Grab the popcorn, cinemaphiles. You may be about to sit through one of the best movie sequels in years: digital cinema.
"The digital image is brighter, sharper, the colors are more crisp and the image is a bit steadier," says Patrick von Sychowski, an analyst with Screen Digest, the British-based media research firm.
After years of Hollywood hype, 2004 could truly be a watershed year for digital cinema. A recent surge in investment by theater chains and technology companies means the number of digital projectors in cinemas will more than double to over 400 in the next 12 months, Screen Digest reports.
There's no guarantee the technology will make the next Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck film more watchable, but at least the final product will look better.
As always, whenever art and technology collide, snags emerge. Installation costs for cinemas are high and the major studios are slow to churn out fully digitized blockbusters until technology standards and anti-piracy measures are resolved.
But cinema operators, eager to show off their new digital projectors to the public, aren't waiting for Hollywood. A host of European chains have begun to show digitized rock concerts, documentaries and features from independent filmmakers.
"The new technology, we see, gives the local filmmaker the chance to exhibit to a bigger audience. Those films that do not get a chance under the 35-millimeter distribution model, will get a fresh chance," said Steve Perrin, deputy head of distribution and exhibition of the UK Film Council.