The above quote is from the OP of this thread...dated 6-15-08.
My answer to the first question: "could digital delivery help eradicate problems plaguing most theaters now in terms of presentation?" would be a resounding "no" based on my cinema-going experience tonight.
My wife and I were quite excited that our local Regal cineplex (the largest of it's kind in my area--18 theaters!) was going to have showings of the Fathom event of the recent benefit performance of Stephen Sondheim's Company held at Avery Fisher Hall in NYC to benefit the NY Philharmonic. There would only be two showings: tonight at 7:30 and Noon on Sunday. As we would be unable to attend the Sunday performance, we had to rearrange several appointments to allow us to attend tonight's performance. This also required me to schedule carefully at work as this is arguably my busiest week in my workplace.
Wife and I arrived early at the mall at 6pm to purchase tickets. It turns out it was nearly a packed house--a very enthusiastic audience. We enjoyed a nice dinner ahead of time and were sure to get to the theater early to ensure good seats.
The performance began and all was going swimmingly. The sound was good (a surprising number of surround effects for a taped version of a stage show) while the video was a small bit distracting as lines of resolution were noticeable but not a deal-breaker. And then, it happened. During Patti Lupone's rendition of the classic "Ladies Who Lunch" number (about two hours into a two and a half hour show) there was an audio dropout..and then another. And then there was some pixelation. And blocking. And then the audio disappeared altogether. And then the screen went black. Then we jumped forward about a half-hour mid-way through the closing credits. And then the screen went black for good.
What I know about film projection can be put in a thimble and you'd still have room for your fingertip. So, I was quite surprised when then a graphic came on screen telling the audience that due to a signal loss we lost part of the recording on our DVR. Now, as I've been a Dish Network customer for the past two and a half years, I have seen this message quite a number of times...mostly when part of a recording has gone missing due to a bad rain/wind storm. I never thought I'd be seeing it in a theater! I then saw a huge DirectTV logo come on screen. We saw the menu for rewinding the recording and someone/somewhere started rewinding the recording and got to the spot where it left off. They pushed "play" and we were treated to the exact same issue: audio dropouts in the same places, pixelation, blocking, error message an jump tot he end of the credits/final bows.
After the lights came up and the audience was grumbling and restless (as you might imagine) a theater manager came in and announced that they were looking into the problem...that the feed was from Colorado...and that they would look into getting it fixed. They said since the problem was at the transmission end everyone in the country who was attending a production was experiencing the same thing. I'm not so sure as I can't find any other such stories on the internet...but maybe.
As we waited we saw a Windows XP bar show up at the bottom of the screen. We then witnessed a cursor clicking the START button and shutting down a computer somewhere. That computer screen then showed us that Windows XP was booting. Eventually the opening of the show appeared on screen and an unknown source advanced the production on a hard drive somewhere to the end of the Ladies Who Lunch number--ticking off the audience even further which was hoping to see the number uninterrupted.
Now the presentation really suffered greatly at this point. The resolution took a big hit. You folks with technical knowledge probably know what happened. Did we drop from 1080i to 720 (or maybe even 480? It ws noticeable. My guess would be 720...but I've got no way of knowing for sure. Plus the audio took a big hit...the sound was much lower and had a pronounced hum the rest of the way. I was already planning on asking for a full refund but figured I'd ride the wave to the end as I wouldn't get another chance to see the show...until a hoped-for Bu-ray release later this year.
So things continued along this way until Neil Patrick Harris performed the also-classic "Being Alive" number which appears near the end of the show. Just as the closing notes of the song were about to be performed...we returned to the black screen and the Windows XP bar at the very bottom with the START button visible.
The crowd was really disappointed by this time (as you might imagine). No one came into the theater with an explanation. The house lights eventually came up...people milled about for awhile and then started to file out. I decided to go out to the lobby and check things ot. They were handing out readmission tickets to everyone in the theater. Most people were glad to take them and leave, it seemed. Although we talked to some people who said if you complained enough you could get two tickets for every stub. The guy handing out the tickets didn't even know we didn't see the end of the show!
Eventually I talked to an assistant manager-type who started to tell me there was nothing they could do and their various policies, etc. After I explained my position he offered there was nothing they could do since it was a Fathom event and I would have to go on-line and contact Fathom and hope for the best. I'll try to make this exchange as short as I can, but once I pointed out that Regal Cinema was quite eager to take my money for the tickets on behalf of Fathom, they could most certainly refund my money to me on Fathom's behalf. And to his credit, the manager did just that and gave readmission tickets as well. He really wanted me to leave happy and I'll be sure to inform his manager that he accomplished that.
By the way, tickets to the event were $18 apiece! And most in the audience were pleased to get their single readmission tickets. Ah well.
So, that's my story. The Asst. Mgr. told me that this type of satellite presentation was soon going to become the norm for theaters which are seeing ever-dwindling ticket sales and decreasing profit margins from the studios and who can only come close to breaking even with concession sales.
If this type of "digital satellite presentation" is going to become the norm, I certainly don't see it improving the theater-going experience. In fact, I am ready to bail on my home Dish Network and go back to my local cable company as I had VERY FEW problems with their service versus a number of aggravating situations with Dish reception over my two years with Dish.
I don't see why they don't transmit and download the show in advance of the screening rather than doing it live. That way if there were any problems with the transmission, they could be corrected before a paying audience came in. This was not a live performance but a taping of a live performance. Downloading of shows before broadcast is done all the time on TV. When you see reruns of a show such as "Everybody Loves Raymond" the shows are transmitted by satellite to the station overnight with the national commercials. Station than adds local commercials and broadcasts the show.
By license agreement the show must be erased by the station after broadcast. The next time that episode is broadcast by a station it is transmitted again by satellite. None of this is new. It seems a no brainer that except for live presentations, these Fathom events should be provided to the theaters in advance to make sure they are complete.