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Don’t Change Out Film Systems for Digital Prematurely


Digital projection systems currently on the market have some ideal applications for small theaters in educational institutions, but for theaters with screens wider than 20 feet that show nature and science documentaries and other visually detailed material, museum operators are better off keeping their film projectors for now, says consultant and audiovisual expert Steven J. Thorburn PE, in an article appearing in the April-May 2008 issue of IPM Magazine, a trade publication serving the museums and attractions industry.

"A small, digital theater system with DCI [Digital Cinema Initiative] compliant projectors makes a great, versatile screening room with options far beyond what you get with a film projector, " says Thorburn, whose company, Thorburn Associates Inc., provides acoustical and audiovisual design and engineering for museums, universities, corporations and houses of worship. "Content changeovers are very fast. A good laptop can drive the system. Your theater becomes a space you could rent out for corporate meetings or educational sessions. And it greatly simplifies 3D presentation."

But Thorburn cautions that for larger theaters, replacing a film system with digital is premature – comparable to changing out your laser printer for an old dot-matrix model.

"Today’s DCI compliant moving picture furnishes only 1/4 to 1/10 of the picture information you could see in the typical 35mm movie house, " states Thorburn. "You get 2, 080 dots or pixels across your projected image, whether your screen is 20-feet or 100-feet wide. Project it onto an 80-foot wide giant screen and you get roughly 25 pixels per foot, or about two dots of content for every inch of image. I call that grainy."

Thorburn notes that the industry is working to develop systems with better resolution, and that new and improved digital cinema products are unveiled every few months at trade events such as ShoWest and NAB. But for now, he reiterates, "A digital projection system is what to look for if you have a small theater that has multi-use needs. If, however, you want or need high-quality visual resolution and color depth, these are still much more attainable in the realm of film."

The April-May print edition of IPM Magazine, including the article by Steven J. Thorburn, will be distributed at MuseumExpo, the annual meeting of the American Association of Museums (AAM), April 27-May 1 in Denver. For more information and to see the electronic version, visit the website of IPM Magazine or Thorburn Associates. The article will also soon be reprinted in a forthcoming issue of LF Examiner, a newsletter serving the giant-screen film industry.
 Thorburn Associates (TA) is a professional service firm providing acoustical consulting and technology system engineering for the commercial, corporate, leisure, residential and retail industries. April 1, 2008 is the company’s 16th anniversary. TA has offices in San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham and Los Angeles.

IPM Magazine is an independent trade publication based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA serving the cultural attractions and entertainment industry by providing a fresh perspective on best practices, industry trends and new products. IPM publishes six issues per year and is distributed internationally, as well as at industry trade shows and conferences.

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