CinemaCon: 35mm, Atmos, 48FPS

The annual CinemaCon (formerly ShoWest) is taking place in Las Vegas this week showcasing the upcoming film slates of the major studios along with new theatrical exhibition upgrades.

A couple of key technology-releated announcements were made earlier today at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

20th Century Fox has become the first major Hollywood studio to officially notify theater owners it will distribute all of its films domestically in a digital format within the next year or two, bringing an end to 35mm film prints. In fact the studio has already ceased distributing 35mm prints in Hong Kong effective January 1st this year.

27,000 U.S. screens, more than two-thirds of those in operation, have been converted to digital. Efforts are now being made to help the remaining smaller cinema operators convert to digital.

Meanwhile there was word on Dolby’s new Atmos audio format which boasts more ‘natural and lifelike’ sound – expanding the regular 5.1 & 7.1 sound mixes to 64 discrete speaker feeds and 128 simultaneous and lossless audio channels.

Dolby reportedly aims to have the technology installed in 10-15 theaters worldwide for the first test of the technology – Pixar’s “Brave” in late June. Pixar is preparing a special mix of the film for those cinemas and we should be able to tell you which ones will carry it closer to the release.

Finally, Sony Digital Cinema announced its high frame rate upgrade program today. The program gives all existing Sony Digital Cinema 4K projector customers high frame rate playback without the need for complex hardware upgrades. It also increases maximum bit-rates from 250 Mbps to 500 Mbps and allows for 48 & 60 frames-per-second at 2D 2K and 3D 2K levels.

The upgrade will be available this Fall as a software update at a list price of USD$3,000 per complete projector/server system. Sony expects the majority of its 13,000 installed 4K digital cinema projectors will have it ready by the time of the release of “The Hobbit” on December 14th.