Sundance Festival Goes HD

The Sundance Film Festival, which starts Thursday, is a good indicator of the film industry's movement towards digital HD projection, as opposed to film projection. At this year's Sundance Festival, every category has digital entries, including HD premieres, documentaries, features, and shorts. We note that nearly half
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The Sundance Film Festival, which starts Thursday, is a good indicator of the film industry's movement towards digital HD projection, as opposed to film projection. At this year's Sundance Festival, every category has digital entries, including HD premieres, documentaries, features, and shorts. We note that nearly half of the 202 features and shorts scheduled to be screened will be shown using HD projection in 15 venues. The largest venue will use a 2K DLP projector, which permits one-to-one pixel mapping of 1920 x 1080/24p images.

The feature film industry resisted digital HD projection for some time, but HD offers some significant advantages over film, particularly in large-screen venues where micromirror DLP projection engines are used. One material advantage is that digital projection yields a rock-steady image, as opposed to the inevitable bobbing and weaving of film as it passes through the projection gate. This translates into significantly better dynamic resolution on the screen, even when the pixel count is less than impressive.

Coupled with the availability of 1920 x 1080 micromirror projection chips, stunning images may be projected onto large screens. An additional characteristic of micromirror projection is that, because the mirrors are moved at a frequency in the kilohertz range, far above the large-scale flicker threshold, images may be projected at their native 24fps rate. When 24 fps film is projected, it must be double-shuttered so that the apparent light-flash rate is 48 Hz, in order to overcome perceptible flicker. This is also known as 2/2 pulldown, and it generates a temporal artifact, because each two successive projected frames show objects in the same physical location, which conflicts with what the tracking eye expects to see. The resulting 2/2 judder, like 3/2 judder on 60 Hz television, is either a feature or a problem, depending on the individual's taste.

The bottom line is that the movement toward digital projection as opposed to film projection appears to have become unstoppable. Will we in the near future reach a point where film projection becomes an artsy niche activity? Could well be.