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Windows Media 9 in Digital Theaters 639

SpamJunkie writes "Feel like watching new releases in 7.1 surround sound with full digital video? It's coming, not with MPEG 4 but with Windows Media 9. Microsoft announced it is bringing Windows Media 9 to 177 screens in Landmark Theaters."
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Windows Media 9 in Digital Theaters

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  • by net_bh ( 647968 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:17PM (#5653548)
    Wow.....blue screens that huge will be awesome to look at!!!!
    • Yeah, except the screen wouldn't be blue anymore after everybody throws all their food at it!
    • by Gleng ( 537516 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:31PM (#5653726)
      This movie has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down

      If the problem persists please contact the theatre manager
    • by gilesjuk ( 604902 ) <giles.jones@zen . c o .uk> on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:35PM (#5653764)
      1. Screensaver kicks in
      2. Projectionist plays an MP3 and it blasts out of the speaker.
      3. Projectionist forgets to turn off Windows desktop sounds

      and so on...... :)
    • "That's not film melting, that's the screen saver!"
    • Argh. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:41PM (#5653828) Homepage Journal
      Dunno about you but if I go to a movie and it crashes I'm gonna demand my money back at the least. I'd be really pissed if the movie locked up and even more so if I got a blue screen or similar error messages. It's bad enough at airport terminals and on POS devices.

      One more way for Microsoft to lock up artist works in their own file formats. How long before studios decide to release Windows only DVD's rather than bother reencoding the movies?

      Why was this needed? Couldn't studios have just mastered the movies to DVD and either mailed them to theatures or allowed the theature to download the movie if they had the bandwidth? Damn it costs about $2 to burn and mail a DVD. They couldn't afford that? Then the theature could use a fairly standard DVD player hooked to their projector and audio system. If the movie won't fit on DVD then split it over several discs and allow the theature to rip the DVD to a harddrive and playback.
      • movies "crashing" (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sirshannon ( 616247 )
        I've been to 3 movies in my life that crashed. We got free tickets at 2 (the other was free already, a school field trip) and were allowed to finish the movies when they got back up and running.

        shit happens in analog, too.
  • So instead of the Silver Screen, we'll be seeing the Blue Screen?
  • by Geekenstein ( 199041 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:18PM (#5653559)
    Due to DRM restrictions, your eyes must be gouged out after the showing for reprocessing. That is all.

    • by johneee ( 626549 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:34PM (#5653757)
      On the other hand, I can see how the DRM restrictions would be the number one reason why this is the format the distributors are looking at...

      I mean, with film, it'd be pretty cost prohibitive and difficult to smuggle out thousands of feet of film to get a screen quality transfer done to export to the middle east to run on hundreds of screens over there.

      On the other hand, if it's in MPEG4, you just bring in a firewire hard drive, copy the movie over, and not only can you send it off to wherever to run on actual movie screens with no money going to the distributors and movie makers, but you have a perfect quality thing to do black market mass duplicated DVD's with the same quality as the ones the studios will eventually release in six months within days of the movie coming to the theatre - not to mention real nice DIVX versions on Kazzaa.

      Yeah, they'd never go for it. Without DRM, you will never get digital movies on any large scale. Won't happen.
    • Do you agree to the above terms? Click Next to continue or Cancel to leave the theater. No refund will be given for already paid-for tickets.
  • by shroudedmoon ( 533918 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:19PM (#5653576)
    The newly outfitted theaters will be able to screen films encoded digitally in Windows Media 9 Series, which enables high-resolution,theater-quality experiences with up to 7.1 channel surround sound. The network rollout is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

    Umm... shouldn't it go without saying that it's theatre quality if they're rolling it out?
    • "Umm... shouldn't it go without saying that it's theatre quality if they're rolling it out?"

      They're trying to set your expectations appropriately low. ;)
    • It's a tautology. Anything shown on TV is good enough to be shown on TV. Anything your socks are made of can be used for making socks. Anything used in a theater is theater-quality. Doesn't matter whether it's 320x240 at 10 bps or better.
  • by avi33 ( 116048 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:19PM (#5653577) Homepage
    [overheard from the booth] ...dammit, where the hell is that installation cd-rom?
  • I wonder if theyll start renting them out for lan parties? Imagine playing UT or halflife on a 40 foot screen.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      At least with the digital cinema system I was working with, that won't work. The projectors use a decoder card so the compressed media goes right to the projector which then decompresses it and displays. So to play games on it, the video data would have to first be encoded, then sent to the projector and then decoded. The reason for this is that the digital media they play is incrediably huge uncompressed (40 terabyes I think?) and even compressed it is still between 60-30 gigs for a 2 hour movie.
    • Remember this:

      http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/07/17/2127 24 7&mode=thread

      Halo..8 stories high.

      Which reminds me..I really need to go watch another omnimax movie, the everest one was the shit.
  • WM9 Is a good codec (Score:4, Informative)

    by 1337_h4x0r ( 643377 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:20PM (#5653583)
    WM9 is a good mpeg-4 implementation. It has slightly better results than Divx 5 or X-vid from what I've seen (with the same file size). If they start doing High Definition transfers of movies and showing them digitally in the theaters, thats a great thing. I don't understand why you'd need a super-advanced codec to do it other than publicity, though. Mpeg-2 works for High Definition just as well, the file sizes are about 30% larger though.
    • by Versa ( 252878 )
      30% larger is vastly incorrect. I have an HDTV card and its about 9 gigs per hour with mpeg2. Compressing with wme9 gets it down to around 700 megs/hr with only a slight quality loss, around 1200 megs/hr for no appreciable loss.

      I've played around with encoding HDTV to Xvid also and the consensus on all the hdtv forums is that Xvid is slightly inferior to wme9 in terms of quality and file size. Although the benfit with Xvid is you can use AC3 sound instead of microsoft's proprietary surround sound codec.
    • WMV9 is NOT MPEG-4 (Score:5, Informative)

      by benwaggoner ( 513209 ) <[moc.tfosorcim] [ta] [renoggaw.neb]> on Thursday April 03, 2003 @02:37PM (#5654810) Homepage
      Actually, WMV9 isn't a MPEG-4 codec. Earlier versions were based on draft MPEG-4 standards, but they forked quite a while ago.

      Also, the difference is a lot bigger than 30%. It's more like 100% more for MPEG-2, with the gap increasing as data rates get lower.
  • Odd... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chicane-UK ( 455253 ) <chicane-uk@ntlworl d . com> on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:20PM (#5653585) Homepage
    Well reading the article, it seems like the movies are going to be compressed into some kind of MS proprietry format from now on at these digital theatres, but regardless of whatever quality I have seen these files in, MPEG has always seemed sharper & generally better all round.

    No I wont make the usual 'is that BSOD supposed to be in the middle of that film' type gag, but I do find this quite a weird move. MPEG has always been, in my opinion at least, one of the more superior video formats. VideoCD uses MPEG, and doesn't DVD?
  • Promoting the release of independent films onto the "Direct to VCD" market. :)
  • Cheers or jeers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 401k ( 640574 )
    Remember when people used to cheer the THX Lucasfilm logo? That was before Phantom Menace. I hardly expect anyone to cheer the Microsoft logo, but after the first big public fiasco with Palladium, the jeers may come.
  • Woo. (Score:5, Funny)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:21PM (#5653589) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if people will notice the subliminal "OBEY", "CONSUME" and "REPRODUCE" messages from MS..
  • by suman28 ( 558822 ) <suman28@hotma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:21PM (#5653592)
    They don't care what tech is actually playing the movie. They just care about the movie. So, I am not sure what MS is trying to accomplish? Besides, now they will be competing with industry gaints that have been supplying to the theaters for decades.
    • by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:28PM (#5653684)
      MS is trying to grab the theater so that when on-demand online movie broadcasting (I forget if there is a more specific term...the theaters will just not have to keep the data, it will be pumped to them on demand) comes to theaters, they are all in place to charge fees and licenses and have lock-in.

      Hey, isn't it ironic how hollywood sponsored DRM could cut their own throats?
    • Well I dont know if Microsoft is on some kind of suicide mission spree lately.. their latest effort to try to take on Google [reuters.com] seems like a total waste of time. They consider Google to be a threat to their business, and plan to release a better search engine.

      But Google are masters at the search engine now - everyone loves them, they have an (almost) clean image, and they are fast becoming sure fire IPO candidates even in this shaky .com era. I dont know what Microsoft are going to achieve from taking on Goog
      • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:41PM (#5653836) Homepage Journal
        The corporate culture at Microsoft is such that they see themselves as the underdog. Really. Everything I've read and everything I've heard from anyone who works there indicates that the company has a very strong sense of "us against the world."

        Also, this is a company that is driven by conquests. They conquered the desktop. What now? You have to expand in order to keep your stock moving upward. It's never enough to stay big; you need to be bigger.

        So as with Sidewalk, MSN, XBox, et. al., Microsoft is attacking Google and moving into the moviehouse business because to their way of thinking there is no other option.

        For those of you who scoff at these latest attempts, remember that these guys have tremendously deep pockets. They can afford to pour money down a profitless hole for years, knowing that eventually they'll figure out how to market the product. Notice I said "market the product."

        The best product doesn't always win. Microsoft's continued dominance is proof of that. Laugh at them all you want, but they're dangerous in almost any arena.

    • Its a food chain. Lock in a technology at a high level of the food chain and the rest will follow.
  • Piracy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Student_Tech ( 66719 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:21PM (#5653599) Journal
    It doesn't mention this but woulnd't this make the stuff easier to pirate? Just copy the movie off the hard drive, reencode to desired format, distribute.

    • Re:Piracy? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by UpLateDrinkingCoffee ( 605179 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:30PM (#5653716)
      I'm sure Windows Media 9 has all sorts of DRM protections build in... This is their foot in the door, movie studios want to use it for distrubuting in digital because they dont have to worry about the files getting propagated all over the internet. After their used to that, it won't be long before this is the only format you can get your DVD's in...
    • Re:Piracy? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by deanpole ( 185240 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:41PM (#5653839)
      Do the theatre operators realize that this strong DRM will cause the movies not to play when they loose network connectivity even though the movie is stored locally on hard disc?
  • ... in Theaters! Only a company as great as MS could make that leap!

    Though I wonder if this is the same "-Quality" brand they used when describing 64kbps wma files as CD-Quality?
  • Perhaps I am behind the times, But to this day I havent seen a WMP file that didnt really look crummy. *shrug*

    On the other hand, digital projection upgrade for theatres cost a fortune. Ihave to wonder if this WMP 'upgrade' at these theatres are gonan lock these guys into some future non fuctional system.

    Choosing a propriatry format when there are equally good ones is almost always a bad idea. But as we all now, some slick salesman walks in and talk to some business school graduate management who still ha
  • Who will start boycottinng new movie releases because of TEH EVIL M$ ?
    • Everyone who's already boycotting new movie releases because of TEH EVIL MPAA.
    • scripsit dnaumov:

      Who will start boycottinng new movie releases because of TEH EVIL M$ ?

      Um, I already boycott most new movies because they suck. Not much will change :/

  • WM9 *is* MPEG-4 (Score:5, Informative)

    by 1337_h4x0r ( 643377 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:25PM (#5653655)
    WM9 is an implementation of MPEG-4, it's just a proprietary one. It uses the same I-frame and compressed p-frame concepts as mpeg-4. DIVX is another well-known implementation. Also X-Vid.
    • No? Well it doesn't work. Xvid, DivX 4 (not earliest versions I think) & 5 is MPEG4 compliant. DivX 3.11, WM is not. Fine you can make a proprietary *encoder* implementation that creates a valid MPEG4 stream. But when you need a proprietary decoder too, it's not MPEG4. It's your own Microsoft "standard".

      The I- and P- frame concept are extremely old and in use in almost every video codec out there. They took some good ideas from MPEG4, but have been going in their own direction ever since.

  • I can't wait to see someone's latest bitchin' GL screensaver interupting Episode 3!!!
  • by Lechter ( 205925 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:28PM (#5653686)

    This could be a great boon to the independent film "industry!" As they mention in the article, the costs of getting your movie out to distributers would be much much lower...no more copying and mailing huge film reels to each theater (but no more spliced-in single frames of porn either :-( ). Of course, this would only be the case if the encoding software were similarly inexpensive, and with MS cuddling up to Hollywood for DRM, I don't see this happening.

    Perhaps, this will provide the impetus to upgrade to digital projection equipment on which someone will implement an open codec...

  • Sure this sounds all peachy on the outside, but is this quality really due to the film and not the projector?

    Great if we start getting digital films, but unless they make 30 foot plasma screens, I really don't expect to see much of a difference.

  • by fetta ( 141344 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:33PM (#5653746)
    The exciting aspect of digital video in movie theaters (regardless of whether the underlying technology is MS or not) is the flexibility that becomes available.

    With digital projection, why not rent out a movie theater for a super bowl party? maybe we'll start seeing Monday night independent film festivals in suburban theaters? In theory, digital projection could open up all kinds of new possibilities for the theater industry.
  • I have always wanted to know how a BSOD would look in a movie theatre.

    Oh wait, I forgot to post as Anonymous Coward.
  • I would hope that the ticket prices do down with the film in digital format. I get a bit upset when $20 doesn't cover a night at the movies.
  • Variety.com Article (Score:4, Informative)

    by Mr. Fusion ( 235351 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:39PM (#5653813)
    Variety [variety.com] (free trial subscription) also has an article from yesterday as well, focusing less on the technical aspects and more generally on the widespread outfitting itself.

    And for those who hate trial subscriptions, here's the full text:

    • Posted: Wed., Apr. 2, 2003, 8:56pm PT
    • Landmark going digital

      All auditoriums nationwide to be outfitted with d-cinema

      By CARL DIORIO [variety.com]

      Arthouse giant Landmark Theaters will today announce plans to outfit its entire 177-screen circuit for digital cinema and a related effort to deal directly with filmmakers lacking distribution for their low-budget digital video features.

      The d-cinema initiative involves a joint venture with Microsoft and L.A.-based Digital Cinema Solutions. Terms weren't available, but it's believed the unique three-way relationship will shave Landmark's costs to a fraction of the usual $100,000-plus per screen to install most d-cinema systems.

      All auditoriums in Landmark's 53 theaters, located in 20 markets nationwide, will be outfitted with d-cinema playback systems based on Microsoft's Windows Media 9 Series. DCS will select digital projectors from a variety of manufacturers.

      The Windows Media systems are substantially less expensive than other systems, because they essentially represent off-the-shelf technology, officials said. The playback systems will be married to relatively inexpensive digital projectors, because the smaller size of its screens requires less illumination to project an image of acceptable resolution.

      Landmark chief Paul Richardson said he doesn't expect a lot of immediate interest from specialty distribs in converting their primary releases for digital distribution. But he believes they may be more inclined to acquire niche pics shot in digital video than previously.

      "There's a whole bunch of product that doesn't get picked up at the film festivals because people don't believe it's worth the cost to invest the money to make a master print, which can cost $50,0000-$60,000," Richardson said. "But for $6,000-$8,000, you can encode the film for digital (to) play our circuit, and I think some distributors will be interested in doing that."

      Landmark and its joint venture partners will also ante up the encoding costs for some number of pics, he said. "We're not going to bid on films against the guys in the business," the Landmark CEO said, noting he won't be personally prowling any film markets.

      "The films we're going to package are maybe a year old and haven't gotten picked up yet," he explained. "Those people are in contact with us all the time."

      In the past, Landmark's steered such filmmakers to various indie distribs but now will deal with them more directly in some instances. Richardson said he's not sure how many such pics the joint venture partners themselves will distribute, nor have they identified a likely first release to run through the digital circuit.

      "We're starting out on an adventure here, and we really don't have a road map," he acknowledged. "We have a huge opportunity, but we're just not exactly sure where that opportunity is going to evidence itself."

      Landmark aims to outfit all of its screens for digital projection by December. "We're starting on the smaller auditoriums first, because that's where these pictures will play," Richardson said.

      Landmark and Microsoft previously collaborated on a small number of digital installations in connection with the BMW Films digital shorts series. For that series, which features BMW autos in several digitally produced action shorts, DCS installed d-cinema systems in a couple dozen theaters, including several Landmark sites.

      Landmark also used Microsoft-outfitted auditoriums to exhib Artisan's recent music docu "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" in nine locations.

    • Christ, that puts it in perspective.

      In other words, this is so that local people can put together films and have them shown by bringing them on CD, rather than striking a print; imagine seeing some of your favourites from ifilm.com, for example, on the (relatively) big screen.

  • by TheWanderingHermit ( 513872 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:41PM (#5653832)
    I can just see it now -- watching a movie like Outbreak or Andromeda Strain, about a killer virus and it is suddenly changed to XXX porn by the latest M$ TheaterO$ virus....
  • by Logic Bomb ( 122875 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:42PM (#5653850)
    I think this a great example of MS using its monopoly leverage to extend its brand (sorry for the buzzwords). They've implemented technology which probably has no real relation to what people do on their home computers -- i.e. it uses special software and hardware -- but are including it under the Windows Media brand to further entrech it in the tech-ignorant public's minds. Unless the theaters are able to go out and buy an off-the-shelf Dell, hook it up to their projection systems and use this content, MS has no business pretending this is just another great use for the same software people already have at home.
    • That makes me wonder.

      Perhaps that is part of the M$ plan and would fit perfectly into their pattern of creating a partnership, building on it, then burning their partner.

      This would get WinMedia into theaters and, once it's established and M$ has a lock on Digital Restrictions Management, when a new movie comes out, they can control distribution. You could go pay $10 to see a movie in the theater, or wait a week, and pay $5 to download it and watch it on your computer or TV.

      I'll bet that's their plan --
  • now, which will be more annoying: people's mobile phones ringing, or the projectionist who left the default Windows sound theme on?
  • by bcombee ( 5301 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @12:53PM (#5653948) Homepage
    Landmark is a chain of mostly "art-house" theaters that show a pretty eclectic fare. I think this is a really great announcement, because it means a much lower distribution cost for a lot of films that otherwise would go without screenings. This will lead to more choices at their theaters, since you won't have the huge costs of dealing with film spools and prints. Films that currently only play a week or two because the print has to go to the next city can have longer runs, and its easier to play repertoire films due to no shipping costs.

    I'm looking forward to see how this works at Austin's Dobie Theater. At South by Southwest 2002 and 2003, lots of the festival films were screened using digital projection, and I thought it worked pretty well, with the biggest problem being the limited resolution of the DV source.
  • In a theater near you? Oh man that's gonna suck. Watching a cool movie like the matrix and BAM! Blue Screen of illegal operation at blahblahx0blahblah. Or worse yet, the XP style of a pop up saying, "An error occurred, do you want to report this error?"
  • ... why everyone's against everything coming from Microsoft.
    Sure, the company is evil, but now in this case it seems to me that they really "invented" quite a good thing, and why not use their product?
    Of course, yeah, we can wait a few months till there is an OSS alternative, but hey, they were first.

    I think many people should think over their opinion, because there are just too many stereotypes concerning Microsoft. Most people don't think, because "everything that comes from Microsoft is bad."

    They certa
  • Licenses (Score:5, Funny)

    by skinfitz ( 564041 ) on Thursday April 03, 2003 @02:40PM (#5654834) Journal
    "We are sorry, but the number of licenses for this movie has been exceeded. Please ask some people to leave then try again."
    • Re:Licenses (Score:3, Funny)

      by DThorne ( 21879 )
      Actually, I'm doubtful about their success. Would *you* sit there for 5 minutes before the movie to read their rolling EULA credits?

  • Folks,

    I'm on a panel at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention this weekend, as part of their Broadcast Engineering track.

    http://www.nab.org/conventions/nab2003/sessionde ta il.asp?id=1201583

    I'll be demoing content in a variety of HD formats: RealVideo 9, Windows Media 9, MPEG-4 Simple, MPEG-2 MPEG-4 Advanced Simple, and ACT-L3. It's amazing what you can do with 1280x720 24 fps at 4 Mbits/sec these days.
  • I'm actually in the process of designing a digital cinema system along these lines, so here's a few comments

    Everyone is focusing on the codec being the quality limitation, but that's not true. In fact, the projector is the biggest deal. There are plenty of modern codecs that can give you visually lossless quality if you throw enough bits at them. The issue with codecs is getting compression efficiency up so that transmission and storage is cheaper, and keeping decode complexity down so you don't need to have expensive hardware in the projector. The WM9 system is pretty much a high end (but not the highest end) Dell workstation, strapped to a cart with XLR audio out, a control pad, and a big data projector on the top. All off the shelf parts, which makes implementation cheap, and upgrading the computer very cheap. But those are nice things to have, but not strictly required for digital projection.

    But we could do the same thing with MPEG-4, or other formats. WM9 has a more mature DRM solution and some other advantages, but it is absolutely possible to use another format.

    The big limit is in having a projector that is bright enough to fill the room, with a dark black, and high resolution. Moore's law gives us improvements in compression faster than we get improvements in projection, so the big photon cannon will be the true limit on quality for a while.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong