Law in the Internet Society
-- MichaelDignan - 08 Jan 2010


Is the Movie Industry Going to Die Soon? (Like the Recording Industry)

With copyright protection eroding, in an era where copies are made freely and infinitely, there seems little reason to continue a monopolistic regime of copyright protection set up for an analog world. If Gavin is right we basically live in a de facto copyfree world already. But even Moglen admits that creativity could be dampened when the upfront capital costs are high for a certain project, citing much of the movie industry as an example. While music has always been fairly cheap to produce, it is now incredibly cheap to copy. Not so for the movie industry, where, at least in Hollywood, the budgets often run into the dozens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars. Is a de facto copyfree world the best world if we want to continue creating a lot of digital movies? The music industry has all but capitulated the fight against free copying. The RIAA, once attempting to intimidate illegal downloaders into buying their music, has gone limp. The movie industry has seen slumping sales recently, while it could just be attributed to the economic disaster of 2008, downloading movies from the internet presents a real threat to the profitability of an industry that has high capital costs and depends on its ability to sell movie tickets as well as a large volume of home video DVDs.

Some might say that the decline of Hollywood would actually be a good thing, since it would no longer dictate the movie industry’s norms and standards in an effort to wring more profit out of staid genres and hackneyed scripts. And it is true that it is getting cheaper to produce movies, some independent movies can be made on smaller, three figure, budgets. But leaving aside the question of whether it is desirable to preserve Hollywood in the face of copyright erosion, perhaps it is possible for them to continue making movies, and money, in spite of it.

I watched Avatar in IMAX 3D and didn’t regret the $15 I paid to do so. The best way forward for a movie industry threatened by illegal copying is to make the theatre performance of the show worth paying for. The more immersive the better. And for the immediate future, the theatre has a near-monopoly on high quality 3D picture quality.

Home theatre 3D technology can rely on a variety of stereoscopic methods in order to create 3D images. Cheaper systems rely on anaglyph imaging, the kind that requires the red and blue glasses. An anaglyph image relies on two superimposed images, shot from different perspectives, printed with two different color filters. When viewed through the red and cyan (other colors can also be used) eye filters, the visual cortex of the brain fuses the two images together into a three dimensional scene. Polarized stereoscopic pictures use two superimposed images which are screened through different polarizing filters. When wearing eyeglasses that also contain a pair of different polarizing filters, each eye sees a different image, and the brain interprets the image three dimensionally. Another popular method involves alternating every frame between each eye. This eclipse method typically uses a mechanical shutter to block the light to the appropriate eye in order to produce a stereoscopic image for the brain to interpret.

While most large theatres use polarized film, home theatre technology is, currently, of inferior quality and too expensive for the average user. Anaglyph images are probably the cheapest to produce and view, but have a number of problems, foremost among them problems with color quality and sharpness, resulting in a lot of ghosting. Polarized 3D systems require a silver screen in order to maintain the polarization of the light reflecting off of it (if using projectors), or a few additional layers in a monitor that adds significant cost. Additionally, viewing angles in the home can be limited, and movement of the head can lead to ghosting, as images bleed over to the opposite eye. Shutter glasses, either LCD or mechanical, can make some people nauseous, but have an advantage over polarized glasses because they don’t restrict viewing angles. The glasses are obviously much more expensive than those used when watching polarized 3D films, but it may be cheaper to implement inside the monitor, since a simple IR emitter is used to sync the glasses with the monitor’s frame sequencing. Of course, most current HD television sets don’t have fast enough refresh rates to keep up, since you are effectively halving the frame rate when alternating between each eye. But the success of Avatar, which has been called 3D technology’s Jazz Singer, will no doubt spur the home entertainment industry to create better and cheaper systems for home viewing. And a number of new high definition televisions with 3D capabilities have recently been announced. If they are successful, they would almost certainly eat into the movie industry’s declining profits.

But it still remains to be seen how effectively new home theatre technology can display high quality 3D images for the average user. And the public theatre still offers some advantages over home viewing. IMAX screens are hard to replicate, even on today’s increasingly large television sets. Immersive sound systems are certainly doable in home systems, but add to the already growing costs involved. And the very public nature of the event might be a bonus. Anything that can be done to increase the awe factor at the theatre will help keep viewers coming. Anything to more fully immerse the audience in the film. At least for the immediate future, the movie theatre seems to have an advantage over home viewing, and in order to keep that edge, it needs to continue developing its appeal, because Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba are busy developing television sets that make theatres obsolete.


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r1 - 08 Jan 2010 - 14:27:42 - MichaelDignan
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