As exhibitors are discovering, switching off all the lights is one thing, but switching them all back on is quite another. Alastair Balmain explores how Motion Picture Solutions rapidly stepped in to support cinemas around the globe to help ensure their projection equipment doesn’t fail on restart.
AS THE WORLD SWITCHED off the lights, technology providers were quick to offer support on procedures for powering down projectors, servers and associated technology. Closing down is one thing — starting up is another thing altogether. At London-based film-services company Motion Picture Solutions, better known to many simply as “MPS”, managing server swaps, projector movements and KDM deliveries globally is just part of the daily routine — so when cinemas all closed, the team quickly realised they had a vital role to play in supporting exhibitors on re-entry.
“Our systems connect to well over 100,000 screens and we were rapidly aware from monitoring that many sites were turning off digital cinema equipment just as they’d flick a switch on the popcorn machine,” explains Tara Farrer, MPS’s head of distribution services, “This was an exceptional time to prepare for, so naturally it seemed the sensible thing to do. However, a specific — and largely overlooked — concern was raised regarding the cert battery and secure clock built into each cinema server. The industry simply didn’t know how these parts of the digital cinema security chain might react to being powered down for months.” Why would this even be a problem? Tara continues: “If a server is powered off too long, its cert battery may drain. Without this battery or the server itself being powered on, the server wouldn’t then ‘know’ its certificate and could therefore not unlock encrypted content.”
The right people at the right time
MPS handles content across the theatrical spectrum from post-production to localisation, mastering, distribution and downstream deliverables, but for well over a decade has specialised in delivery of the KDMs that unlock screenings worldwide. Handling millions of these annually, if anyone is in a position to flag a problem, it’s MPS.
Despite the majority of its KDM, localisation and mastering teams being forced to work from home, MPS was quick to create a simple 15-second Interop Encrypted DCP — localised in 19 languages overnight — and distributed free to cinemas globally. This DCP plays a vital role: it allows cinemas to test servers for successful encrypted playback as often as possible during lockdown.
So far, MPS has issued around 100,000 keys for this test material to no fewer than 107 territories, spanning Europe, Asia Pacific, the US, Latin America and Africa. This meant information accompanying the keys had to be translated carefully to ensure the message was as widely understood as possible. “The outcome was that our cinema support team have so far had more than 3,000 conversations with exhibitors around the world,” says Tara, “This allowed us to provide essential advice, put them in touch with the correct technical support and ensure their sites were prepared to reopen. It’s been genuinely rewarding seeing cinemas gear up globally to welcome the public again.
“As we distribute content worldwide this was such an unprecedented time for us. There’s never been a time at which nearly the entire digital cinema server network has been turned off,” continues Tara, “We’re fortunate in having a support team used to identifying issues which can be followed up locally by professional integrators like Omnex and Sound Associates. Our team’s been pretty busy lately…”
A chance to check other aspects too
There have been added benefits to this simple little DCP — many sites have used it to check other elements, notably screen alignment, as Tara explains: “Screen alignment is perhaps an aspect that hasn’t been considered as closely as it should have been over the years. Lockdown has given the opportunity to test this to a high standard outside of the pressure of business as usual. When you’ve got a queue of people waiting for popcorn, that’s where the money is. We realise cinemas aren’t always thinking of screen alignment!” With thousands of exhibitors responding from around the world, it’s fair to say the response exceeded expectations — and at MPS it justified the team’s actions wholeheartedly, as Tara notes: “All of us felt fortunate to be in a position to help. We had positive feedback from a lot of independent cinemas who perhaps rely on this sort of input more than most, but we’ve had great responses from a number of chain heads too, proving the concern was universal. It’s been rewarding to do something positive and to know that we’ve played a critical role in cinemas’ reopening.”
Test your DCP playback today!
THE TEST DCP (shown here) is still available to all sites keen to confirm content will screen once they reopen. It can be freely downloaded at the following link https://bit.ly/31b3kQ5
MPS has issued keys for all servers valid for 2 years. Feed back to your support team or your integrator if issues are found with your encrypted playback.