Microsoft's fledgling Windows Media 9 Series technology is being used to display digital movies at theaters in 25 cities across America this month, a test pilot for cheap digital projection that the company says will validate its work with digital media codecs and delivery methods. Microsoft is working with BMW to exhibit 8 independent films in digital format, using standard PC hard drives. The system costs less than half that of previous digital projection systems, such as the ones used earlier this year to display George Lucas' Attack of the Clones movie.
"We wanted to try \[digital projection\] because we think this is going to be the future of exhibition," says Amir Malin, the chief executive of Artisan Entertainment, which is distributing the film. Digitally projected movies have none of the bad side effects of film, which degrades over time and is easily scratched. So far, however, few major Hollywood studios have embraced the format because of the costs, which can set back theaters hundreds of thousands of dollars. To counter that, Microsoft is working with low-budget, independent movie houses to show that high-quality digital projection can be done cheaply.
And during the pilot run, the movies are even cheaper than usual. If theaters agree to display a 7 minute BMW promotional film before the movies start, the company will pay for the equipment and projection costs. For Microsoft, the use of Windows Media 9 Series technologies is what makes this pilot possible. "Windows Media 9 Series ... will enable independent filmmakers, distributors and exhibitors to take advantage of the cost savings made possible with digital technologies," says Dave Fester, the general manager of the Windows Digital Media Division at Microsoft. "The use of digital media for distribution makes it possible for filmmakers to put their movie before audiences, providing the theatrical-quality image and surround sound that audiences desire."