DUBAI // The Middle East's first digital cinemas open in Dubai tonight and the theatre owners say the new technology will change the way people watch movies. Two new screens will show digital versions of the latest sequel to The Mummy at the new Grand Cinema's Grand Festival complex in Dubai Festival City.
The company says digital cinemas, which have been operating for a year in the US and Europe, are "redefining the way we watch movies". Instead of using 35mm projectors, digital cinemas stream films onto the big screen from a hard drive. "Film fans will see the difference in the clarity of the picture and sound," said Jean Ramia of Gulf Films, a distributor with 177 cinemas in the region. "There is a very high finish to the image, it's like watching a normal LCD television and then moving on to the latest HDTV digital screens."
Hollywood studios delayed the release of digital films in the Middle East because of fears they would be vulnerable to piracy as a result of censorship procedures. Because sex scenes are censored in the region, studios would have to hand over movie source codes to allow films to be edited. However, anyone who obtained a source code could copy a film an unlimited number of times. "There was an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] between the studios and us as a distributor that the protection of the source codes would be assured," said Mr Ramia.
He gave no further details but said all Grand Cinema's screens in the Middle East would be digital within two years. Plans are already under way for the next digital cinema, which will open on the Palm Jumeirah within 18 months. "We're also going to look at putting digital into screens which are the most popular in Dubai, for example at the Grand Hyatt and Ibn Battuta mall," he said. Equipping a digital cinema costs US$180,000 (Dh661,000), which is twice as much as a cinema using a normal projector. However, ticket prices would not increase, said Mr Ramia.
The new Grand Festival Cinema Complex includes a Grand Class theatre with 44 reclining Lazyboy chairs and a personalised butler service during the film. Mr Ramia said that compared with other cinemas it offered a standard of comfort comparable to flying business class. "There is a butler service, where orders will be taken via PDA so the order will be instantly prepared, but it will be restricted to the first 15 minutes of the film and maybe at a halfway point," he said.
Hot and cold towels will be available for cinema-goers to refresh themselves and tickets can be booked online to avoid queuing. "The future of cinema really is this, because with digital you have the ability to make 3D films so much easier than with 35mm, so there will be a lot more 3D films being produced," said Mr Ramia. The DreamWorks studio has said it will release all its major movies, including the fourth Shrek film, in 3D starting in 2009.