The UK and Ireland are about to undergo a sector wide test of the new DCP format, named SMPTE DCP after the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) who are heavily involved in developing standards for the cinema industry.
All cinemas in the UK and Ireland will receive test files this week which will need to be played on their systems and the results noted and fed back via a portal hosted by Unique Digital. The co-ordinating partner for this project has been the UK Cinema Association, who has patiently built a consensus around the need to undergo tests and an eventual move to SMPTE DCP. The distribution of test content is being undertaken by the screen advertising companies: DCM and Pearl & Dean. The European-wide drivers of this complex but necessary exercise are the European Digital Cinema Forum (EDCF) and exhibitor’s trade body UNIC.
The primary reason for testing SMPTE DCPs in all cinemas is to make sure that digital cinema systems can ingest and playback encrypted SMPTE DCPs, as a precursor to the industry moving towards this format. In territories where testing has been completed, the vast majority of screens have had no issues with the test content and most flagged issues were resolved with the upgrading of software or firmware.
The transition to SMPTE-DCP is a key plank of the overall move to a digital cinema industry. The planning and discussions have been taking place for some time, across all continents and by a range of groups, including the European Digital Cinema Forum (author’s note: I am the President of the EDCF), UNIC, ISDCF, CST and NATO. The advantages of SMPTE DCPs include creating a solid foundation for the range of new technologies that the cinema industry is embracing, as well as helping equipment to work together and solving problems that arise.
Europe has a number of issues that pose challenges for the dissemination and take up of new technology in the continent, such as digital cinema in the first place. According to the EDCF, these can be summarised as:
The EDCF/UNIC project has led the European industry’s move to SMPTE DCP, with both organisations keen to minimise the disruption that could be engendered without proper planning. The first decision was to approach each country individually, not treating Europe as a single entity. The project has been working with local organisations and companies in each country to build up awareness of SMPTE DCP and its benefits, as well as identifying local distribution partners to get the test content out and feedback results to. Each country sent out localised test content. There have also been a number of SMPTE DCP releases in Europe from Walt Disney, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros and Paramount. These include Moana and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.
By the first quarter of 2017, several countries had already completed the test and feedback process: Norway and Finland were amongst the first to do it, Baltics, Denmark and Netherlands have also been finished, Sweden is underway and UK/IRL, France and Russia are in the planning stages, with UK/IRL also expected to complete by year end. The criteria for early testing were a recent screen conversion to digital, a single electronic distribution service provider, percentage of electronic distribution coverage, and single language distribution. These are not set in stone but are used as a guide.