Tech Talk: Behind the lens - Digital replaces analog

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The last couple years have been a nonstop thrill-ride for Hollywood. While box office revenues have broken records, the real suspense-filled adventure is not happening on the screen but inside the theater projector.

Fewer terms are more analog than film, a physical medium that stores single frame pictures in sequence. But the last decade has seen everything analog supplanted by the more cost effective digital. Actual film is rarely used, theater sound is digitally disturbed, 3D, iMax, and high frame rate projection have made choosing your movie going experience akin to building a custom burrito, and studios now digitally distribute movies instead of delivering film reels to theaters. How will this transition impact the moviegoer? Unless you live in a rural area not much, but for the industry as a whole it’s outright revolution.

Digital projection is both a godsend and a death sentence for the entertainment world. Shipping hard drives or beaming direct satellite feeds slash distribution costs for studios and offer greater protection from film piracy; however for drive-in and small town theaters the transition costs have been immensely prohibitive. Installing digital projection and audio equipment can easily reach above $250,000. A price tag so insurmountable many theaters across Iowa have closed due, while others have sold for as little as a dollar.

On top projection changes, studios are starting to mandate digital archiving of films. Paramount became the first studio to make the complete transition from film to digital meaning all of its films –with a few exceptions reserved for directors with clout– going forward will be shot on digital and stored digitally. Within the next ten years film reel repositories, such as the famous “Disney Vault” that stores all Walt Disney movies, will be decommissioned and replaced by giant film server farms storing thousands of movies.

The irony of this situation is while digital is cheaper to produce and distribute, it can’t hold a candle to films ease of storage. To store a film reel all that’s needed is a cold, dry place. Storing a hard drive can be risky. If a drive fails, everything on it is gone (with the wind).

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb


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