Time is running out for theaters that haven’t made the switch to digital projection. Studios’ use of conventional 35 mm prints “is projected to cease in the United States and other major markets by the end of next year, with global cutoff likely to happen by the end of 2015,” according to the latest IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service report. There’s still a ways to go: The firm says that 51.5% of worldwide screens had digital projectors at the end of 2011, an increase of 82% from 2010. But IHS notes that soon it won’t be sufficient to have a digital projector. Director Peter Jackson is lobbying for theater owners pay for the software upgrade needed to show his upcoming The Hobbit films at 48 frames a second. That’s the speed at which he’s shooting the movies, up from the conventional 24 frames. At the end of 2011 about 50,000 of the world’s 63,825 digital screens, including 19,000 in the U.S., would be capable of being upgraded. Theaters with Series 2 DLP and Sony projectors will be able to accommodate Jackson. Pressure to upgrade won’t abate after The Hobbit. James Cameron plans to shoot his follow-ups to Avatar at 60 frames a second. (Incidently, IHS’ figure on the worldwide total of digital venues is slightly higher than the 2011 tally from the MPAA, which counted 62,684, of which 44% were in the U.S. and Canada.)
For the most part the IHS report covers the ground we explored at April’s CinemaCon. But it has some interesting factoids regarding the transition from celluloid to digital prints. The firm says that at one point distributors used 13B feet of film a year, equal to five trips to the moon and back. By 2010, though, film usage was down to about 5B feet. One big reason for the shift: The price of silver, heavily used in film processing, soared from $5 an ounce to about $25 this year. The heat is on for all theaters to switch to digital projection.