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The BBC's Sue Nelson reports
"The resulting image is clearer and sharper"
 real 28k

Thursday, 3 February, 2000, 12:13 GMT
Films without film arrive in Europe
 Disney/Pixar
Buzz and Woody are back on European screens
Disney/Pixar

By the BBC's Mark Smith

Digital cinema projection makes its European debut this week with the release of the Disney/Pixar film Toy Story 2.

Five cinemas, including three in the UK, will replace conventional film with a set of hard disks and a projector built around optical chips.
 Disney
US cinemagoers have already seen a digital projection of Tarzan
Disney

The animated Toy Story sequel, created entirely on computer, will as a result bear the distinction of being the first major feature to dispense with film entirely.

Several films, including Tarzan and Bi-Centennial Man, have already been shown in both all-digital and conventional forms in the US. But Disney and the technology's creators, Texas Instruments, say it is time to demonstrate the advantages of digital projection to a broader audience.

The pioneering computer animator John Lasseter, who directed Toy Story 2, is convinced.

"You'll see the brightest colours and the clearest pictures ever projected on the big screen," he says. "It's pure eye candy."

Main advantages

The companies involved say the results are at least as good if not better than 35mm film and that the toughest test audience - professional cinematographers - have already given the technology the thumbs up.

The main advantage for audiences is clear. Each digital showing of the film will be exactly the same quality as the first - no scratches or fading prints, whether it's the first or the fortieth run.

At the heart of the TI Digital Light Processing (DLP) projection system are three optical chips. White light is split by a prism into three different coloured beams, each directed to a different chip.

 Disney/Pixar
First major feature to dispense with film entirely
Disney/Pixar


These tiny devices house an array of 1,310,000 hinged microscopic mirrors which under computer control act as optical switches, turning the beams into high resolution red, green and blue images.

Doug Darrow, Business Development Manager for DLP, says bringing it to Europe will help to show that the technology is ready for widescale application.

"We believe it represents another important step towards the day when all movies will be shown digitally."

Investment costs

But everyone involved admits that film is far from dead. Huge investment would be needed to convert every cinema to digital projection and nobody is quite sure who will be willing to foot the bill.

The eventual aim is for movie studios to download encrypted films directly to cinemas, saving print and distribution costs. But so far, the major cinema chains have little financial incentive to install the new equipment needed.

Dinsey's head of new technology, Bob Lambert, knows it will not be an overnight revolution.

"This is about building confidence in and demand for the technology," he says. "But we're convinced that within a few years digital projection will be commonplace. This is the future of film."

The all-digital showings of Toy Story 2 will be at the following venues: The Gaumont Aquaboulevard, Paris; Kinepolis, Brussels (both from 2 Feb); The Odeon Leicester Square, London (from 4 Feb); UCI Trafford Centre, Manchester; Warner Village Finchley Road, London (both from 11 Feb).

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