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Texas Instruments to Unveil Cinema Chip

March 03, 2003|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

Texas Instruments is expected today to unveil a chip to power a high-end digital cinema projector, one that some filmmakers and Hollywood studio executives say may finally meet their minimum resolution requirements.

Raising the bar on digital image display, the chips will allow for a projector to display 2K resolution, or a minimum of 2,000 lines of resolution on a theatrical screen, said Doug Darrow, business manager for Texas Instrument's Digital Light Processing Cinema Group.

Texas Instruments declined to say how much its 2K chips will cost. The chips are expected to be in full production by the third quarter of this year.

Cinematographers and studio executives who saw a recent demonstration of the new projector say they were impressed, but they warned that a lack of technical standards over resolution quality will continue to be a major hurdle blocking the adoption of so-called d-cinema. Yet, Texas Instrument's 2K chipset is being launched as testing is being done by Digital Cinema Initiatives, a consortium of seven major movie studios to establish technology standards and build a business model that would make it profitable to distribute digital films electronically.

Industry sources say DCI is developing a specification requiring that d-cinema projection begin at least at 2K resolution. DCI officials declined to comment on their progress or on Texas Instrument's new chip.

So far, Texas Instruments has emerged as a dominant player in d-cinema theaters, primarily because of the Dallas-based semiconductor company's aggressive push to put machines using its chips in at least 150 theaters worldwide.

Yet these projectors currently fall below the 2K resolution line.

And the company is facing increased competition from Japanese rival JVC. JVC's high-end chips are being tested by Eastman Kodak Co., which has been demonstrating studio executives a prototype of its own 2K digital projector.

The technology promises to rid movies of visual problems, including wear that affects celluloid prints over time, scratches and other flaws caused by mechanical projectors. And by eliminating film, studio executives say they could save up to $1 billion in annual print production and distribution costs.

Yet the conversion costs are considerable. A 2002 research report by Credit Suisse First Boston estimated it would cost $5.5 billion to install digital projectors in 37,000 U.S. theaters.

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