Digital cinemas offer more via satellite

The Nutcracker live via satellite
11 June 2013

As cinema owners worldwide begin to embrace new digital technologies via satellite, audiences are being given more ways to enjoy an evening at the movies.

ESA has helped a consortium of Italian companies to develop a secure, cost-effective networked cinema system called Innovative Satellite Interactive Digital Entertainment, or ISIDE.

Cinema operators can browse a catalogue listing hundreds of movies, order their selections online and download these via satellite.

The network also supports new forms of entertainment like the live broadcasting of sporting events in 3D, opera and ballet, music concerts and other cultural events.

Satellite capacity is a costly resource but ISIDE brings the convenience of satellite technology within reach. To make distribution via satellite cost effective, the same content has to reach a sufficient number of cinemas. When multiple locations in the network download a film, the costs of satellite capacity are shared among them.

“This is possible thanks to the unique capability of satellite delivery, where movies and live events are multicast once and hundreds of cinemas receive them at the same time,” says Walter Munarini from OpenSky.

In 2010, Microcinema and OpenSky in Italy started using ISIDE. They are now European leaders, providing operating services to around 1000 digital cinemas in Italy – more than 90% of the national market. Most of these cinemas are equipped with the state-of-the-art ISIDE transceivers and players.

The two companies have different target audiences and this is reflected in how they use ISIDE.

Opera at La Scala in Milan

Microcinema is oriented to more cultural content and delivers live opera from European theatres and cultural films and events to 300 cinemas around Italy.

Since the launch of ISIDE there have been about 30 000 screenings with about 2 million tickets sold, making €12 million at the box office.

Microcinema provided the one-off screening of the opening night at La Scala opera house in Milan. In just one night, 35 000 tickets were sold.

The cult rock concert ‘Hungarian Rhapsody – Queen live in Budapest’ drew 45 000 people to screens all around Italy.

OpenSky operates on the first European network to deliver live high-definition 2D and 3D movies from major Hollywood studios, national studios and live events. This is done in collaboration with Eutelsat on a European distribution via satellite network called DSAT. This network serves 320 cinemas in the Italian market, and delivers to about 950 cinemas around the rest of Europe, mainly in Germany, France, Spain, Benelux, Poland and the Czech republic. By 2012, OpenSky had delivered more than 220 digital movies and 100 live events.

ISIDE receiver and projector

Achieving top-quality digital standards requires the transmission of high volumes of data. A single movie can easily exceed 300 gigabytes – the contents of six blue ray discs. This demands high-speed transfers of up to 120 megabits per second. This is achieved using two satellites to downlink data simultaneously, each at 60 megabit per second.

The vast majority of DSAT cinemas are equipped with state-of-the-art receivers and projectors, and ISIDE antennas are positioned on top of the cinema building.

“The ISIDE project occurred when our company was boosting its approach to the market proposing affordable and flexible satellite services for cinemas,” explains Silvana Molino from Microcinema.

“The successful pilot phase of the system, developed and tuned in 2010 during the ISIDE project, proved to be fundamental in capturing the market. It also facilitated the development of a real interoperable approach to the digital content proposal, usage and billing.

“Next time you are watching a movie or a live event at your cinema, be aware that very likely it is delivered to you through space.”

ISIDE antennas on cinema roof

According to Walter Munarini from OpenSky, “The ISIDE project was fundamental to OpenSky to implement the first European network of digital cinema capable of receiving satellite services like the live events and movies via satellite, as well as its evolution to live 3D events.”

ISIDE was developed through ESA’s ARTES 3–4 satcom applications programme. The companies involved in the consortium included Microcinema, OpenSky, Skylogic and Digital Pictures, with the support of the Business Incubator Centre Lazio in Rome.

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