One of the quirky and inexplicable aspects of the DCI specification is that it wasn’t updated to include the audio packaging specification of SMPTE DCP, following the release of the full SMPTE DCP specification in 2009. This omission wasn’t due to prior support of the Interop audio specification, because the DCI audio specification was too vague to do Interop audio justice. One explanation for this odd outcome was simply ignorance. At least one DCI member was found to be in complete denial when pointed out some time ago in an ISDCF meeting that DCI didn’t fully support SMPTE DCP. But as of August 30, DCI corrected its error, and published Erratum 1 of DCI Digital Cinema System Specification version 1.2, finally recognizing the full SMPTE DCP specification, and specifically naming the Audio Channel Label Assignment specification of SMPTE 429-2’s Annex A. This recognition also includes SMPTE ST429-2 Amendment 1:2013, the most recent addition to the evolving suite of SMPTE DCP standards, defining individual channel labeling.
Having just released the erratum, it is only a matter of time before the DCI Test Plan is also updated to reflect this new requirement. The updated test plan, however, will only apply to new media blocks submitted for DCI testing. Older equipment, including that which has already been installed, will not be affected. Equally so, the remaining 15,000 screens to be converted to digital cinema are unlikely to receive equipment complying with Erratum 1. Further, DCI does not require additional testing once equipment passes DCI compliance testing. From the DCI website:
When a new version of the CTP is published and has taken effect based on the above, any device undergoing actual compliance testing or re-testing, as defined by an executed testing agreement, the described device being in the possession of the DCI-licensed testing facility, and at least one test has been initiated, may continue to test or re-test to completion using the version of the CTP in effect when that device’s testing or re-testing began.
As nearly all digital cinema equipment received approval after 2009, Erratum 1 would have been far more effective had it been incorporated at the time SMPTE DCP was first introduced. As it stands, Erratum 1 provides no guarantee that equipment in the field will be revised to fully incorporate the audio channel labeling of the 429-2-2009 version, let alone the 2011 version, or the 2013 amendment released this year.
In fact, most exhibitors would rather leave working equipment as it is, as the risk of equipment failure following an upgrade is too high. According to data gathered from the study of 4000 screens in Europe by DCinex, presented this month in an education seminar held by Media Salles, 25% of screens experience a “dark screen” event once a year. This high statistic is rarely discussed by exhibitors, presumably as knowledge of it could lead to forfeiting VPFs for the failed shows. But with numbers like that, it’s understandable why exhibitors are very cautious about upgrading software.
The implication is fairly clear. Simply put, equipment in the field has not been tested to comply with the full SMPTE DCP specification. While some studios appear motivated to switch to wide distribution of movies compliant with the SMPTE DCP specification, even though Interop DCP is proven to work, it’s unlikely that the 125,000 servers and media blocks installed by the end of 2014 will be fully compliant. With DCI’s late acceptance of the full SMPTE DCP specification, it could take a full product replacement cycle before products tested to the full specification are in the field.