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Technology Demonstration: Sony's Vision of Digital Cinema

By John Virata

June 3, 2004
During the last decade we have seen filmmakers go from experimenting and employing digital effects in film, to entire films being shot in a digital format and shown in select theaters with a digital projector. Purists have argued that such digital displays of the artform somehow take away from "that look" that only film can provide. Technology, however, is marching on and digital projectors will somehow, some way make it into virtually every movie house in the United States, if not the world. Sony Electronics, in an exclusive sneak peek of how it perceives that future to be, demonstrated this week a working prototype of a digital projector to an exclusive group of journalists, editors, and film industry types at the Digital Cinema Lab in Hollywood. DMN Vice President Frank Moldstad and myself attended the event and came out very impressed with what we saw. Sony engineers and marketing types showed us approximately 12 minutes of 65mm analog footage shot on a Panavision system using Kodak 5218 film stock that was processed at Technicolor, scanned at 6k resolution on a Northlight scanner, resized to 4k resolution, and color corrected. the footage was then displayed using Sony's prototype digital cinema projector. The device that Sony showcased, the Sony SRX110 is one of two 4k digital projectors that Sony has been working on for the last several years. It features a 4096 x 2160 pixel resolution, a high contrast ratio, and is scheduled to be available early in 2005 in a 10,000 ANSI lumen model (SRX110), and a 5,000 ANSI lumen model (SRX-R105) with prices starting at around $80,000.

The Sony SRX110 features a 4096 x 2160 pixel resolution
The footage that the engineers showcased was crystal clear with very little artifacting or pixelation. Although there was a green cast in a certain set of imagery, Sony's engineers emphasized before, during, and after the presentation that the projector being demonstrated was an early unit and they were well aware of the issues. To demonstrate the difference between 2k and 4k, Sony engineers showed samples of an image (that was captured with a 4k digital camera), in both 2k and 4k resolution, and butterfly'd them, cutting them in half, displaying them next to each other on the same frame for inspection. To the untrained eyes such as mine, 2k resolution was already gorgeous, but it was the 4k resolution images that really demonstrated the capability of the projector. An image of a Japanese newspaper spread out showing the stock page at 2k resolution was sharp and clear. With the same image next to it at 4k, it became very apparent as to the clarity of the 4k image, as the text was much sharper at 4k than it was a 2k, which is what you would expect from an image with that much more data.

The Technology
Sony's prototype 4k digital cinema projectors are built around a Silicon X-tal Reflective Display imaging device that the company says can achieve close to four times the pixel count of the current generation HD displays. Engineering types would be interested to know that using the SXRD technology, the pixels are set at a pitch of 8.5 micrometers from the center of one SXRD pixel to the center of the next. The inter pixel gap, Sony says, is set at 0.35 micrometers. Faster refresh rates and smoother moving images are the intended result of this pitch and gap, Sony executives said. The projector also features a high contrast ratio, giving the device the capability to output precise color and tonal reproduction. Sony will also offer optional lens mechanisms based on the venue that the projector will be used in. The lenses will be available in an array of sizes designed to fit the smallest 15ft screens on up to the mega 70ft wide screens. It is also interesting to note that Sony embraced the specifications and guidelines that were established by the Digital Cinema Initiatives that will help push all aspects of the filmmaking industry to a digital format. While the moving images we viewed were obviously created in a highly controlled environment, the output that the projector displayed remained very impressive in both the day and night scenes that were displayed.

So is Digital Cinema the Future?
In the speed that digital technology continues to march, is it safe to say that most major cities in the country will have theaters that fully support digital cinema by the end of this decade? From a long term perspective, it only makes sense for the theater owners to invest in the digital technology that will enable them to show films in their pristine glory every time without having to worry about film degradation. There are also the cost savings that the studios will realize when the traditional film reel duplication and the costs associated with distribution is eliminated. What does this mean for the digital filmmakers behind the cameras and the actors and movie stars in front of the cameras? What does this mean for the makeup artists who will undoubtedly have to work constantly to mask an artist's facial and other blemishes that will surely show in an all digital production? Or will Photoshop artists more and more take on the role of makeup artist? There are indeed a lot of questions as to the impact that devices such as Sony's SRX-R110 will have on the film community, yet devices such as this are but only one in the chain of the digital evolution of filmmaking.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at
Related Keywords:Sony SRX110 , Digital Cinema Lab, Digital Projector, digital projection, digital filmmaking

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