Digital Test Bed

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.


  1. there was a *lot* of beyond-HD (ie digital cinema) goings-on at NAB this year … starting with the camera. check the Dalsa Origin (4K x 2K) … the datarate (8 x HDCAM SR) is nasty … spat to a big-ass RAID of 4x400MB Firewire channels. ouch.

    i have this image of future toy cameras (a la FisherPrice Pixelvision) having “old” HD tapes in them but but moving *really* fast so they can capture shitty 4kx2k res for the kids.

  2. I really haven’t had much to do with HD stuff in the UK (where it is practically invisible as a technology). But I’d still love one of those ancient Japanese HD laserdisk players — there was always something very satisfying about Japanese analog HDTV back in the 1980s — as much for the sheer impossibility of them having actually made it work, as for the picture quality.

  3. There’s a timely article on the question of ‘how good is good enough’ for digital cinema in the NYT today– with much angsting about the funbdamental question of how to judge how good a given system is. Feels very much like the arguments over CD back in 1983. The Digital Cinema Laboratory in LA (the US equivalent of the Digital Test Bed), has been built in the Hollywood Pacific Theater, ‘an Italianate palace originally built (but finished too late) for the 1927 premiere of “The Jazz Singer,” the first sound film with some spoken dialogue.’ Seems appropriate (especially the ‘opened too late’ part 😉

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