For decades, Hollywood movie moguls have been able to watch currently-running theatrical films in their own home cinemas, thanks to a local distribution network informally known as the Bel Air Circuit. Traditionally, this has involved film prints or other physical-format copies of films changing hands. California-based PRIMA Cinema, however, has created what could be described as an internet-based public version of that circuit. Subscribers will be able to watch current-release theatrical movies in their own homes – if they can afford it.
The process starts with the PRIMA folks working out distribution deals with individual studios. Once a studio is onboard, PRIMA encodes their films – this occurs shortly prior to the films’ wide theatrical release.
All movies are automatically downloaded to each subscriber's dedicated PRIMA Cinema Player. A theatrical-quality 1080p-resolution digital copy of each film is stored on the player’s hard drive, and can be watched any time – as long as the title is still in wide release.
PRIMA’s Shawn Yeager told us that the player delivers 30 percent more color than Blu-ray, and 25 percent more pixel depth. Its HDMI 1.4 output will reportedly work with any projector or surround sound system.
Along with the player, users also receive a biometric security device. This not only prevents unauthorized users from accessing the player, but it also places an invisible subscriber-specific “watermark” on all downloaded films – should the film subsequently be copied (even with a camcorder) that watermark can be used to identify the subscriber.
So, no, users can’t copy their films. They can, however, invite a bunch of their friends over to watch them ... as long as they don’t charge admission, and they only show the movies within a residence.
In development since 2009, PRIMA Cinema is now in the midst of its commercial “soft launch.” If you want a system of your own, however, you’d better free up some cash – the player and security device will cost you US$35,000, with individual movies going for $500 per title watched ($600 for 3D films). As Yeager pointed out, however, that hefty price tag should keep theater-owners from worrying about PRIMA putting them out of business.