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Digital cinema to go low-cost route in India

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MUMBAI: Digital cinema is about to take off in India with major players like Anil Ambani-controlled Adlabs Films and Subhash Chandra's E-City chalking out rollout plans, speakers at a seminar in Mumbai said.

There are around 400 theatres who have installed digital systems and many more are in the pipeline. But the model being followed so far is low-cost digital cinema or "e-cinema" in contrast to the 1200 installations of "d-cinema" (top quality) made across the world.

"E-cinema is going to be the larger play in India because of its low-cost model. There is no proper initiative of d-cinema with just two installations so far," Texas Instruments India business development manager of DLP Products S Ganesh said while speaking at the sixth exhibition of Cinema India 2006.

Though digital cinema is yet to catch on, this year will see growth from the US which had 600 installations till 31 March 2006. "D-cinema installations are expected to touch 2500 in FY07 with US seeing close to 1800 screens," said Ganesh.

Mumbai-based UFO Moviez, a service provider, services 300 theatres in B and C centres. Though it also uses hard disk mode of distribution, the main format to download movies is through satellite delivery. "Digital cinema was a dormant market that was not addressed. Digital delivery of movies has made it possible for B and C centre theatres to have first day releases of big movies. This has meant more audiences and revenues for them," said Valuable Media Pvt Ltd chief technical officer Sanjay Chavan.

There are three modes of digital delivery of movies. At the low end is the hard drive model which is loaded into the server in the theatre. Big telecom players like Reliance Infocomm can use their fibre optic backbone to deliver content. The most cost-effective model is the satellite distribution system but it would require more bandwidth.

"Interoperability and playability across the service providers need to be tackled. We provide solutions which can interchange packages with Dolby and Kodak among others," said real Image Media Technologies director Senthil Kumar.

Real Image, which recently received funding from Intel Capital, serves 70 cinema theatres in Tamil Nadu. The Chennai-based company has also sold servers to theatres in the US. "Digital cinema enables democracy in filmmaking and can beat back video pirates. Only a complete end-to-end digital solutions can completely prevent piracy," says Senthil.

There is a big task at hand if digital cinema has to be a major force as India has converted only 400 out of a total of 8,000 theatres. While there are 110,000 theatres across the world, the US has 35,000 screens.

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