Digital cinema refers to both technological and cultural developments in contemporary cinema. Culturally it refers to new styles, effects and techniques informing the grammar of cinema.
Digital cinema is the continuation of the art and science of cinema using digital storage and display instead of film.
Note that digital cinema is distinct from high definition television which has different cultural and industrial origins.
In particular, digital film is not dependent on using television or HDTV standards, aspect ratios or frame rates.
There are several types of projectors for digital cinema, the most common one in the US being DLP technology. Current DLP projectors use 1280 x 1024 resolution, although as the technology matures, this will probably increase. The industry standard for film processing is 2K (1828 horizontal pixels) so this seems a natural goal for projectors to reach. At this point they would be projecting at the native resolution of the digital film.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was said to be the first digital movie which could be distributed to digital cinemas electronically.
There are some like George Lucas or Robert Rodriguez who think celluloid is as good as dead and the future is an all-digital medium. Directors such as Steven Soderbergh and Michael Mann have filmed some parts of their most recent pictures on digital. Many think digital film making will democratize the world of film and point out how inexpensive shooting digitally can be, especially when a movie can be put together on a home computer and burned to DVD.
Given the way technology progresses, improving constantly year over year, it appears that digital is bound to be the future of cinema.
For the last 100 years all movies have been shot on film and nearly every film student learns about how to handle 35mm film. Digital, especially the new high-definition equipment, has not had the time to become as widely accepted, though the growing popularity of this equipment in the television domain will certainly have an effect in the future.
Some purists would argue that digital does not have the same "feel" as a movie shot on film. While this may a matter of personal preference more than anything, digital cameras have been evolving quickly and quality is improving dramatically from each generation of hardware to the next. While today's digital cameras can achieve the same level of quality as 35mm film under most conditions, 72mm may offer a sharper picture. IMAX remains well out of reach now, since the equivalent resolution is far beyond the capability of any digital motion picture camera today.
It is also hard to say how democratized cinema would become if it were to turn all digital. There are over 5,000 films shot a year in digital. With such a huge supply, a digital filmmaker has difficulty getting seen and, therefore, often doesn't get the upper hand in distribution negotiations. It has actually given more power to large distribution companies, because now they can play the gatekeepers, in picking which films are seen and which are not.
Film is in many ways more portable than its high quality digital counterparts. The chemical process initiated by exposing film to light give reliable results, that are well documented and understood by cinematographers. In contrast every digital camera has a unique response to light and it is very difficult to predict without viewing the results on a monitor or a waveform analyser , increasing the complexity of lighting. Most digital cameras have an insufficient exposure latitude when compared to film, increasing the difficulties of filming in a high contrast situation, such as direct sunlight.
Digital cinema companies