There’s a new feature playing at the Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln Ave., and patrons can catch it for free: vastly improved picture quality and sound. Last week, the Davis became the latest movie house to convert from 35-mm film projectors to digital.
“It’s way sharper,” said Ryan Lowry, manager at the Davis. “Immediately you’ll notice a difference.”
The Davis joins a growing trend toward digital conversion: In 2004, digital was just a blip on the screen, accounting for fewer than one percent of projectors. By the end of this year, that figure will top 60 percent, according to IHS consultants. Though art house theaters are frequently considered the last bastion of film, even Lakeview’s Music Box has added digital to its projector array.
For the Davis, the new projectors are aimed not only at providing a better experience for moviegoers, but at keeping the theater competitive against Netflix, video on demand and HD flat screen televisions. “You’ve gotta become creative,” said Lowry. “There’s a lot more things you can do” with digital.
In the film era, a movie typically arrived at the theater in six different reels, which would require splicing and spooling and involve something called a “platter.” “Now it’s on a hard drive,” said Lowry. With digital, projectionists simply load the movie onto a computer and input the desired running times; the streamlined process will allow the Davis to offer film festivals and special screenings. Digital is also necessary to show 3-D films.
Not everyone is a fan of the new format: film critic Roger Ebert is one outspoken naysayer. “It’s sad to see that go a little bit,” Lowry admitted of film. Certain patrons, he added, appreciate the quirkiness of celluloid, “like the way it would bounce on the screen,” similar to the segment of audiophiles who prefer vinyl.
Though film may be gone, the Davis is making sure it’s not forgotten. According to Lowry, owner Tom Fencl salvaged one of the old projectors and plans to display it as part of an exhibit of the theater’s history.