Cinema's Digital Takeover: The Decline And Fall Of Film As We Have Known It

Digital cinema has overtaken film a lot sooner than many people might have predicted before Avatar was released, but it was probably inevitable. At latest count almost two-thirds of all domestic screens used digital projectors by the beginning of the year. That’s 25,570 screens out of a total 39,641 or 64.5%, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. Roughly half — 12,620 — of those digital screens were equipped to show movies in 3D and 244 of those were IMAX installations. The total of individual theaters was almost 5,800, and 3,028 of those were partly or completely digital. And counting. Back in mid-2009 as James Cameron was preparing to unleash Avatar on the moviegoing public in December, only a few more than 1,600 screens in the US were equipped for digital 3D as of July out of a total of some 38,000 indoor screens at roughly 5,400 locations. By the time Avatar opened there were roughly 3,000 3D digital screens. In little more than two years, the number of 3D screens has quadrupled — propelled at least initially by Avatar’s success.

Globally, digital projection was predicted to overtake film early in 2012 — if it hasn’t already — and by the end of the year 63% of all cinema screens around the world will be digital, according to IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service. By 2015 IHS predicts that 35mm theatrical film will amount to a niche format with just 17% of global movie screens. Art houses and independent theaters will struggle to cope with the cost of conversion. According to NATO, Canada has 1,848 digital screens, and the rest of the world has 38,874. That makes a global total of 66,292 digital screens. Texas Instruments, which licenses DLP technology used in most digital cinema projectors, in early December boasted installation of more than 51,000 DLP branded digital screens worldwide — nearly double the previous year. Slightly more aggressive than IHS Screen Digest, the company predicts a full global transition to digital by the end of 2015. Conversion to digital has accelerated in Europe, China, Russia, Latin America, India, Africa, Australia and the Asia Pacific region. (more…)

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