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Indie films go digital with Microsoft

A large independent cinema chain is adopting Microsoft's technology for storing and showing digital movies, which helps eliminate the expense of reprinting a film for each screen.

Landmark Theaters, a large independent cinema chain, is adopting Microsoft's technology for storing and showing digital movies, the companies said Thursday.

The deal marks a significant step forward for Microsoft's bid to enter the young digital-cinema business. Landmark said it would install digital storage and projection equipment in 53 of its theaters, representing 177 screens across the United States.

While pricey for theaters to install, digital cinema technology is favored by studios because it helps eliminate the expense of reprinting a film for each screen. At $1,500 to $2,000 per print, that cost can be an annoyance for large studios and often an insurmountable barrier to widespread distribution for independent films.

"I believe that we will look back at this moment as one when we were able to fundamentally change the business model in a way that will allow far more of these films to compete successfully," Landmark Chief Executive Paul Richardson said in a statement.

The digital cinema drive has been building slowly during the past few years, with more support from equipment sellers and Hollywood studios eager to save money than from the large theater chains that will ultimately have to invest as much as $150,000 per top-of-the-line digital projection system.

A coalition of Hollywood studios has formed a study group to create standards for the digital film business. That group is expected to release its findings later this year.

In the meantime, Microsoft has pushed ahead with its own efforts, focusing on its Windows Media 9 technology.

Instead of the costly high-end digital projection systems, Microsoft has partnered with technology company Digital Cinema Solutions (DCS) to create a system based on networked PCs, which costs in total only about $70,000 to install.

Instead of reprinting a film for each screen, independent filmmakers will be able to submit their work on CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, drastically cutting replication costs.

Microsoft and DCS worked together last year to screen a series of eight digital movies in 25 cities around the United States last year.