South Africa: Ster-Kinekor Cinema all-digital in 2013

Technology & Convergence

The cinema chain will replace all of its 35mm projectors by no later than 17 December 2013.

Fans of celluloid won’t like this news. South Africa’s largest cinema chain, Ster-Kinekor, which is owned by privately held media group Primedia, will complete its migration from film to digital projection technology by 17 December this year.

CEO Fiaz Mahomed says that by that date, it will have switched all of its 400 screens nationwide from 35mm film projectors to digital projectors using either 2K- or 4K-resolution.

The company is spending R180m decommissioning the 35mm projectors — which will be dismantled and their parts recycled — and replacing them with the digital systems. It began work on the project 18 months ago.

US company Christie Digital is supplying the projectors for the project, while JBL is supplying speakers.

Most cinemas will be kitted out with 2K projectors. Selected cinemas in Sandton, Durban and Cape Town are getting higher-resolution — and more expensive — 4K technology. Two screens are already on 4K: one at Sandton City (cinema 9) in Johannesburg and another at Gateway (cinema 18) in Durban. A screen is also planned for Cavendish Square in Cape Town (cinema 3).

Mahomed says Ster-Kinekor has converted 18 cinemas to digital projection so far. That number will increase dramatically as the year progresses.

All of the new projectors are capable of frame rates of up to 60fps, though no mainstream movies have been released in that format yet. Ster-Kinekor has already shown The Hobbit at a relatively high frame rate of 48fps at its Sandton City and Gateway theatres.

He says the move to digital provides a number of advantages, not least of which is that it gives the company greater flexibility over what it shows and when. “We could, for example, open up a new Leon Schuster film on every screen in Sandton should we so wish.”

At the same time that the projectors are being replaced, Ster-Kinekor is also installing new speakers and audio systems. Every cinema will have Dolby 5.1 surround sound as a minimum, with larger theatres getting Dolby 7.1 surround. The company’s 4K theatre at Gateway has Dolby’s latest sound technology installed. Called Atmos, it allows filmmakers to “move sounds anywhere in a threatre — even overhead — to heighten the realism and impact of every scene”, Dolby says.

“We’re considering where to roll out Atmos in the future,” says Mahomed. “Our main focus at this stage is on rolling out Dolby up to 7.1.”