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.
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:
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.