Attended the launch of the BFI’s Digital Test Bed at the NFT this morning — currently Europe’s only test laboratory for digital cinema. They are justifiably proud that they can now play everything from nitrate to pure digital feed (demonstrating the former with a lovely technicolor excerpt from The Harvey Girls (1946), and the latter with a live connection to ‘The Hall of Edoras’ set for The Return of the King in Wellington, New Zealand, with Jim Rygiel, Weta’s digital effects supervisor).
I had to leave before the tour, but from their press pack, it looks as if they have at least one reference projector (a JVC QX1) capable of 2048×1536 resolution, but seemed to be projecting in HD today.
Is it as good as celluloid? The clips they showed today head-to-head today (from The Insider) were certainly impressive, with the scanned film satisfyingly grainy and filmish, and I couldn’t really see that the quality was any lower than uniqueliveevents managed a couple of months ago with a QX1 at native resolution. Seems that one of their problems is selling the idea of HD resolution to cinemas (because cinema owners realise that people will potentially have the same resolution available at home, soon, and don’t see much of a business in offering nothing better in their multiplexes), while simultaneously trying to sell the idea that HD is ‘as good as celluloid’ to customers and studios (so why should you leave home for a stinky multiplex?). A bit of a marketing problem there, even without the many standards issues.