not passed the test. All development efforts now focus on passing the test, with the possibility that performance in the field may still require further work. While those who are rushing to deploy may be pleased that their IMB of choice has passed DCI, the recommendation is to first bake a few systems before deploying wide.