Thursday, December 18, 2014


Tech Talk

Behind the lens: Digital replaces analog

2/5/2014

The last couple years have been a nonstop thrill-ride for Hollywood. While box office revenues have broken records, the real suspense-filled adventure is not happening on the screen but inside the theater projector.

Fewer terms are more analog than film, a physical medium that stores single frame pictures in sequence. But the last decade has seen everything analog supplanted by the more cost-effective digital alternatives. Actual film is rarely used anymore. Theater sound is digitally disturbed, and 3D, iMax and high-frame rate projection have made choosing your movie-going experience akin to building a custom burrito. Studios now digitally distribute movies instead of delivering film reels to theaters. How will this transition impact the moviegoer? Unless you live in a rural area, not much. But for the industry as a whole, it’s outright revolutionary.

Shipping hard drives or beaming direct satellite feeds slash distribution costs for studios and offer greater protection from film piracy. However, for drive-ins and small-town theaters, the transition costs have been immensely prohibitive. Installation costs easily reach more than $250,000.

On top of projection changes, studios are starting to mandate the digital archiving of films. Paramount became the first studio to make the complete transition from film to digital, meaning all of its films going forward — with a few exceptions reserved for directors with clout — will be shot and stored digitally. Within the next 10 years, film reel repositories, such as the famous “Disney Vault” that stores all Walt Disney movies, will be decommissioned and replaced by giant film server farms storing thousands of movies.

The irony of this situation is, while digital is cheaper to produce and distribute, it can’t hold a candle to film’s ease of storage. To store a film reel, all that’s needed is a cold, dry place. Storing a hard drive can be risky. If a drive fails, everything on it is gone (with the wind). CV                

DM Art Center

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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