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Friday, May 11, 2012


For the first commercial release of a digital movie, Star Wars - Attack of the Clones, in 2001 the mode of digital transmission was via satellite.
Movies Delivered From Space
At that time, Entertainment Equipment Corp. was working with Boeing Company (which owned the satellites), Texas Instruments, and Ultra Star Cinemas on the install of six D-Cinema platforms in the San Diego area.  The transmission and subsequent exhibition of the Clones operated flawlessly.

In their wisdom, the Hollywood studios decided to use hard drives for movie distribution and pushed satellite transmission to the back-burner.  Now there appears to be a move back to satellite delivery. 

Finalized movies are sent out by the studios in the form of Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs) which are collections of encrypted files.  These DCPs are sent out for duplication and distribution by Technicolor or Deluxe.  However, for satellite distribution the DCP is sent to a satellite transmission service provider (such as Boeing)  - which can distribute the movie to one exhibitor (directly to their D-cinema server) or to ten thousand exhibitors and do it very inexpensively (much less than the cost of hard drives, their delivery, and re-send).  As with hard drives, the exhibitor receives a Key Delivery Message (KDM) which allows for the "unlocking" of the transmitted movie file and also specifies a specific duration of  "play" time of that movie.

The benefit of satellite transmission is lower distribution cost but also the capability of distributing alternative content easily and efficiently, whether a "live feed" or pre-recorded entertainment.

Air Force Uses COVERsats
Speaking of Satellites

Since the original test I was involved in over ten years ago, satellite transmission and reception have vastly improved.  Technicolor offers satellite delivery via a satellite service provider direct to exhibitors using modern satellite dishes that have a very small physical footprint.  The new dishes can be outfitted with COVERsats which prevent most signal outages caused by rain, snow, and ice.  A COVERsat is wrapped over the face of the dish creating a steep and slippery surface which prevents the accumulations of ice and snow.  Also available are HEATsats, a satellite antenna heater which will completely prevent signal problems from ice and snow.

Given their advantages over hard drive distribution, satellites may be in every movie exhibitors' future.

Best and Happy Movie Going!
Jim Lavorato

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