DVD cinema

12th May 2000 at 01:00
Film has been the dominant method of projecting images on to cinema screens for 100 years. This is about to be challenged by digital cinema technology which is likely to become increasingly common over the next two to five years.

Digital cinema involves transferring film into digital form, beaming it to cinemas round the world via satellite, and then screening it using digital projectors.

Already the last stage of this process has been successfully achieved in commercial cinemas in the US and the UK. Toy Story 2 has been digitally projected in three UK locations, soon to be followed by Mission to Mars. But a modified version of this system, "DVD (digital versatile disc) cinema" is opening up new possibilities for community groups, including schools, which want to set up film clubs or run screenings to raise funds as well as use film in class.

"I've always been a huge fan of going to movies, with the big picture, surround sound, popcorn and the fun of escaping from the real world for a couple of hours," says Rob Holmes who has been running the Fusion nightclub in Kingsbridge, Devon, for the past six years and has now set up an in-house cinema thanks to the new technology.

He invested in a DVD player, a JVC digital projector and additional speakers to handle the extra DVD soundtracks. The technology is easy to set up - "As the nightclub opens from 10pm, we can show a movie from 7.30pm, stack the chairs when finished, press a button to put the screen away and be bac to club mode in 20 minutes" - and the quality is good: at a showing of The Matrix, film-maker Jenni Wittman was "completely overwhelmed by the sound quality and impressed with the clear subtle colours of the picture."

Holmes has shown an eclectic mix of films including Casablanca, Shakespeare in Love, and Sixth Sense. He has arranged children's matinees and has plans for late-night double bills and dress-up-and-dance showings of music films such as The Blues Brothers. Holmes rents DVD discs from Filmbank Distributors for a minimum fee of pound;60 per showing (or 35 per cent of receipts if that amount is more than pound;60). Filmbank is jointly owned by Warner Brothers and Columbia but also distributes for most of the other major film companies. Peter Matthews, the Filmbank library sales manager, stresses that public showings without a permit are illegal. For educational purposes, the pound;60 rental covers up to 250 children or 150 adults.

Colleges are starting to install digital projectors in lecture theatres, costing between pound;7,000 and pound;10,000, capable of projecting data or film to the standard of Rob Holmes's set-up. A cheaper alternative for smaller numbers is simply to buy a DVD player for less than pound;500 to link up to an existing TV. This will also produce results far superior to video.

Chris Lakeman Fraser Filmbank: 020 7984 5950For projectors in the pound;7,000 to pound;10,000 range try JVC (020 8896 6000) or Barco (0118 966 4611).Sony DVD players pound;350 to pound;850: 08705 111999

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