Almost complete: Digital transition in Asia nears the finish line


Digital deployments across Asia have entered their final phase, with most major circuits nearing completion and relatively few mainstream independents left to be converted. With existing screen conversions drying up, construction of new world-class, fully digital multiplexes abounds in new and expanding markets, and particularly in China, much to the delight of DCI-level cinema equipment vendors, local system integrators, and the cinema industry in general.

In 2012, Asia became the second-largest region in the world for digital cinemas, accounting for approximately 26% of the estimated global installation base now estimated to be as high as 90,000 screens. According to a recent report from IHS Screen Digest, the number of digital installations in Asia-Pacific has expanded by 28% during the first six months of 2012. This puts Asia ahead of Europe, which has approximately 24% of the world’s total, but still far behind North America, which claims over 40%. Of all cinemas, digital conversion rates have risen to over 70% in markets such as Japan, Indonesia, China, Australia and Singapore.

China is the most active market in the Asian region, with approximately 12,500 active screens in Greater China and around 11,800 of those in the Mainland, with the remainder in Hong Kong and Macau. China is on target to increase to 30,000 screens by 2015. Barco is the leader in projector sales with shipments of around 8,300 systems, giving them approximately 66% of the market. Hong Kong-based GDC Technology, which supplies DCI-grade servers, theatre management systems and related services, reports shipping more than 10,500 of its servers across Asia, with over 7,400 installed in China alone.

In April at CinemaCon, the China Film Group (CFG) announced the purchase of 500 Barco projectors along with GDC servers with Integrated Media Block (IMB). CFG-Barco (Beijing) Electronics Co. Ltd., a joint venture founded by Barco and China Film Group (CFG), has received orders for projectors totaling over 4,100 units since the company was founded last August. CFG-Barco keeps a strong business partnership with most market exhibitors, including CFG, Guangzhou JinyI, Zhejiang Hengdian, Zhejiang Times, Guangdong Dadi and the China Film South cinema circuit.

Christie was also busy throughout China and the Pacific Rim in 2012, signing up cinema chains for its cinema projectors, IMBs and services. Sichuan New Times and the Shanghai Film Group are among the customers joining existing clients such as the Wanda Group, China’s largest chain, in embracing Christie’s offerings. Partnering with Shanghai Film, Christie is also equipping the Shanghai Film Museum to project the history of the Chinese film industry.

NEC is also making progress in China with sales and local support through their two integrator partners, Beijing Donview Digital Technology Co., Ltd. and Strong Westrex (Beijing) Trading Inc. NEC plans to have installed more than 2,500 cinema-grade projectors by the end of March 2013.

The Chinese audience’s appetite for 3D remains among the highest in the world. The newly formed HNA Group recently announced an agreement to install 3D on up to 500 cinema screens across their circuit over the next five years. Womei Theater Chain recently signed an agreement to install 3D on 100 screens. Womei currently operates four cinema locations with 33 auditoriums across China and plans to add up to 200 new sites totaling 1,000 screens within the next five years. In addition, both Poly Film Group and Stellar International Cineplex announced similar agreements to add 3D to 100 screens. Stellar currently operates more than 40 cinema locations with 250 auditoriums across China.
Barco’s new audio format, Auro 11.1, has been installed in 14 locations across Asia including four installations in Mainland China and one in Hong Kong. Dolby added four theatres to its growing list of Dolby Atmos locations with installations at China Film Stella Theater Chain Hefei, Shanghai Film Art Center, UME Shuangjing in Beijing, and Wanda Cinemas Lingjiao Lake in Wuhan. China Film Post in Beijing and MBS Studio in Hong Kong both have been equipped with Atmos mixing capability for several upcoming film projects.

India has an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 screens, of which approximately 6,000 have installed e-cinema projectors from various vendors for locally produced titles. Of these, over 2,800 screens are using e-cinema servers from Qube, India’s leading manufacturer of DCI-level cinema equipment. Currently, there are only around 700 screens in India that are using the DCI-certified equipment necessary for Hollywood titles. Notable installations include Satyam Cinemas, who installed 4K Qube IMB servers at 28 of their locations and have plans to install 20 more soon. In Vishakhapatnam, Cinema Jagadamba, became the first site in Asia to install dual 4K 3D using Qube servers with Barco projectors. Also, Qube has recently completed the digital conversion of all 56 screens of Kuwait National Cinema Company.

Announced earlier this year at CinemaCon, Inox Leisure, India’s largest cinema chain with 68 multiplexes and 257 screens in 34 cities across India, purchased 300 GDC servers along with Barco projectors for 100% conversion of their Mumbai-based circuit. The entire chain will be equipped with DCI-compliant systems with High Frame Rate (HFR) capability. The contract involves GDC supplying Inox with systems comprising GDC servers with IMBs and Barco projectors, along with the construction of a NOC and a centralized circuit-wide management system. It is expected that full deployment will be completed by 2012.
In March, Scrabble Entertainment Ltd., India’s first provider deploying DCI-compliant equipment, announced its agreement with PVR Cinemas, with 162 screens across India, to upgrade all its auditoriums during 2012. Using Christie projectors, PVR is planning to be fully converted by 2014.

Earlier in 2012, UFO Moviez, a large Indian exhibitor and an early pioneer in e-cinema deployments, acquired 52% of Scrabble. In 2011, Scrabble began the deployment of DCI-grade equipment into 10 countries in the Middle East and Eastern Europe (UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Syria and Jordan) and has executed contracts with all major exhibitors in these countries for over 500 screens. Scrabble expects to have deployed over 1,000 screens by the end of 2012.

In June, Mumbai’s Filmlab Pvt Ltd., one of India’s largest and most advanced film and digital post facilities, announced the formation of a new digital-cinema deployment company, currently operating as Patel Industries (PID), digital cinema division. PID is focusing on easing exhibitors’ transition to digital enhancements such as 4K and 3D and has established partnerships with Sony for projectors and Datasat for audio equipment.

In Thailand, NEC, the Japan-based DCP Cinema projector manufacturer, has partnered with Bangkok-based Goldenduck Group, their sales and system integrator for Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. In 2012, NEC and Goldenduck installed more than 150 NEC projectors into Major Cineplex in Thailand, Ayala Cinemas in the Philippines, Golden Screen Cinema and Lotus Five and Star Cinema in Malaysia, and targets more than 250 units across Southeast Asia.

Also in Thailand, London’s Arts Alliance Media (AAM) and Goldenduck have formed a partnership where AAM will offer their Theatre Management System (TMS) and their VPF management, asset management, NOC monitoring and maintenance solutions. Through Goldenduck’s role as the leading cinema integrator in the region, the deal will be available to exhibitors throughout Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. The Goldenduck partnership is expected to add over 500 screens to AAM’s list of TMS users.

In Malaysia, 20 screens of the LFS Group upgraded to digital using Qube cinema systems. Malaysian exhibitor Tanjon Golden Village is using Doremi equipment for their rollout.

In the Philippines, the DCinema Alliance, a subsidiary of Array’s Technology, announced that it will continue its transition and expansion of cinemas across the Philippines to full digital using industry-leading technology and support from Doremi. Exhibitors SM and Robinson have fully committed to the transition to digital exclusively using Doremi servers.

Singapore's leading cinema exhibitor, Golden Village Multiplex Pte Ltd., has completed full digitization of all its locations with Barco's projectors. Golden Village Multiplex has one of the widest screens (22.4 meters) in Southeast Asia, where a Barco 4K projector has been installed. Dolby also announced that Singapore director Jack Neo's upcoming Ah Boys to Men will be the first Asian film to be mixed and released in Dolby Atmos. The film premiered this November at the Golden Village Multiplex.

Indonesia’s largest chain, Cinema21, converted all of its 575 theaters at 122 locations to digital during 2012. The majority of that transition was achieved with projectors from Christie and servers from Doremi.

In Japan, GDC, working through their new Tokyo entity GDC Digital Cinema Network (GDC DCN) along with their Tokyo-based partner Xebec, a subsidiary of Ushio and a leading system integration company, has begun supplying their servers to major Japanese exhibitors involving over 1,000 screens. To date, over 600 GDC servers have been installed and the remaining are expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

D-Cinema of Korea (DCK), the JV deployment company established in 2010 between CJ CGV with around 750 screens and Lotte Cinema with around 530 screens, has turned its focus to unconverted independents by forming Cine-Hub, a partnership between DCK, Barco and IBM Korea. IBM, in their first jump into the world of digital exhibition, is playing a central role by providing financial services and is coordinating warranty service and maintenance through their integrated NOC services.

Also in Korea, Barco has also installed five of its Auro 11.1 systems, with three at Lotte Cinema. Korea’s Megabox chain has installed Meyer Sound’s cinema loudspeaker system for its M2 premium concept at the Megabox COEX, the largest multiplex in Korea.

Barco has its projectors installed in approximately 850 Australian cinemas, claiming 48% of the installed base, with approximately 350 to 400 screens to go. By the end of the year, Amalgamated Holdings Limited (Greater Union) will be complete and Village will finish their rollout of over 200 screens. Barco has also its first Australian Auro 11.1 installation with Reading Cinemas in Townsville.

In early 2012, Los Angeles-based digital-cinema provider Cinedigm and the Independent Cinemas Association of Australia (ICAA), jointly announced an agreement for Cinedigm to become the integrator for independent cinemas across Australia and New Zealand. Cinedigm will provide VPF contracts and administration, TMS and other support resources, and assist the independents with their conversions. ICAA will also coordinate the installations and service, working with local installers and technical personnel.

In July, Christie announced that Hoyts chose Christie to light up Australia’s largest traditional screen, the Blacktown Cinema 5, with a 28.1-meter-wide screen, with the single-mirror, dual-4K Christie Duo projection solution, for the premiere of Snow White and the Huntsman. Hoyts also upgraded the auditorium’s speakers and sound-processing equipment with the latest equipment from QSC.

Doremi is reporting impressive statistics for its penetration in these markets: Current market share is 83% in Australia and 72% in New Zealand. The major exhibitors choosing Doremi servers for their digital-cinema presentations include: Event Cinemas, Birch, Carroll & Coyle, Hoyts, Village and many independents. Also in Australia, Sun Cinema in Melbourne upgraded to 4K Qube IMB, becoming a pioneer 4K screen in the region.

Complementing its alliance with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment to develop HFR movies, Christie signed on Park Road Post-production and Weta Digital in New Zealand to further develop this new technology, culminating in Christie projectors being used for the premiere of The Hobbit in Wellington in late November.