Office Automation

Digital Cinema – Advantages and Limitations

Digital Cinema is much more than using a digital projector to display the cinema… In this article we will have a look at the advantages/benefits of Digital cinema over the analog film based cinemas to understand why so many theatres/production houses in the world are converting to digital cinemas and we will also see some limitations of digital cinemas – why the film based cinematography is still popular in this near to digital world!

What is a Digital Cinema?

To understand the concept of digital cinemas, we need to understand about the film based cinematography – In a large number of cases (even today), the pictures are shot using analog film based cameras, then converted in to digital format for editing, mixing, re-recording and adding special effects and converted back to analog films for projecting them through the analog film based projectors.

Digital Cinemas use digital processes end to end – right from the capture (digital movies are shot using digital CCD based cameras with high resolution), storage (they are stored in digital tapes, hard disks or flash drives), processing (editing, mixing, re-recording, sound, special effects etc are handled in the digital format), display (digital cinema is displayed using digital projectors which are controlled by industry standard servers with management software in the theatres) and distribution (digital cinema copies are mostly transmitted electronically over the Internet or satellites or even hard disks).

Advantages of Digital Cinemas:

¤ The films used in analog cinemas (based on vinyl records) degrade with time, but digital images do not. And even if a DVD is scratched, it could easily be backed up in a hard disk or another DVD, for example.

¤ Digital cinemas can be shown and managed in the theatres by unskilled labour (with minimal training) as the management terminal is PC-based and simple to handle, unlike analog film based cinemas, which need dedicated personnel for receiving, prepping, showing, dismantling and returning the movie tape films.

¤ Distribution of digital cinema’s (electronically via Internet, satellites or even hard disks) are simpler, fast and in-expensive than the time taken and cost incurred for the shipping and handling of heavy film tapes.

¤ Supply rarely matches the demand in the movie industry – suddenly a picture might become a huge hit and the demand for showing it in additional screens might arise. It is much easier and faster to distribute additional copies for digital cinemas in those situations.

¤ Addition/deletion of scenes after the movies have been released is easier/cheaper with Digital cinemas.

¤ Piracy could be more effectively monitored with robust copy protection, encryption and water marking processes for digital cinemas. The chances of introducing a new anti-piracy technology is higher in the digital format.

¤ The solid state projectors used with Digital Cinemas are smaller and occupy less space than their analog counterpart.

¤ The digital tapes/external hard disks used in digital cameras (camcorders) cost much lesser than analog film based cameras – the same scenes can be shot many more times till the director is satisfied without worrying about the cost of the film tapes.

¤ The scenes can be previewed immediately after they are shot with a digital camera – so the director can immediately judge if a change in lighting conditions are required or a re-shoot is required etc.

¤ A lot of tools are available for introducing special effects in digital cinema. In fact, the scenes could be created fully using special effects/animation in the computers.

¤ There are management software’s available for digital cinemas which can automatically schedule the movies showing in various screens in a multiplex without manual intervention.

¤ There is a body formed by the major production studios called DCI – Digital Cinema Initiatives which is engaged in standardising the major specifications for digital cinemas to ensure interoperability between major vendors of digital cinema.

¤ Digital cameras are often highly configurable and use detachable modular components for flexibility and upgrade-ability. They can also record high resolution images up to 4096 x 2304 pixels.

¤ If a theatre can play digital cinemas, it can also broadcast events – live or hold meetings/conferences with minor changes in the theatre facilities.

¤ Digital 3D uses polarization instead of coloured glasses (used by older 3D cinemas) to portray the 3D effect. This ensures that the colour of the finished image is not corrupted.

¤ Digital cameras are considered to be better for indoor shooting/ shooting at nights with a very low light.

¤ Digital cinema is advantageous for low budget cinemas made with limited man-power as such movies  have lower budgets and alternatives are available for cheaper capturing, editing, processing, recording and distribution of digital cinemas.

Limitations of Digital Cinema:

¤ Even though the digital data may not get scratched/grained etc, the digital projector pixels would break/degrade over time.

¤ The quality of digital projection is comparable with analog film based projection. Some people feel that the quality of analog film based projection is better than digital projection and the image reproduction is more natural. But digital technology is improving everyday.

¤ Most of the theatres are equipped with film based projectors and to replace them entirely with digital projectors would involve a lot of cost and re-designing for the theatre owners.

¤ Digital data always has a higher risk of getting pirated than their analog counterparts.

¤ Digital technologies are prone to technological obsolescence. With newer technologies/improvements introduced so fast, the existing digital equipments might get outdated faster and some of them may not be upgradeable to newer technologies, introducing a higher risk on investing in them.

¤ Analog/film based cameras are even today considered better for outdoor/day-light shoots as digital cameras produce inconsistent images when exposed to high brightness environments.

¤ If the digital camera uses 4k resolution to capture digital images for good clarity, the cine projector displaying that image also needs to support 4k resolution to display the images at that clarity. But, there are a very few 4k projectors installed in theatres around the world.

¤ The digital standards of recording/playback keep changing and hence many digital cinemas are converted to analog films for storage and archival.

¤ Some Analog high-quality formats like IMAX etc, cannot be achieved by their digital equivalent cameras/ projectors.

¤ The chemical process of exposing film to light is well documented and understood by cinematographers. It also produces reliable images, based on film-stock. In contrast, each digital camera has a unique response to light and digital treatment processes are not mastered fully by cinematographers.

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  • Joel Schiffman

    “digital projector pixels would break/degrade over time” – Over a LONG time. The repair would be a simple change out the imaging block, at no additional cost under the annual support contract.

    Film projectors require more regular maintenance than digital projectors.

    “Digital data always has a higher risk of getting pirated” – The security of dcinema content is the strongest possible, and has been validated for years by protecting medical records. Camcorder piracy remains the simplest way to steal content, digital or film-based.

    “re-designing for the theatre owners” – ? Dcinema projectors are comparable in form factor to film projectors, even using the same lenses and lamps. Just push the old beast aside and install the new one.

    “Digital technologies are prone to technological obsolescence”. All technology is prone to obsolescence. Film projectors already are…

    • admin

      Thanks for your comment.

      With the experience that we have had with digital projectors in the corporate segment, after a point of time, the quality of pictures (sharpness and brightness) reduce. Of course, the remedy might be to replace the imaging block as you have suggested. Regarding piracy, your point it taken as it is the same for digital as well as analog technologies and there was a point in the advantages section that piracy can be more effectively monitored with digital cinema (Note: Monitored, not prevented). Hopefully, in the future new digital technologies would be introduced which can contain piracy. It is good if not much re-designing is required for digital cinemas, and if the projectors are similar in form factor. All technology is prone to obsolescence – but how many theatre owners, who have already installed 2k projectors, would be willing to change them to 4k projectors immediately? What if a 6k projector comes within a couple of years… what we were trying to say is – digital technologies are prone to obsolescence faster – when compared to the analog projection techniques which were quiet consistent for decades!

  • allan broadfield

    Piracy has occured since the invention of film. In his book “Growing up in hollywood” film director Robert Parish recalled how he was advised in the studio editing dept to look out for any crash or explosive scenes he could spot at the local cinema that they could borrow and dupe for their own use.
    Also puzzled as to why you should refer to film stock as ‘tapes’?