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View Full Version : Red Ray & the Current Theatrical Exhibition Paradigm



Jeff Coatney
05-03-2008, 05:33 AM
Here are some ideas for making Red Ray, or a Red Ray 1.5, suitable for the current (albeit arcane) distribution model.

I'll describe the current system for shipping film prints and follow it with the Red Ray solution, keeping as much of the current system in place as possible to ease the cost of changing over from film to Red Ray. It is understood in this scenario that the destination venue has already upgraded or added a 4K digital projector of suitable compatibility.

FILM:
1. Work prints are struck by the lab in volume, separated by reels and shipped in four reel cans to the theatre. UPS, FedEx, etc. does the shipping.

2. The projectionist assembles the print and loads it onto the Christie platter system and runs it the night before for friends and employees as a QC measure. This can take an hour or two of labor plus the running time of the film to accomplish. The film runs at normal speed. It is often during such screenings that illegal taping is performed.

3. The film is exhibited or shown a fixed number of scheduled times, but it can also be shown after hours by employees who have access to the facility. The number of showings can fluctuate if the film is successful, however, even if the film's run is extended, it is often moved to a lower capacity auditorium within the same complex. This move can take an hour or more of labor to accomplish and may involve the use of a forklift or other equipment, or may be spooled over via overhead rollers.

4. At the end of the film's run, the projectionist disassembles the film and loads it back into the four reel cans for pick-up by UPS or FedEx. This step requires an least an hour of labor.

5. The returning prints are either destroyed, stored long-term or sent to ancillary markets like college campuses or kept by the producers. The infrastructure necessary to transport a print stays in place and is standardized to limit costs. This infrastructure is fixed and amortized over a long time and is so pervasive, it cannot be improved incrementally or locally. Any savings must be gained by finding efficiencies in each, fixed, stage in the process: Faster lab printing and automated QC of prints; cheaper, more durable shipping containers; more fuel efficient delivery vehicles; faster assembly and spooling to platters, etc.

Now, keeping the above process in mind, let's fit Red Ray into the same system:

RED RAY:
1. 4K "Prints" are downloaded to sealed, flash-memory filled Red Ray housings in volume and shipped in small courier boxes to the theatre. UPS, FedEx, etc. does the shipping. The Red Ray housings are leased from the lab (Red? Technicolor?) because their solid-state, robust construction makes them re-usable and to limit the ability of people to develop hardware capable of defeating the housing's security.

2. The projectionist plugs the unit into the projector (via custom connector) and runs it the night before for friends and employees as a QC measure. This takes less than a minute to accomplish. The "film" runs at faster than normal speed. The first playback of the movie should run at a variable playback speed fluctuating between 1.3 and 1.7 times normal and display a location code kinda like a visible time-code window. This accomplishes two things: it makes it harder to set up a video camera and tape the film off the screen in realtime, limiting piracy and unauthorized plays and it reduces the amount of labor needed to QC the "print".

3. The second playback and all other plays after it are at normal speed with full sound, to paying customers. The number of plays can be increased by entering a pin number obtained from the distributor. Moving the "print" to a smaller capacity house is as simple as unplugging and plugging it back in. The Red Ray housing records the serial number of the projector it is plugged into and stores the info as metadata to be read when the unit is shipped back. It also records the number of times the film was "screened" and on what date and time for accounting purposes.

4. At the end of the film's run, the projectionist unplugs the Red Ray and puts it into a small courier box for pick-up by UPS or FedEx. This step requires only a few minutes.

5. The returning Red Ray units' metadata is downloaded and the memory is wiped and the playback functions are tested and another release is downloaded onto it and shipped within 24 hours. Lost Red Ray units would automatically erase their content if they were not received by the theatre staff in a timely manner, further protecting the content.

The Red Ray unit, although somewhat different from the form we saw it in at NAB, would essentially function the same. However, much like the ubiquitous 40 foot long freight container, it would be manufactured in high volume and leased on a per-use basis. This pay-per-use or pay-per-release would generate enough revenue over time to more than cover the cost of development and manufacturing. Because the storage and signal output is so brilliantly contained in the same unit, you could easily limit access to the content and protect the intellectual property. This system would fit into the already established infrastructure and could save thousands of hours of labor each year. Since the lab functions are no longer petro-chemical, the making and shipping of a print can be de-centralized, saving shipping costs and lab fees.

If a release print currently costs $2,000, then the comparable Red Ray D-Print could cost $40. A limited release would have access to the same economy of scale as a huge studio tentpole, because they would not be consuming a vast disparity of resources. All release prints would basically cost the same per print, enjoy greater anti-piracy protections and have access to greater accounting accuracy.

Such a system could have a useable lifespan of fifteen to twenty years, plus, and would allow even greater resolutions to be displayed as they became practical. Over the same time-scale, downloading data via satellite to a theatre may limit the practical implementation of higher than 4K resolutions due to bandwidth limitations, anti-satellite warfare, extreme weather and governmental regulation. Satellites broadcast to everybody, so pirates could have an advantage if they knew the encryption (which could be sold to them by a traitorous employee or simply hacked) and knew the bird's orbital trajectory.

Noah Kadner
05-03-2008, 06:17 AM
Why all that wasted fuel and money in shipping back and forth when the bandwidth required to simply download a feature directly to a theater's projection room and their installed Red Ray would be minimal. Figure ~ 8.4 GB or less assuming a feature fits on one DVD-DL. Also if the movie is a single digital file there's no real need for the projectionist to QC it. In a film print it's mostly to make sure the reels weren't damaged during shipping and are in the correct order on the platter. No point in that for a digital file and you avoid the projectionist permitting the videotaping off the screen on the QC projection.

Though to be honest this is of limited value anyway- just about every illegal copy of a movie I've ever happened to see is clearly taken during a regular screening as you can see and hear a full audience. I personally don't see a lot of reasons why a digital projection system should need to be tied to the old film print methods. Why not reset the paradigm completely to suit the strengths of something like the Red Ray?

-Noah

Jeff Coatney
05-03-2008, 06:49 AM
Why all that wasted fuel and money in shipping back and forth when the bandwidth required to simply download a feature directly to a theater's projection room and their installed Red Ray would be minimal. Figure ~ 8.4 GB or less assuming a feature fits on one DVD-DL. Also if the movie is a single digital file there's no real need for the projectionist to QC it. In a film print it's mostly to make sure the reels weren't damaged during shipping and are in the correct order on the platter. No point in that for a digital file and you avoid the projectionist permitting the videotaping off the screen on the QC projection.

Though to be honest this is of limited value anyway- just about every illegal copy of a movie I've ever happened to see is clearly taken during a regular screening as you can see and hear a full audience. I personally don't see a lot of reasons why a digital projection system should need to be tied to the old film print methods. Why not reset the paradigm completely to suit the strengths of something like the Red Ray?

-Noah

8.4 GB x 3,500 at once? (Movies open on that many screens simultaneously)

Downloading can be interrupted by power failures, weather, etc.

Storing a digital copy onsite could allow unauthorized access or copying.

QC is important to determine the theatre condition, not just the print.

There may be long-term pricing contracts in place with shipping companies that would be violated by switching to download only.

I think these are the strengths of Red Ray. From a distributor's perspective.

Maybe what we're talking about here is the demise of monolithic distribution?

Jeff Kilgroe
05-03-2008, 07:47 AM
Logistically, RED RAY copies for a cineplex would have to be stored locally. The download model for distribution makes perfect sense, perhaps using torrents or scheduled multicasting. Theater locations can elect to have films delivered physically by FedEx for an additional fee, which is still small compared to handling film reels. QC can be performed automatically by data verification processes.

Assuming RED can deliver on their technical claims for RED RAY, and of this I have no doubt, they have a bigger hurdle ahead of them. How do they intend to safeguard, encrypt or copy-protect content? If RED RAY players become as commonplace as it sounds that Jim wants them, then what's to stop theatre employees from running a duplicate copy for their friends. This time around piracy wouldn't be an HDV camcorder in the back row, but a perfect 1:1 copy of the distribution "print" itself.

Actually, if it were me, I probably wouldn't attempt any form of encryption or copy protection within RED RAY. Coming from a software development (mostly game development) background, I will be the first to say that piracy sucks. But the lengths at which many current forms of copy protection go and the expense incurred by implementing these methods place a drain on content creators. In the end, there is no such thing as unbreakable copy protection. Take a look at commercial software that has no hard copy protection like Luxology's Modo. People still jump in line to buy it. Perhaps that would be a refreshing approach for the film industry and RED RAY. For theatrical release content, let the theatre industry and film distributors worry about securing content / media / players. Although, that gives me visions of cineplexes keeping their RED RAY players in a vault with access by one key person or perhaps one or two area representatives... Film content delivered by armored courier, etc.. Hehe

Noah Kadner
05-03-2008, 07:57 AM
I have to say at this stage in the game- with a nice Blu-Ray player and a 720p projector and good sound system the *only* thing that makes me go to the theater any more is seeing a movie sooner than later. But then I mitigate that against ridiculously high ticket prices, expensive concessions, cruddy seats and obnoxious fellow patrons and I'm suddenly more than happy to wait a few months and see the disc at home. Theater owners need to work a lot harder to make the experience valuable to me the consumer. While Red Ray could conceivably play a part in that I personally hope the secret agenda is to break the theater chains and make it possible for more speciality theaters catering to specialized audiences- blurring the line between indie film and hollywood blockbuster.

Do we really need six multiplexes per town, each showing 3 screens of the latest Adam Sandler movie for $10 a head and $6 for a box popcorn- lunacy....

Noah

Jeff Kilgroe
05-03-2008, 09:54 AM
I agree with everything you just said... I think RED RAY has the potential to do just that. When there's suddenly an indie market with a viable distribution channel that is also very high quality and affordable, we could start seeing a massive shift in how and where we go see our movies. The large theater chains and distribution companies won't be willing to change their business model at first. But smaller operations will eat away at their market share until the big guys have no choice.

And like you, I'm usually content in waiting for a film on DVD / Blu-Ray before I see it. Lately it seems that I only go to the movies because the kids want to see something and it's usually a painful experience. Like Alvin and the Chipmunks -- 2 hours of watching Earl Hickey without a mustache and annoying CG puppets; although, I enjoyed seeing Horton. But by the time I do that, I've paid for one or two adult tickets at $8-$10 each, two kids that are usually the same price as the adults anyway. Drinks, and nasty popcorn... Well, kids... If I could teach you patience, we could've just bought two Blu-Ray discs and whipped up a batch of popcorn at home that I would actually be willing to eat. ...Wouldn't have the screaming infant in the row behind me, the bottoms of my shoes wouldn't be sticking to the floor, there wouldn't be gum on my seat, there wouldn't be a guy in front of me on his cell phone throughout the whole movie, the projector wouldn't be out of focus... Ah, but for some reason, we still go see movies in that environment and pay lots of money to do so. Why?

oldphart
05-04-2008, 04:00 AM
...
And like you, I'm usually content in waiting for a film on DVD / Blu-Ray before I see it. Lately it seems that I only go to the movies because the kids want to see something and it's usually a painful experience. Like Alvin and the Chipmunks -- 2 hours of watching Earl Hickey without a mustache and annoying CG puppets; although, I enjoyed seeing Horton. But by the time I do that, I've paid for one or two adult tickets at $8-$10 each, two kids that are usually the same price as the adults anyway. Drinks, and nasty popcorn... Well, kids... If I could teach you patience, we could've just bought two Blu-Ray discs and whipped up a batch of popcorn at home that I would actually be willing to eat. ...Wouldn't have the screaming infant in the row behind me, the bottoms of my shoes wouldn't be sticking to the floor, there wouldn't be gum on my seat, there wouldn't be a guy in front of me on his cell phone throughout the whole movie, the projector wouldn't be out of focus... Ah, but for some reason, we still go see movies in that environment and pay lots of money to do so. Why?

What you describe is a type of cinema getting ready to go out of business. It might be a reason why I have not been to a US cinema the last ten years.

The concept of a cheap public display for the masses is 50 years out of date in great parts of the world.

When people have all the entertainment they need at home, public performances have to provide something special.

The opera is sold out months in advance, but if they were to do cheap shortcuts like what you describe they would have lots of empty seats even with a tenth of their current ticket price.

I believe a revolution is taking place, and I think Red have provided some key components to help it along. If you have content worth talking about, people will want to see it in a setting where they can talk afterwards even if they can see it at home at an earlier time. Michael Moore proved that when he encouraged downloads and ended up with a box office success. Al Gore proved that even a glorified slide show will fill the theatres when people have strong opinions about what you're showing.

The same goes for dramatic productions. If it is interesting, people will want to talk about it. They usually do so over a dinner or a drink when they have been to the theatre or opera.

With Red Ray, it will be easier to accomodate new types of impromptu events. If there are enough independent venues, it will be easy to handle any contingency like when a supposedly narrow independent production suddenly turns into a mass hysteria event. Home viewing will just be part of the marketing.

M Most
05-04-2008, 07:53 AM
I agree with everything you just said... I think RED RAY has the potential to do just that. When there's suddenly an indie market with a viable distribution channel that is also very high quality and affordable, we could start seeing a massive shift in how and where we go see our movies.

I think you, other posters here, and perhaps Red themselves are making an assumption that current digital distribution methods present a financial problem. This is just not the case. Having a cheap player/media combination is, to some degree, a solution in search of a problem. It also ignores the real world issues of pre-show material, trailers, PSA's, and theater automation - all very necessary for modern theatrical exhibition. Replacing a digital cinema server - which is not an outrageously expensive piece of equipment in the first place - with a small disk player that only plays back extremely compressed versions of the material (and, by the way, the results of this extreme compression, which is far beyond the already high compression of current Redcode, have yet to be demonstrated publicly), and only from an optical drive, doesn't in itself accomplish much, other than limit the flexibility of the presentation in terms of material other than the feature itself, sound tracks supported in industry standard formats, and connectivity to standard digital projection systems. There is a lot more that goes on in theatrical distribution and exhibition than most of you are accounting for. If what you're talking about is a way to rent a theater, bring your own projects in and plug in your Red Ray player, that's one thing (and I'm not yet sure that will work, given the limited theatrical sound formats supported). But theaters have needs that none of you seem to be considering. It's not about price, it's about serving the need - which is already being serviced quite well by the systems being put into place. The cost issue has very little to do with the supply side, and everything to do with the projectors themselves, along with things like 3D support (which can double the cost of the installation). The cost of the server, and the costs associated with feeding it, either by satellite/data distribution or physical hard disks, is the least of it.

Personally, I see Red Ray as more of an attempt to fill some gaps in the current workflow - things such as real time playback of R3d files with decent debayering in industry standard video formats, for one thing - than a product they want taken seriously by the exhibition end of the industry. But maybe that's just me.

danielg
05-04-2008, 08:34 AM
This is a security issue more than anything. Movie companies don't want high quality copies of the film getting out into the 'wild'. People who make set top boxes sign contracts with very heavy penalties associated with piracy. The contracts stipulate, for example, that all digital pathways be secured; an attacker using a logic analyzer to read a bus and recovering information that would allow the attacker to pirate protected content would trigger penalties against the set top box manufacturer.

Broadcom makes chips for the set top box industry that have security keys already installed. These keys are usable but not readable by the processor. All that digital distribution needs is for processors of this type to be used in the projection system. The media is encrypted by the studio, downloaded to the place where it is to be projected, and stored there until needed; the projection processor decrypts and plays the material at the appropriate time.

The reason we don't have more digital projection is that the cost of revamping the theaters would be borne by the theater chains while the studios have the most to gain. As it is, the studios have pushed a business model onto the theater chains that sucks all the profit out of running a theater. Theater chains have very little reason to invest in a new method of projection that will benefit the studios more. So, unless the studios buy the theater chains (again), this is not going to happen.

M Most
05-04-2008, 05:21 PM
Broadcom makes chips for the set top box industry that have security keys already installed. These keys are usable but not readable by the processor. All that digital distribution needs is for processors of this type to be used in the projection system. The media is encrypted by the studio, downloaded to the place where it is to be projected, and stored there until needed; the projection processor decrypts and plays the material at the appropriate time.

That's exactly how it's done, more or less. The digital cinema package is distributed with encryption based on FIPS 46-3 (a security protocol for data encryption published by the US federal government). It is delivered either on a physical hard disk or via satellite or other electronic distribution method. A key is delivered separately that is coded for the specific server that will be playing the package, and allows for that server to decrypt and play the package for a specific range of time. At that point the key expires and a new one must be delivered. In fact, key delivery management has proven to be the single most complex and time consuming part of the entire delivery system, as it makes it a bit more difficult than some theater owners would like to move shows between screens (you either have to reroute the signal from the keyed server, or obtain a new key for a different server).



The reason we don't have more digital projection is that the cost of revamping the theaters would be borne by the theater chains while the studios have the most to gain. As it is, the studios have pushed a business model onto the theater chains that sucks all the profit out of running a theater. Theater chains have very little reason to invest in a new method of projection that will benefit the studios more. So, unless the studios buy the theater chains (again), this is not going to happen.

That's a common, albeit somewhat naive view. There is a system in place based on what is known as a virtual print fee that is, in effect, subsidizing the installation of the equipment. The way it works is that the studio pays the digital projection system supplier/integrator (companies such as Access IT, Technicolor Digital Cinema, and Digital Cinema Implementation Partners are the big players here) a fee based on the cost of a release print for each theater showing a particular picture that has been equipped by the supplier. This is then deducted from what the theater is paying the supplier for the equipment. It is certainly not a complete panacea, but it is playing a part by allowing the studios to contribute at least a part of the cost of the digital transition. At the same time, however, the digital projectors have both a higher acquisition cost and a higher maintenance cost than the film projectors they replace, and no study to date has shown any additional revenue generated from digital projection, except for one thing: 3D. However, it costs at least half again as much for the 3D equipment as it does for the "basic" digital cinema projector. To date, though, the new digital 3D presentations have been shown to be a bigger draw than "standard" presentations. The jury is still out on whether this is due to the material itself, the novelty of 3D, or the "event" nature of some of the releases to date. But it is currently acting as a "driver" that is causing more theaters to at least look at changing over to digital projection.

danielg
05-04-2008, 05:59 PM
In fact, key delivery management has proven to be the single most complex and time consuming part of the entire delivery system,

Having written key management software for set top boxes, I concur.

Vincent Rice
05-06-2008, 10:42 AM
Red Ray is not going to usher some golden age of Indie Cinema, that's silly. It does have possibilities however where exhibitors are already going digital. The infamous DCI document states that as well as the unbelievably Byzantine secure route for studio movies access to the projector, there should be an alternative access to the projector at HD/2K or 4K if available for the viewing of real-time content (sports/concerts) or unprotected independent material. This suggests a great role for Red Ray in this context. Don't imagine for a moment however that Red Ray will ever have any sort of DRM. To do it properly costs an absolute fortune and is utterly pointless for most non-studio material.

mezmo
05-12-2008, 06:28 AM
Yes, HD 1080p is a sort of defacto standard outside DCI spec and 35mm film.
It operates in the marketplace now in many countries outside the US like
India, China, the EU, Australia/NZ..........
It's easy to dismiss this defacto standard or the need for it if one is working
in LA posting larger budget Studio films @ DCI spec for the US market.

In many places outside the US producers can't afford 35mm Prints or the DCI
finish. They are forced into finding a third solution for exhibition, to overcome
very real financial problems and still get bums, where they should be, on seats.
Enter HD/1080.
Right now, as we speak, good money is being made exhibiting films in 1080,
with pojects recovering costs and recieving a sucessfull release season in the process.

So is there are market for a third standard outside DCI and Film? A standard that can deliver better to excellent quality HD/1080p and stretch
up to 2K without all the Drama of DCI. I think so. Shoot me if I'm wrong.

Can RED RAY deliver here, who knows, but the need for an elegent, cost
effective Projection, Server and Audio Decode/Routing system outside DCI/Film, replacing the messy HD1080 defacto, could and should drive a market for such products.
If not, we'll just keep stuffing about with 1080.
My 2CW. Mezmo

Robin Balas
05-15-2008, 03:16 AM
... Replacing a digital cinema server - which is not an outrageously expensive piece of equipment in the first place - with a small disk player that only plays back extremely compressed versions of the material (and, by the way, the results of this extreme compression, which is far beyond the already high compression of current Redcode, have yet to be demonstrated publicly), and only from an optical drive, doesn't in itself accomplish much, other than limit the flexibility of the presentation in terms of material other than the feature itself, sound tracks supported in industry standard formats, and connectivity to standard digital projection systems....

You don't need to use the optical disc which is the only option limited to DVD-DL. RED-Ray can play directly off Flash and HD which is at native R3D compression right out of RED ONE. Stick a HD next to the RED-Ray with 1000GB worth of files on it and you don't have the compression you seem to fear. Of course we will have to wait to see if the current spec's will be fullfilled or not, but I would be surprised to see RED-Ray fail as Mr. Jannards team seems quite good at what they do.
MHO.

M Most
05-15-2008, 06:53 AM
You don't need to use the optical disc which is the only option limited to DVD-DL. RED-Ray can play directly off Flash and HD which is at native R3D compression right out of RED ONE.

You can't render to "native R3d compression." And even if they reverse engineered the debayer in order to allow you to do so, I'm not so sure you would want to, given the additional compression and processing it would incur on already color corrected material.

Of course, if you're just talking about projecting dailies, or other raw camera footage, you're correct. But I don't think that's what we're talking about here.

Robin Balas
05-15-2008, 02:47 PM
You can't render to "native R3d compression." And even if they reverse engineered the debayer in order to allow you to do so, I'm not so sure you would want to, given the additional compression and processing it would incur on already color corrected material.

Of course, if you're just talking about projecting dailies, or other raw camera footage, you're correct. But I don't think that's what we're talking about here.

No, but it means that the horsepower to handle way higher datarates than a DVD-DL will provide is present. Which means it is technically feasible to use less compression and store on another medium than optical. If this will be implemented or not is hard to say at this time, but it would be a rather stupid thing to not implement such a feature, and stupidity is something I don't associate with the RED team.
MHO.