ASC Releases Test Protocol to Guide Next Generation Cinema

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Next Generation Cinema Display (NGCD) subcommittee released its Cinema Display Evaluation Plan and Test Protocol, available at the ASC web site. As one of the co-chairs of the subcommittee that produced the report, and its editor, I’ll also point readers to an article co-authored with long-time friend and esteemed co-chair Eric Rodli in Digital Cinema Report, where we address many of the background issues that led to development of the Test Protocol.

The ASC document represents the first step taken towards the goal of identifying where value is created from the filmmaker’s point-of-view. While the Digital CInema Report article does a fine job of explaining “why” the Test Protocol is important, I will further explain here the dynamics that such an effort will drive.

If next generation cinema is to embrace higher dynamic range in picture, the economics of producing such images in cinema will have to improve significantly. Today, for example, a Dolby Cinema projector is said to cost over $1M. While delivering pictures with stunning dynamic range, even Dolby doesn’t refer to the images produced as high dynamic range. An HDR version of the projector would be prohibitively expensive, if even technically possible.

The point to make is that the ASC Test Protocol isn’t designed to prove that today’s technology is adequate for an HDR experience. Instead, knowing that technology often finds a way to solve problems, the intent is to highlight the goals that should be achieved. More than one technology is likely to emerge. Two such technologies have already been discussed in this publication: direct LED displays and the phase-modulation technology under development by Vancouver-based MTT Technologies (now owned by Barco). For these technologies to be cinema-ready, more R&D is needed, and R&D funds in a world without equipment subsidies are precious. Technology providers need to know where the target is in order to invest efficiently. And those who set the target need to do so with an eye on creating an experience that’s more than just “better,” but highly valued by movie-goers.

If the ASC effort succeeds, it will produce a set of materials that will allow technology providers to evaluate their work towards producing next generation displays and projectors. That output requires several steps, of which only the first is described in the Test Protocol.