Welcome to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and to one of the first – and hopefully one of the best – conferences of the year. Right up front I want to take note and to thank our cosponsor, the National Information Standards Organization.
I realize that there were a lot of places around the country where this meeting could have been held – like Hollywood. I assure you that the mayor of Gaithersburg is going to be very excited when he finds out that Hollywood chose to come here.
You aren't the first and you certainly won't be the last group to come to NIST to discuss a topic that seems far afield from the sort of thing the federal government gets involved with.
The good news is that NIST is not a regulatory agency.
The better news is that we have lots of experience with technical matters of the sort that face your industry as it looks ahead at the prospects of digital cinema.
The best news is that we are an entirely neutral venue for you to share your views.
I want to explain briefly what NIST is, and our past involvement in the kinds of issues that the movie industry is going to need to tackle if digital cinema is to become a reality.
Our mission is clear and simple: to strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.
Our primary customers are U.S. industry and the taxpayers. We don't ever forget that. We are, after all, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
We work through four complementary programs:
the NIST laboratories, which specialize in measurements and standards,
the Baldrige National Quality Program, which manages the nation's highest award for quality and performance excellence,
the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, teaming with centers around the country to provide productivity-improving assistance to small manufacturers, and
the Advanced Technology Program, which partners with industry to develop enabling technologies that will benefit the economy broadly.
When NIST began back in 1901 – yes, it's our centennial year – as the National Bureau of Standards, our focus was on manufacturing, but we always have paid a lot of attention to the service sector.
And we are no newcomers to the entertainment industry and to the technologies that underlie and provide the infrastructure to allow entertainment media to expand and flourish.
Let me offer a few examples:
NIST was one of the first radio broadcasters in the country, initially transmitting music and speech. And we helped attack the early problem of poor reception. The purpose was research, not entertainment, but the benefits of this technology obviously were broader than anticipated. And let's face it: that's the way it is with most technologies.
Another example: NIST's "TvTime," a method for broadcasting time and frequency information on television, was transformed into closed captioning. The technology won us a share of an Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in engineering development in 1980.
We've played an enabling role in bringing HDTV to reality. Some of the same NIST lab folks who are here today working on digital cinema and from our Advanced Technology Program will tell you more about that work and our successes to date.
Through the NIST Advanced Technology Program, we've even teamed up with one company that is now using math techniques to restore or enhance movies.
Electronic Books, or Ebooks, were hardly "an item" in the fast-moving information technology markets less than three years ago when we held the first Ebook conference. In no small part due to our efforts to enable voluntary, open standards, Ebooks are rapidly taking hold. Open standards are vital for Ebooks – and they are just as vital for digital cinema.
I think we should take note that the entertainment and the information technology/computing sectors are converging rapidly, and they often end up in the form of devices and software that look a lot like office productivity tools. Ebooks likely will look a lot different in a few years, and there's no telling what entertainment applications they will find.
Clearly, there are lots of opportunities in digital cinema. Here in Washington, that term "opportunities" often as not is a signal that huge challenges loom. Come to think of it, since I spent my career in industry before coming to NIST, that's true in the private sector, too.
That clearly is the case for digital cinema. I think that the conference organizers have done a great job in recognizing that there are real business AND technical issues that stand in the way of digital cinema. There's no sense in ignoring them. There's a lot of logic in tackling them now, up front. The speakers who follow me will be doing that. For now, I'd like to briefly set the stage.
We are "awash" in a world of digital content from text to audio, still pictures, and video. And digital cinema is no different – how the bits are transported, stored, and presented to the viewer or listener is critical.
Digital cinema represents a convergent technology solution involving software, projection technology, compression, digital data storage, and transmission.
The technology for showing moving pictures in a theatrical environment is basically unchanged in over 80 years – we still have film being passed through a gate and shutter and illuminated with a light source.
With the systems integration of a number of technologies, digital cinema offers some real advantages:
It costs approximately $2500-$3000 to make a print of the original film for distribution to a theater, and an additional $300-$500 in shipping. This totals roughly $1.2 billion the industry spends on print duplications and shipping.
That figure could be cut by at least 50% with the simultaneous transmission (by satellite) of a first release movie. Likewise, the digital copy is as good on the 500th showing as the first showing – while film degrades with each passing through the projector.
The cost of the digital cinema projector (which is several times higher than film projectors) raises a number of important issues including new business opportunities using digital projection with other digital content. Interoperability is critical if such opportunities are to be realized.
Because the copy is digital, copy protection will need to be more stringent. Thus security and digital rights management becomes a huge issue.
Other digital cinema specifics relate to the challenges and opportunities of very high quality moving imagery: Digital cinema is unlikely to succeed if it is "just as good as" film. Measuring the quality of moving imagery as it is exhibited on the screen is critical in allowing users to make informed decisions in deploying this new technology. So is the issue of interoperability. There's that word "interoperability" again.
NIST has a deep involvement in these kinds of measurement issues. Some examples:
Our Physics Laboratory has developed optical technology that is being used to characterize digital cameras.
The NIST Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory's work on displays is improving the reliability of measurements.
Our Information Technology Laboratory is addressing a variety of IT issues including display interfaces and usability, test methods, compression and security.
We at NIST recognize the investments the industry has made in developing open standards. That includes:
Establishment of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC, which is jointly sponsored by the Motion Picture Association, the National Association of Theater Owners, and a number of other industry participants,
the digital cinema study in the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and
the digital cinema compression work in MPEG.
What about our own investment at NIST? We are comfortable playing a role in digital cinema – if you think there's a place for us and if you can convince us that we are needed to enable this technology to take off and realize its potential.
Everything we do with our scarce resources must at least have the potential to make a real difference to the economy and quality of life.
That means that we have to have continuous private sector input and guidance in developing, carrying out, and evaluating our programs.
This conference, with these participants, is an ideal opportunity for doing just that. We want to make certain that we can contribute in this area, and that our contributions will make a difference – either enabling something to happen that wouldn't otherwise happen or accelerating those advances in a meaningful way.
I am counting on knowing a lot more about the appropriateness of a NIST role in digital cinema when the curtain falls on this conference. No matter what your conclusions and recommendations, I hope that you have a most productive conference.