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Movie theaters go digital
Goodbye film canisters and splicing digital movies mark the dawn of a new era in theaters
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There is a change a-coming to a movie theater near you.

It’s a slow change, but it’s one that will completely revolutionize your movie-watching experience as you know it.

It’s the advent of digital projectors, boosting the picture and sound quality to an entirely new dimension and adding 3-D capabilities that were once limited to IMAX movies.

“In our industry this would be an advent along the lines of adding sound or color. It’s a major step for our industry,” said Russ Nunley, vice president of marketing and communication for Regal Cinemas, which owns the theaters at the Mall of Georgia. “We look at it as, if we want to go to digital cinema, we want it to be an upgrade in the cinema experience, or why would we do it?”

At the Mall of Georgia, several screens have been outfitted with the new technology. In Gainesville, the Hollywood 15 theaters have one screen with a digital projector, and have been showing “Bolt” until today, when they begin showing “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Typically, Nunley said, theaters receive the films in large canisters, usually multiple canisters per movie.

Theater workers have to splice the film together by hand, and the studios incur a large cost to print the film multiple times for theaters across the country and ship it.

With digital projectors, he said, theaters receive a special hard drive that has been pre-loaded with the movie and comes with a security encryption. The projectionist simply hooks up the hard drive to the digital projector and the movie is ready to go.

“A lot of this would be very different in the digital version of the cinema of the future,” Nunley said. “That’s why we’ve been working with a third party, it’s called DCIP, Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, and they’re doing all the negotiations with the studios because the studios then pay a virtual print fee which is in lieu of making a print, and that’s how all the money for all the digital cinema will come about.

“The revenue from a virtual print fee is how we’re going to fund the digital conversion.”

Leanne Taylor, an employee at the Hollywood 15 cinemas, said they have gotten a positive response since they started showing “Bolt” in 3-D with the new digital projector.

“It was a big hit when it first came out ... about a month or so ago,” Taylor said.

Nunley added that while there is a learning curve with the new technology, it’s something theater employees are looking forward to showing.

“It is a totally different job,” he said, comparing the digital file of today with the old way of splicing movies together. “That job has gone from someone that understands gears and levers and mechanics — how the machinery works — to a position that understands how the computer works. So it is a different job.”