Is digital cinema driving up cinema owners’ costs?

22 August, 2011 by Amanda Diaz

The popularity of digital cinema has seen an increase in the day-to-day operational costs for independent theatres.

Denis Parkes runs The Picture Show Man twin-cinema in Merimbula on the South Coast of New South Wales. In December last year, he replaced his 35mm projectors with two NEC projectors in order to make the most of the latest 3D offerings.


Parks says that while the upgrade has been worth it, the associated cost of increased power consumption and maintenance has been “very, very significant.”

The Picture Show Man uses two different NEC models – the 1200C and 2000C DLP Digital Cinema Projectors. Both have 2D and 3D capabilities. The 1200C is used for the smaller cinema, which has a screen that spans nine metres, while the 2000C plays on the larger 11x18m screen.

Parkes says running the projectors’ lamps requires a great deal of electricity. The 1200C uses a 2 kilowatt xenon lamp cinema 2 whereas the 2000C runs on a 4 kilowatt lamp. During a 3D session, these lamps are utilised at full capacity.

As part of the warranty requirement, the 1200C has a scheduled lamp change every 3000 hours; the 2000C every 1500 hours.

"With a 35mm projector, we used to be able to get a year out of a xenon lamp,” says Parkes. “Now the manufacturer tells you when to replace the lamps – even when they’re still working.”

Switching lamps costs between $1200 – $1300 and the additional replacement of air filters is another $800.

Even without the lamps, Parkes says the heat emanating from the projectors requires further electricity usage.

“Air conditioning used to be for the projectionist,” he says. “Now the room’s air-conned for the technology.”

Since July 1, electricity prices have risen an average of 17 per cent in NSW. Parkes fears that the combination of this increase and the upkeep of digital projectors could spell trouble for regional cinemas.

“I’m not confident cinemas will be compensated for those costs,” he says. “A business like mine is going to be at the bottom of the food chain.”

More troubling still, is that global audiences are beginning to show a growing distaste for 3D viewing. Recent films including Pixar’s Cars 2 and the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise saw the majority of customers preferring 2D sessions.

Parkes reports patrons complaining that the 3D versions of these films are too dark.

“The costs right across the board in digital and 3D are significant,” he says. “The product that we’ve been getting in 3D hasn’t been supporting the concept.”