All studios, large and small, pay these fees until a projection system's costs are covered.
Whatever the details of the deal, the studios clearly can't wait until film is no longer in the picture as a distribution medium. According to Jerry Pierce, a NATO technology advisor and former senior VP of technology at Universal Studios, we're within three years of studios refusing to release motion pictures on film, despite the need for roughly 40% of film projectors to be replaced domestically.
The question, then, is whether the viewing experience is better looking at a film-on-film release or a film-on-digital release. The arguments rage on both sides, with Pierce referring to it as an issue of "religion." However, there's general consensus on the need for a digital projection system to be set up correctly in a theater or for a theater projectionist to configure the projector with the correct lens when switching between a 2D and 3D movie. A widely read Roger Ebert column, "The Dying of the Light," deals extensively with these issues.
In moving to an all-digital world, theaters must match the right projector to the size of the room, and have the right type of movie screen and bulb to ensure the best possible movie experience. Pierce noted there are developments taking place that should bring a digital laser bulb to theaters that will be more energy-efficient, have a longer life span and produce more light on screen.
Among other companies, Christie, one of the two largest manufacturers of theatrical projectors (the second being Sony), is rumored to be introducing a laser projection system sometime soon. The company refused comment, saying only, "Christie is committed to launching a suite of laser technology-based products when the technology is stable and reliable, and the time is appropriate." Sony has been rolling out its 4K SXRD projectors for the past few years, including installations in major theater chains like Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Theatres and Landmark Theatres. With RealD, Sony also has released a dual-lens 3D digital system that provides stunning 4K, as well as incredible 3D images with no triple-flash artifacts.
For more information on the National Association of Theatre Owners, visit www.natoonline.org.