Proposals for digital cinema standardization (IMAGO)

The European Federation of Cinematographers (IMAGO) attributed much importance to its participation in the EDCF (European Digital Cinema Forum) and became its full member in 2004.

The emergence of new technologies in cinematography’s development contributes to the fact that film industry is about to undergo many changes when it comes to recording and distribution. To avoid being left on the sidelines of motion picture developments, European cinematographers are interested not only in preserving the quality of the reproduction of recorded materials, but they are also deeply immersed in the issue of finding the standard working formats. This would facilitate the protection of cinematographers’ work, and as a consequence the quality of the materials that would be shown to audiences. IMAGO’s representative in the Forum is Kommer Kleijn SBC.

What is ECDF?

EDCF (European Digital Cinema Forum, www.edcf.net) was founded three years ago by three European institutions (SFI, DFI, BKSTS) with the purpose to consolidate and better coordinate issues related to E-CINEMA and D-CINEMA) at the European level. It consists of three modules – commercial, technical and content. Each module is further divided into several thematic working groups. The fill scope of work and the list of achieved results along with the current developments can be found on the EDCF website. The primary task of the technical module at this moment is to find the future standard for Digital Cinema Distribution Master (DCDM). In other words, the task is to find a new form of digital film copies to be delivered to distributors for cinema screening. My personal opinion is that this fact is of enormous importance for us cinematographers. That medium is the future standard which will completely replace the traditional 35-mm film reels. What is of crucial importance in finding the right format is that it will not be designed according to the standards of various equipment and screening device manufacturers (as is the case with the current standard). This kind of approach would ensure the possibility of projecting materials all over the world (which is the case with the 35mm format), while also allowing flexibility without compromising the outstanding quality of projection. There are several ongoing issues concerning this task: the possibility of encryption and protection against unauthorized copying, the quality of resolution, color clarity, contrast level etc. The ECDF technical module has been accepted by the SMPTE DC28 working group, which is one of the supervising and advisory bodies (along with DCI, Digital Cinema Initiative, which represents the major Hollywood studios), the purpose of which is to collect a sufficient amount of information on this subject. We in Europe have a number of technical requirements and specifics to which we must pay particular attention. There are many different official national languages, demanding a certain level of technical support in terms of translation and subtitling. There is also a pronounced difference in the perception of technical quality level, border areas, originality etc. The issue at hand can be summarized as that of “European spirit” in a way. This spirit exactly represents why it is extremely important to find a good solution. Otherwise, we expose ourselves to the risk that the major focus will be on the needs and requirements of the leading Hollywood studios at the expense of everyone else. This is the main goal of EDCF-T. Upon joining this group in late 2003, I noticed that I was virtually the only film worker among all the members at that point. The vast majority of others were from companies that manufacture projection equipment and devices or satellite communication devices. Some members were from companies that distributed film materials (members of associations of cinema venue owners etc.). It seemed that I was indeed the only actual film worker. That fact came to me as a real surprise. Since film workers’ interests were a complete unknown to this group, I had to put in extra efforts to bring those interests into consideration. From today’s point of view, I have to say that the situation is getting better. There has been a realization of the fact that film workers’ interests are closely related to film distribution.

John Thomson, BKSTS, DOP, currently active in EDCF.

IMAGO’s proposals at IDIFF

Kommer Kleijn SBC, IMAGO’s representative in EDCF-T presented three proposals related to the future digital cinema standards (in the fields of distribution and exploitation) at the EDCF-T meeting held in Cannes on 4 February 2005. On that occasion, all three proposals were accepted. This step meant that the proposals would be included in the EDCF-T proposals to be addressed to the SMPTE DC28 commission.

Those three proposals would thus be in a position to subsequently become the European proposals aimed at determining the international standard for digital cinema distribution. These proposals are summarized as follows:

1Open possibility for a higher number of frames. 24 frames would still remain an option, but with the addition of the possibility to record and project at 48, 50 and 60 frames per second.

2Frame rates must be compatible with existing material – 8, 12, 15, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 30 frames per second.

3Determine how to enable distribution of digital copies containing stereoscopic imagery. Since stereoscopic materials will in any case be used from time to time, we should set a standard relating to these so that stereoscopic installations become mutually compatible.

IMAGO proposal in EDCF

IMAGO digital cinema proposal

Kommer Kleijn, SBC

IMAGO proposals after DCI specification announcement, February 2006-2010

– 60 fps support proposal

Even though the 48 fps model has shown excellent characteristics, we are concerned that images recorded at 48 fps may become damaged when transferred to video for TV and private screening purposes, after going through the cinema distribution cycle. The 60 fps model would yield even higher quality than the said 48 fps and it would handle video transfer for TV and private distribution much better while requiring only 25% higher capacity. We do not recommend supporting exclusively 60 fps, but rather propose that 60 fps be included as an option available to film workers and studios.

Another reason why we support the 60 fps model is that it is already generally accepted in everyday film industry operations. Since a large amount of material recorded at 60 fps already exists and it continues to grow, not taking this model into consideration for the new standard might cause insurmountable difficulties.  Add in the fact that 48 fps means the addition of another element in the film production system, which already has too many. We would rather opt for reducing the number of different models, bearing in mind the fact that conversion between frame rates causes unrepairable damage to recorded materials. We already have to handle 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60 frames per seconds, let’s not add another one.

– Proposal to keep a path open for full resolution, even at high fps

Even if technology and economics may indeed limit bandwidth for some time to come, we feel it is not a good idea for a standard to impose such limits. This may lead to proprietary versions once the technology and economics will allow for higher resolution at high frame rates. We find such developments undesirable. We propose the standard will include an evolution path for that future.

– Proposal to allow frame rate change during the show

This would allow higher frame rates to be used more economically in the beginning of DC deployment, by limiting the higher frame rates to specific scenes within a movie. In time, the need to change frame rates would disappear completely as higher frame rates would become more feasible, so that entire movies could be projected at such frame rates with reasonable costs.

– Proposal to keep supporting other frame rates (8, 12, 16, 18, 20, 22, 30)

We advise to SMPTE to introduce this option. This would be very easy to implement in practice and would constitute a practical advantage of DC equipment compared to film projection equipment. An added advantage would be that material originally shot for television (at 25, 50 and 60 fps) could be distributed in cinema with minimum damage.

– Proposal to standardize how to represent stereoscopic 3D materials.

This is to avoid emergence of proprietary versions of 3D copies. (We have learned that a SMPTE working group has been started on the subject, which we think is very good news.)