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A Clearer Picture For Digital Cinema

Film distributor and projector maker collaborate to speed the installation of digital-cinema equipment in movie theaters.

Movie lovers who want high-quality visuals on the big screen in theaters are getting their wish. Movie distributor Access Integrated Technologies Inc. has formed a subsidiary, Christie/AIX, to help fund the rollout of digital cinema, an industry format for movie delivery and presentation in theaters.

Christie Digital Systems USA, a projector maker, has agreed to support the subsidiary and become a "significant" contributor to the project. The agreement includes a two-year plan for a 2,500-screen rollout, with more than 200 screens to be operational by the end of the year. The plan is meant to ease financial burdens for theater owners and concerns among movie studios about theaters installing high-quality projection equipment by creating a template for hardware deployment in theaters and funding from private investments.

The digital-cinema system is expected to include a Christie's projector with 2048-by-1080 pixel resolution, as well as a media player, a central server, and other necessary hardware for each theater auditorium. The average price for projectors alone can range from $70,000 to $85,000, according to vendors and industry experts.

Christie/AIX, AccessIT's new subsidiary, will serve as an intermediary between movie content owners, including major movie studios and independent movie distributors, and theater owners. Content owners will pay "virtual print fees," equivalent to fees for manufacturing and distributing reels of film, which today cost between $1,200 and $1,300 per movie per release. Theater owners will pick up installation costs, software license fees, and a 10-year maintenance contract, with a cost structure similar to conventional film maintenance.

With this agreement between AccessIT and Christie Digital Systems, movie studios have committed to releasing more content in digital format each year, AccessIT says. The distributor is expected to disclose more information about the funding during its earnings call on Monday.

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