Digital cinema is coming to Ireland in a big way. A project is under way to install a digital cinema network throughout the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, with the aim of converting all of the country's cinema screens to digital format.

"The digital projection offers picture-perfect quality and significant cost savings," says Moira Horgan, the head of marketing for the Irish Film Board. "The boxes are being inserted as we speak."

Avica Technology is bringing the digital presentation systems to 515 screens throughout Ireland to run alongside traditional 35mm film projectors, says Kevin Cummins, spokesman for Avica Europe, the European arm of the Santa Monica, California, digital cinema technology and services company.

"Digital can reduce the cost of distribution, eliminating the need for costly reels of film that need to be printed, delivered, collected once the cinema is done showing the movie, and then destroyed," Cummins says. "From the (average viewer's) point of view, digital provides picture-perfect quality. The movies just look a lot better, from the first showing through to a thousand showings."

Movie theatres will be able to download a movie to a computer server over a satellite link. The content is protected with multiple levels of encryption, and each projector has its own encryption key, Cummins says. When a movie is no longer needed, it can be deleted from the projector by the theatre or the movie studio.

The encryption technology was developed by Digital Cinema Initiatives, a joint venture of Walt Disney, Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Universal Studios and Warner Bros.

Avica and its subsidiary Digital Cinema (Ireland) have been planning the project for the past two years and began installing the first 25 projection boxes on 1 March. Those boxes should be operational within the next few weeks, and in a year's time all the movie screens in Ireland should be fitted out with the digital kit, Cummins says. Avica hopes to announce similar deals in other European countries at the 58th Cannes Film Festival in France, which takes place May 11 to May 22, Cummins says.

Ireland was picked as the first region to get the full digital cinema treatment because it is a manageable size and it has the second-highest level of cinema attendance in Europe, with 80 percent of its films coming from Hollywood.