Digital Films Now Playing in New England Theaters

The majority of theaters in the United States, including movie theatres in New Hampshire, have converted to present digital films. This change comes after a century of relying on the traditional film spools; analog projectors running reels of celluloid.

Moviegoers may have noticed the difference in the ambience of the theater. No longer can anyone hear the ticking of the projector as the film spools through it. Neither will they ever fall victim to the dreaded cigarette burns that periodically popped up as the 35-millimeter reels were changed nor scratches, distortions or debris obstructing the clarity of the image on the screen. Errors like having the image projected off-center which could derail the film are also gone.

People may be surprised to learn that most digital-ready theaters actually lack a projectionist whatsoever. The movies are generally screened from digital cinema projectors attached to a hard drive loaded with a high-resolution copy of the movie. A high-speed internet connection, dedicated satellite links or optical disks are sometimes also employed to deliver the movie. Seen to be improvements is how most theater customers have judged the changes, when they notice them at all.

Digital cinema does have drawbacks although it is mostly the theater owners that have to suffer them. It tends to be primarily the costs involved that give the owners some pause. Before 2014 many owners considered the prices of DCI compliant projectors as being too expensive.

Color space, resolution, compression levels, image bit rates and audio all have requirements established by the DCI. Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) was formed in March 2002 as a joint project of most major motion picture studios. The studios' intention was to establish specific guidelines by which reliability and quality of their products could be ensured.

Most theaters, including the movie theaters near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, have opted to accept the DCI and the expense that comes with it. By spring 2015, some 98% of the total 39,789 screens in the United States had been converted to become digital theaters.

The costs involved are not light, adding up to $100,000 per screen--a high price to be asked of smaller independent theaters. The prices for the projector, the lamp and the lenses could range from $30,000 - $40,000 per unit in itself.

In finding the right projector for one's theater, screen size, brightness and film format needs to be considered. Theaters with screens larger than 35 feet wide, for instance, will require a higher lumen level than smaller screens and different bulbs as a result.

Of course, it is the movie studios that control the path of the industry and going digital for themselves can actually save them money. For example, transferring copies of the film directly into servers in cinema projection booths is an inexpensive process compared to creating and running prints with savings in the millions per film. The studios, if no one else, have settled into the idea of digital cinema and its safe to assume that analog exhibitions will soon be scarce to find.