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Sathyam Cinemas scores a first in India's Digital Cinema history

23-May-2005
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Sathyam Cinemas scores a first in India's Digital Cinema history

D-Cinema is in the news again. And this time, it's Digital Cinema as accepted by an international body that lays down the norms for a cinema to be classified as D-Cinema. Sathyam Cinemas, Chennai, has equipped two of its screens, Sathyam and Sree, with DLP Cinema, a digital projection system from Texas Instruments (Ti).

With the upgrade, Sathyam becomes the first commercial cinema complex to adhere to the specifications laid down for Digital Cinema by the Hollywood-funded DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) in terms of server, projector and overall image quality. Ti has subsidised the cost, which is normally in the region of Rs 60 to Rs 80 lakh, and the launch is being celebrated with a premiere of Star Wars III. The movie is being aired through hard disk and not via satellite. Last year, 45 movies were released across 365 DLP screens worldwide.

The Digital Cinema revolution is happening at different levels in India. In Chennai, theatre owners are presently engaged in setting up Dish antennae on their terraces to receive movies via satellite. And this comparatively lower-end version of Digital Cinema, called E-Cinema, is here to stay, admitted Ganesh S, Business Development Manager, Texas Instruments.

He said, "To multiplexes in 'A' class cities, DLP Cinema is of very high significance. The quality of the experience cannot be matched by E-cinema. Ultimately, it is the audiences who will decide. And for the other audiences, E-cinema is here to stay." The cost of an E-Cinema set up is substantially lower than the present DLP Cinema system at Sathyam. Costs would be a major factor in E-Cinemas staying on for long, said industry sources.

Sathyam will charge a premium on the tickets sold for the movies using the DLP Cinema projection system. The premium is Rs 20 for the first and second-class tickets and Rs 30 for the balcony seats. "In the US it is the norm for DLP Cinema halls to charge a premium," added Ganesh.

The word 'Digital' is used loosely in the context of D-Cinema, say people in the industry. And then some say that if the format is Mpeg (or any other Digital format), and it is 'Cinema', then it should be 'D-Cinema', never mind what the Hollywood producers say. Chennai-based Pyramid Saimira recently got into an agreement with Taiwanese firm Delta to source Digital projectors customised for the Indian market, based on proprietary DLP and DMD chip sets, again from Texas Instruments.

For now, Sathyam will have to restrict itself to digital screenings of Hollywood films on the new screens. Indian content in the stipulated high-resolution digital format is not available, though companies including Ti are said to be working towards that end. On the 'Desi' Digital system of what is accepted as E-Cinemas, some of the blockbusters to hit screens include 'Chandramukhi' and 'Mumbai Xpress'.

In March this year, Chennai-based Real Image Media Technologies announced the installation of Qube XP hi-def Digital Cinema Servers at all four theatres at Abirami complex, making it the first cinema complex in India to go completely digital. From April 14, 30 theatres were equipped with Qube Cinema Servers and 3-chip DLP digital projectors. Sources confirmed that the Abhirami Multiplex in Chennai has screened 'Chandramukhi' since the day of its launch in this 'non-endorsed' Digital format.

The difference in quality at the DLP Cinema-enabled halls of Sathyam comes with the optimisation and projectors using a 3-chip configuration, one for each primary colour. Each chip has a 2048 X 1080 resolution, delivering high-definition images. On the other hand in E-Cinema, the content is scanned and projected.

A creditable first for Chennai in India's cinema history, Sathyam's new system delivers a breathtaking film-viewing experience, based on the trailers shown at the launch. Perhaps to avoid the confusion over 'Digital', Sathyam has branded its DLP cinema experience as RDX (Real Digital Experience). And not surprisingly, this Digital first in the country has been witnessed in a city where we see crowds flocking to a certain 'Digital Biryani' stall at Nungambakkam.

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