@geyser: The 4k-6k numbers I've seen used are all in regards to the theoretical maximum of what 35mm film is capable of. As with all analog copies, there is considerable dergradation of the content with each generation. The studies I linked to seemed to correct for a lot of the projectionist issues. Also, the 100th showing of the digital copy will look exactly like the 1st showing; something that film is obviously going to fail at.
If the studies I linked to earlier are slightly accurate, it would seem to indicate that a high-quality Blu-ray is roughly equal in visual quality to a mediocre-to-low quality film print.
Most studies I've seen put the estimated "resolution" of 35mm far higher than that. Film is analog so there aren't lines of resolution, of course. Thus it's going to be an inexact thing, and I see some oversimplifications in the studies you link. For example the second one says they used film stocks and lenses "typical of those used for feature films" but I think there is considerable variation among lenses and film stocks.
From what I've read, I believe the consensus is that 35mm is still far exceeds 4k, but I don't have the time or inclination to dig up a bunch of links to try to back this up, sorry.
My obviously biased opinion.
@Ovidius: What proof do you have that film looks better than digital? Or are you just going off of your obviously biased opinion?
I'd rather see 35mm than a pixelated, stuttering digital blob, and I'm sure enough people in a nerdy town like Portland feel the same way. Portland, where there are probably more record players than iPods. There's a niche market for restorations, beautiful restorations, of great films (Rialto Pictures, for instance, seems to be doing quite well). And a well-restored print is a far better experience than a digital projection. I feel like that can be said almost objectively. I have a DVD player at home and a Netflix account, I don't need to pay for a $7 ticket to see digital. I think the real threat to theaters is probably a growth in home theater technology along with a dwindling interest and understanding of cinema, and that affects multiplexes as well as indie cinema. People have video games now, they don't need Hollywood.
@geyser, et al: The studies I was able to find seemed to indicate that the resolution of 35mm prints peaked at around 2200 vertical lines and quickly degraded in quality to less than 1000 vertical lines. So brand new virgin negatives will still rival the visual clarity of digital projection, but by the time you've made copies and ran the film a few times, they're worse than Blu-ray.
Tall Steve is right about 4096p rather than 1080p -- sorry for my error above. Still, it's generally estimated that the resolution of 35mm is far greater than 4k digital. Duplication of film creates a small loss of clarity and sharpness, and of course a print will eventually show wear after being projected half a dozen times a day, so one could factor those in as well. But there are other differences that I feel give film the advantage over 4k, but I don't want to get into another digital vs. analog argument. I can tell the differences, and many others share this preference, but it is an aesthetic one, which will probably have no effect on what are essentially financial decisions.
Digital projection is a compromise that I accept in my living room in return for the convenience of being able to watch pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want. I feel that a city like Portland will lose one of its assets if we lose something like being able to go see unusual films on celluloid, particularly avant-garde filme, many of which routinely suffer from the effects of digital compression and/or were created with a film projector in mind.
For what its' worth... Tarintino on the film vs digital debate:
I believe theater-quality digital projection is 4096p, not home-quality 1080p. At 4096p, the pixels would be about 1/10 of an inch high -- sharp enough that the quality of the optics is the limiting factor.
One advantage of the digital format is that the image doesn't degrade. The day will never come when distributors refuse to release a digital copy of "Omega Man" because they only have two copies left.
The fact that digital "prints" are cheaper than film prints should mean we get more art house movies to choose from. That could end up being a big advantage to independent theaters, if they can just get a digital projector. 3D might help there -- if the chains all replace 2D digital with 3D digital, then perhaps independent theaters could find some bargain-priced used 2D projectors?
Another advantage *should be* that if an independent theater has any digital projector at all, distributors can cheaply and easily produce a one-off digital conversion to support it.
I knew the guy who invented 3-D digital projection, originally invented for hospitals to aid surgeons to do micro-neural surgery. The 3-D allowed them to find individual broken nerve ends out of a spaghetti-like mass of nerves and connect them, one by one. They were gonna use it on Christopher Reeve, but Reeve never got strong enough to survive the surgery.
The inventor was Linwood G. Dunn, working with some Japanese engineers.
Dunn had been a special effects man since the 1920s, working at RKO for decades, then for Howard Hughes, then Lucy and Desi, then independently, eventually specializing in multi-media systems for world's fairs and large film formats. Dunn worked on the original KONG KONG, CITIZEN KANE, and hundreds of other movies, and shot the big 12-foot ship for the original "STAR TREK" TV series. His "Film Effects of Hollywood" facility was one of the four optical houses that did the EFX for that series. He refined the development of the optical printer several times to make it more practical and precise for use in thousands of films, and found a way to successfully blew up 16mm film to 70mm for George Harrison's CONCERT FOR BANGLEDESH in 1971. He was highly active in the ASC and AMPAS, and won several Oscars for his technical innovations. He died in the late 90s, in his 90s, and now a Los Angeles movie theater is named after him.
I knew him since 1975 when I met him at an appearance at the University of Oregon. I and a friend went down and visited him at his home in 1992 and saw his prototype 3-D video projection system, which had also been shown to several major film directors, and I knew this was going to revolutionize and eventually replace film projection.
I can't spout out all the math, but the high-end digital video projection systems (variations of Dunn's original system) now being used in the big movie theater chains DO have a higher resolution than 35mm, far beyond the resolution of current consumer Hi-Def Hi-Rez TV sets, and some versions are being developed that equal or better 70mm and even Imax. It's just a matter of sampling rates, number of available pixels, and proper calibration and maintenance of the equipment.
Most of the digitally-presented films we're seeing in the big theaters today are on large multi-level laserdisk-sized disks, with far more technical info (visual and audio) on them than the smaller consumer DVDs and Blu-Rays we're familiar with in our homes, so you're not just watching a DVD when you go to a major movie theater, even though some smaller lower-budget Portland theaters ARE projecting standard DVDs.
Like any technology, there will be varying degrees of quality of varying models and systems, some outrageously expensive, and some far more affordable, so eventually even the INDE theaters will find one they can afford and use, although quality will always vary widely from screen to screen, just as it does now, and always has.
And on top of that, each person's mental perceptions and ability to discern fine details of technical quality can, do, and will continue to vary from person to person, some seeing advantages and problems that other people won't even notice until their brain is trained to spot (and hear) the differences, just like in audio perception. Some people can hear audio frequency response and stereo better than others. And some people can see higher resolution better than others. The varying comments to this article illustrates this point.
I literally grew up in the theater business, my dad being involved in Spokane, Washington movie theaters in the 40s and 50s, and later I used to be a movie theater projectionist (16mm and 35mm) in Portland also, and I've seen how poorly calibrated many (most) of our Portland 35mm film theaters were and many still are, compared to some amazingly well maintained systems in some Los Angeles theaters, all based on available economics, and the availability of more highly-trained and more technically educated (and usually union) personnel, which Portland and most other smaller towns and cites simply don't have access to, and so I expect the same highly variable quality-control trends to continue into the digital video projection age, because each theater owner has to work with whatever budget they have available if they wanna stay in business.
I suspect that most of our INDE theaters will find a way to adapt and survive, assuming the current owners will continue to still have the energy to run the business, because they're usually creative; they can find new niches of media entertainment to exploit exhibit and present, combining different forms of theater, maybe reviving some older ideas, adding live theater, cabaret, vaudeville, and/or live music, exhibiting rare inde films shot and projected in all kinds of varying formats, etc. There's really no limit to the creativity and potential innovation in this town to deal with any media revolution if everyone opens up their minds to the potential of it all.
Digital video, and all digital technology is, in 2011, where the original film and music industry (and communications in general) was in 1911. Just look at what's happened in the past 100 years as standards were found to make systems practical and affordable, while at the same time new technical innovations were constantly created. Who knows what new and additional technical surprises will be developed that will further change the whole theater experience for the better in general.
To me, digital projection is just the latest continuation of that on-going technical evolution, which will take us into exciting new directions of creativity, opening new avenues of expression for both mainstream and inde filmmakers (if we can continue to even use that term), and so it's all good, as long as everyone eventually gets an opportunity to get into it and takes his best shot at adapting to it.
Glamorous and Glitzy North Portland
I think digital could come close to *well-projected* 35mm someday (kinomole, I feel your pain, theaters that don't focus properly or have other faults with their equipment drive me up a soundproofed wall) but I'm not convinced that that day has arrived. Maybe some theaters are doing it right...I don't pretend to know. But charging to watch a projected DVD should almost be a crime.
Colin and Graham... I recall reading something about how 35mm comes across to the eye somewhere...something about how the spaces between the frames allow for....???
I've forgotten the thinking / reasoning exactly.
But I have also read that Tarintino refuses to go digital, and I would hope that his reason is just not simply to be obstinate of change.
So, perhaps to some eyes there is a subtle difference?
Also, higher pixel count doesn't always mean a better picture.
I saw the digital transfer of Dr Strangelove at the Roseway last month. It looked LEAGUES better than any other print or transfer I've ever seen. I don't see why 35mm is a superior format. What benefits does it bring that digital is unable to provide? I get the feeling this going to turn into one of those audiophile debates where someone trys to convince me that turntable sound "warmer".
Solid exploration of changes in screen cinema - thanks!. Believe it or not, our Portland, Oregon is a center in brains of color, eye science, 3d and projection. PM...
I'll certainly miss 35mm projection, but it's so poor in Portland, both at the big chain cinemas and the independents, that I usually only pay to see a digital presentation. I got fed up with going to theaters and paying to see a picture that was blurred on one side, subtitles that crept lower and lower with each reel change (when they were even in focus), ghosting from improperly timed shutters, dim pictures because the lamp was past replacement or the reflector was filthy, and on and on and on. Yes, 35mm projectors last for 50 years. They need servicing in those 50 years, which both the chains and the indies neglect, due to cost factors or ignorance. And I got the same brush-off attitude from both the Regal staff and the indie staff when I brought these problems to their attention (I ran projectors for 10 years so I knew what I was talking about). And while it certainly sucks to pay full evening admission and listen to some moron yammer on his cell phone at a Regal theater, it sucks just as much to try to sit through a classic movie at the Laurelhurst or Cinema 21 while people swill beer and laugh at the screen because, hey, since it's an old movie it must be campy!
@ Ten Red:
The "class of high end digital projection that meets the same quality of a print" does not exist, unless the print in question was 8mm or 16mm. Technically 1080p cannot compare to 35mm. And (as discussed in an I, Anon last year) any theater that shows a "film" at 480p (DVD), especially without advertising it in advance, should be ashamed.
Certainly for repertory film, digital really does seem to be the way things are headed because restorations are increasingly done digitally and because of the expense involved in striking prints and then storing and shipping them. The really serious arthouse theaters will probably continue to show a combination of celluloid and digital for the foreseeable future.
Uhhhhh... at no point did you actually say why 35mm is worth saving, besides quite obliquely at "There's definitely an aesthetic to it that I think some people will still seek out."
Digital theater projectors can cost upwards of 100K and they only have a life span of 5 years. A film projector can last 50 years. Shooting on film is still the main choice for big budget films. The camera negatives are digitized, edited digitally, then printed back to a positive print theater release. Digital projection will still be showing a film original, like watching a DVD. But the class of high end digital projection that meets the same quality of a print costs a lot of money. Not good for indi theaters for sure. Digital has been slowley making everything cheap, easy, convenient, and really fucking boring at the same time. I bet my first digital blow job will be really lame.
Great piece. The death of the 35 mm film projector is a travesty - nothing can replicate the look of light projecting a perfectly struck print onto a screen - but it's been coming for awhile. economics dictate and all, but still, it stinks.
one point, one of those interviewed suggested that for cost reasons some independent filmmakers had to shoot digitally and that this somehow contributes to the availability of a 35 mm print but a film can be shot on digital and projected on 35 mm or it can be shot on film and projected digitally. the format used to make the film is immaterial to the final exhibition. The issue is whether the studio/distributor is willing to pay to strike and ship prints. And by extension, whether there's a lab in existence to strike the prints. The death of the Technicolor lab is not a good sign.
Roy Scheider is a legend.
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