Digital cinema is at the end of the day simply a very large and expensive IT system. There is the server, the network and then a rather large (and expensive) monitor (ie the projector), and instead of dealing with business transactions such as banking the server and network deals with video data. Once you realise this you are half way to understanding digital cinema!
Not surprisingly there is an interesting battle taking place for the supplier of the equipment, especially the servers. There are the familiar cinema brands such as Dolby and Kodak who have brought out their systems, and then there are less well known brands more closely associated with IT trying to make it into what they see as a lucrative new marker.
It seems that everyday a new company is releasing a new digital cinema server. However a number of traditional movie companies such as Dolby and Kodak are stating their futures and reputations on being the suppliers. Unlike traditional IT servers, cinema servers are required to do a lot more with much larger files. The manufactures are also creating entire theatre management systems, which allows both the programming of the films, the adverts and trailers along with the traditional box office management.
It is going to be a massive job to convert a cinema into digital and install all the required networking in order for it to take place. Many cinemas are lucky if they have a machine that is newer than windows 98 and is even on the Internet. These networks will also need to be managed – there will be a mixture LANS and WANs required. Of course these will provide a number of advantages as an amount of remote diagnostics will be able to take place in order to solve a number of technical problems without an engineer ever entering a cinema.
Using Peer to Peer technology it should in theory be possible for a cinema chain to be able to download content using it’s own internal network, which would be specifically useful for non keyed content such as ads and trailers. Below I have included some links and pictures to various digital cinema servers.