DLP Cinema and future of theatrical film projection technology


DLP Cinema and DLP technology makes Texas Instrument a great player in Digital Film Projection in movie theaters. To have more information about this field, we had an interview with Dave Duncan, is the Manager for DLP Cinema® Products.  DLP® is the award winning digital projection technology enabling high quality projection in businesses, homes, professional venues, classrooms and movie theaters worldwide. Dave’s responsibilities include business strategy, product direction, marketing and overall operations for both the DLP Cinema and DLP HDTV businesses.

Prior to his current role, Dave spent eight years working with DLP Cinema customers and the entertainment industry to commercialize both 2D and 3D DLP Cinema technology enabling the current installed base of over 35,000 digital cinema screens worldwide. He also managed DLP’s worldwide education team which focused on creating and marketing innovative classroom solutions for both 2D and 3D interactive projection systems.

Bijan Tehrani: A lot of film fans and young people in the industry have no idea about the DLP technology; please give us a little bit of background about DLP Cinema®.
Dave Duncan: As you know DLP is a division of Texas Instruments Incorporated. The DLP chip was actually founded many years ago in our central research labs and went into production for the first time in 1996. At that time we had three business units:

•    Our Front Projection business unit was focused on projectors for conference rooms, classrooms and home theatre projectors.
•    Our DLP HDTV business unit was focused on the HDTV market.
•    And our Large Venue 3-chip business unit was focused on the hi-brightness rental and staging and fixed installation markets. These DLP 3-chip projectors actually were the genesis of the DLP Cinema projector.

In 1998, we did our very first demonstration at a studio in Hollywood showing the potential for this type of projector in the theatrical market. At that time, we were demonstrating a projector that had SXGA resolution with a contrast ratio of less than 1000:1 and less than 10K lumens. But it gave the Hollywood executives and the creative community an idea of what was to come. We knew we needed to improve the resolution, the contrast ratio, and the brightness. But we were getting closer to an image we thought would ultimately be perceived to be as good as film. Then in the spring of 2003 we demonstrated our first 2K DLP Cinema projector to the Hollywood community at the Pacific Theatre. We did a side by side comparison of film and digital and there were a lot of people in the audience who simply could not tell the two apart. At that point we knew we had the capability of producing a DLP Cinema technology-based projector that could be as good if not better than a film projector. We licensed the DLP Cinema technology to three customers, Barco, Christie, and NEC and we went into production shortly thereafter.

It took us five years to get to the first 1,000 installed projectors. During that time, the studios formed Digital Cinema Initiatives to establish and document the specifications for digital cinema projectors and also several companies were formed to provide exhibitors with financing models to facilitate the purchase of the projectors and servers. Then in 2005 at ShowWest, we did our very first demonstration of 3-D technology on a DLP Cinema projector. George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Jim Cameron and Robert Rodriguez were all there and were talking about the future of 3-D. That is when James Cameron announced his plans for the release of Avatar in 3D and George Lucas first started to hint at the rerelease of all six Star Wars movies in 3D.

Disney released the movie “Chicken Little” later that year and the promise of what 3-D could mean to the box office became very apparent to both distributors and exhibitors. Then in December of 2009 Avatar was released. History will show that the industry anticipation leading up to the release of Avatar resulted in the screen count going from 5,000 DLP Cinema projectors installed to over 15,000 installed. The growth of DLP Cinema projectors since Avatar was release has been astonishing. You may have read in our press release that we shared at CinemaCon that in the period between March of 2010 and March of 2011, the number of DLP Cinema projectors doubled to a total of over 33,000 (up from 16,500).

BT: Is the idea of films going completely digital and getting rid of hard copies of movies a direction that DLP Cinema is planning to go?
DD: Well I think that is definitely the direction the industry is heading. Some people have proposed that this could happen as early as 2013. I think that this will be driven by what happens with film costs as we deploy more DLP Cinema projectors worldwide. Also if a secure network can be established to do a worldwide point to multi-point distribution of the digital print, then the economies of scale will continue to support a digital only release.
BT: Some filmmakers are worried that the distinct film look will be lost in the transition from film to digital; does DLP Cinema have a solution for this?
DD: I would start by saying that the great thing about a DLP Cinema projector is that it preserves the image as it was originally intended to be seen. So, whether it’s an animated feature that has that crisp look with very bright and saturated colors, or it’s a digital copy of a scanned print in which you can still actually see some of the grain from the print that it was scanned from, we do a very good job of reproducing the original image. The way that movies are made today, so much of the movie is already digitized when you start to think about special effects and so forth, even when you first start shooting the film, one of the first things you do now is export the film to a digital file for all of the post-production processes. Then once the movie is completed, you can now go back to film output for film projectors, or in our case, package it up into the DCP file format to be sent out to movie theatres with digital cinema projectors

BT: A lot of independent theatres and colleges and schools do not have a huge budget for purchasing a digital DLP projector. Do they have price ranges for different projectors, and do you think they are affordable for smaller theatres and colleges?
DD: I mentioned at the very beginning that DLP has several business units. Our Front Projection DLP business unit provides DLP chipsets to customers who make projectors for primary, secondary, and college level classrooms that are 3-D ready. In fact there are 3D-ready DLP projectors installed in over one million classrooms today many of which are already being utilized for 3D teaching. Those projectors can clearly fill the average classroom size screen with light levels that are suitable to the ambient type of light that you would see in a classroom. The typical cost for those types of projectors is between $500 and $1000.

Many of our customers also sell DLP projectors for the hi-end home theatre and Large Venue markets. These projectors are typically 1080P resolution and many are 3D-ready as well. These projectors are typically priced for the markets that they are intended for. Many of them are being utilized today for the eCinema markets in India, China, and other places where Hollywood content is not required but a bright high quality image is. Finally, our DLP Cinema customers have a wide portfolio of projectors that are specifically suited to the size of the screen they will be used for. They are available as 2K or 4K resolution projectors and are fully DCI compliant. The price ranges depend on the brightness and resolution that best fits your auditorium

BT: What is behind DLP Cinema that makes it exceptional for both High Definition and 3-D movies?
DD: Fundamentally the DLP chip consists of millions of micro mirrors built on top of a CMOS wafer structure. It’s an all digital device that allows each mirror to be individually controlled and turned on and off thousands of time per second. The surface is highly reflective so that all of the light coming in gets reflected right back on to the screen. Because the DLP chip is based on standard semiconductor processing and is all digital, the reliability of the DLP Cinema chips is unsurpassed in the industry. They will last the lifetime of the projector with no image degradation over time. We actually have DLP chips that have been on an accelerated life test continuously operating since 1995.

We took core TI wafer technology, added our mirror super-structure on top and packaged them in a very robust and reliable design for this marketplace. DLP Cinema technology-based projectors offer the best color, contrast, brightness, resolution, and reliability for the digital cinema market.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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