The SMPTE DCP standards were completed in 2009, four years after the VPF-driven digital cinema rollout began. To enable distribution, early versions of the SMPTE documents were used to create an intermediate “Interop” format. It was anticipated at the time that distributions would simply migrate to SMPTE DCP without invoking much pain. Certainly, it was anticipated that this migration would take place before thousands of digital screens were installed. But this didn’t happen. And today, we’re still distributing Interop DCP. The question we will explore is whether this is good, or if it is bad.
DCI requires that a standardized and open MXF-based distribution format be used in digital cinema. It does not stipulate in its specification that SMPTE 429-2, the core SMPTE DCP standard, be employed. It’s because of this failure to specifically recognize SMPTE DCP that DCI’s audio specification is out of whack from the real world. (See last month’s issue on Audio Routing.) Cinecert, seeking more precision from its client, inserted SMPTE 429-2 compliance in the DCI Compliance Test Plan (CTP). But Cinecert also failed to include audio routing in the CTP.
As discussed last month, HFR 3D Hobbit was destined to be the ground breaker for SMPTE DCP distribution, if only to refrain from extending the Interop format to HFR 3D. Warner failed to achieve this, not due to lack of its own efforts, but due to the failure of certain equipment in the field to properly respond to the unique formatting for 7.1 audio prescribed in SMPTE 429-2.
ISDCF has carried the flag for SMPTE DCP for several years, engaging in its Plugfest testing to evaluate the readiness of equipment to play the format. ISDCF promises to apply more definitive testing for audio routing in its upcoming Plugfest in January 2013. But while Plugfests are useful for determining the behavior of existing equipment, it will say nothing about the behavior of future equipment, from current manufacturers, as well as from potential new manufacturers. If the industry is to truly migrate to the SMPTE DCP distribution format, then its clear that DCI must engage. We’ll learn in 2013 how important the migration to SMPTE DCP really is to the major Hollywood studios.