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Kodak Pushes Digital

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Eastman Kodak has upped the ante in its commitment to digital cinema, announcing last month that it was partnering with projector manufacturer Barco, to jointly develop a complete package for digital projection systems.“This is a strategic alliance intended to give us both a competitive advantage by combining Kodak’s strength in digital imaging and coloring science with Barco’s expertise in digital display to offer the best mousetrap,” William Doeren, general manager of the Kodak Digital Cinema Group, told Below The Line. The strategy is for the two companies to cross-sell each other’s products to gain an early foothold in a market that, when it takes off, analysts estimate, could be worth $5 billion worldwide within a few years.Also in late June, Christie Digital Systems, another maker of digital projectors, revealed it was combining with Santa Monica-based Access Integrated Technology, which produces digital media-management software. The stated goal was to furnish over 2,000 movie theaters with digital cinema systems over the next two years.“Through our relationship with Barco, we expect in any shakeout to be one of the last men standing,” Doeren declared. Belgium-based Barco has already installed its digital projectors at some 200 screens around the world, making it the leader so far in that burgeoning market. Barco has a smaller presence in the US right now where there are only about 80 screens that are digitally capable. But most of them use the digital light processing (DLP) technology from Texas Instruments that Barco employs in its 2K projector, and which is on its way to becoming the de facto standard.For Kodak, also involved in the exploding digital intermediate business as a result of its purchase of Laser Pacific two years ago, the arrangement with Barco is part of a bigger game plan.“It’s true, we’ve made a commitment to digital technology, both at the corporate level and here in Hollywood, and we intend to be a leader in both,” said Doeren. “We look at digital cinema and postproduction services like digital intermediate in combination with our traditional film products as a microcosm of the overall transition at Kodak from analog to digital.” He noted that 2004 was the first year that Kodak’s revenues from digital topped traditional photographic sales, but that “digital and film are going to coexist and be complementary and even synergistic in the production and postproduction arena for a long time to come.”That was also a message Doeren delivered in his keynote speech at last month’s Independent Film & Television Alliance’s annual production conference. “Film and digital will be part of the creative process—and side-by-side residents of the projection booth—for a long time to come,” he told the audience.But he also told independent filmmakers to prepare themselves for an inevitable digital future. “There is an urgent need—now, today—for you to think about what digital technology will mean for your art, your craft and your business—and for you to begin to seize the opportunities digital technology provides,” he said, adding, “the flexibility, cost-savings and ease in targeting a powerful message that digital technology provides are too tempting for the major studios and major marketers to ignore.”Such a hard-sell from Kodak and other technology vendors has also created a backlash. “The technology isn’t always up to the promise,” said veteran film editor Maysie Hoy, a panelist at last month’s Below the Line EXPO. “I think digital intermediates are overrated: they are often more expensive than claimed, and the results aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”“There are traditionalists in any transition that would prefer not to have to deal with change, and find reasons to argue that they’d be better off staying with the old technology,” Doeren said in response.“That doesn’t mean there aren’t some valid concerns that should be addressed,” he continued. “But the decision-makers, the studios who have to spend the money to do a DI, after weighing those pluses and minuses, believe that the pluses win. Otherwise, digital intermediates wouldn’t be the emerging standard for finishing projects in post as they are.”

Written by Jack Egan

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