The shared Internet is being used more and more for transmission of digital video data sets. YouTube is distributing 100,000,000 videos every day.1 However, these digital video streams are engineered to be easily transportable over the shared Internet to home users with megabit/sec rates. In contrast, cinema today is still largely shot and distributed in the century-old silver halide medium of film.2 A major barrier holding back the transition of theatrical film to digital distribution is that to preserve the extreme photographic resolution of motion pictures as seen in theatres requires playback bandwidth of a quarter gigabit/sec or more (depending on compression). Cinema is the next step in the ongoing digital conversion of modern media, and it will require building new image-centric hardware/software/networks to facilitate full-resolution human visual and auditory acuity, for production, distribution and, never possible with film, real-time global collaboration.
In addition to its essential role in the creative arts, the film industry has a large economic footprint. For instance, in 2005, the Motion Picture Association of America estimated that movie production provided employment for over 245,000 Californians, with an associated payroll of more than $17 billion.3
Faced with the historic transformation of the global theatrical film business from analog to digital technology, the major Hollywood studios formed the Digital Cinema Initiatives consortium4 to define the technical standards for digital cinema. The two resolutions that have emerged are termed 2K (2048x1080), roughly comparable to the high end of HD, and 4K (4096x2160), with four times the resolution of 2K or high end HD (Fig. 1) and 24 times that of a standard broadcast TV signal. Both standards have 12-bits/color. The digital cinema frame rate is the same 24fps used in analog cinema for DCI-compliant 2K/4K monoscopic “flat” movies, plus a new DCI frame rate of 48 fps (2 x 24fps) for 2K stereoscopic 3D movies.
The uncompressed bandwidth of the 4K format streaming in realtime is ~7.6 gigabits/sec, with each 4K frame having 8.8 megapixels, over twice what is available on the highest end PC monitors and eight times what the normal user has today on their laptop. When compressed using DCI-recommended JPEG 2000 distribution specifications, 4K bit rates to the neighborhood theatre are capped at 250 megabits/sec.
As such, we realized several years ago that 4K digital motion pictures would be one of the most demanding data types for emerging cyberinfrastructure. Since the NSF-funded OptIPuter project5 was well underway, the principle investigators of the OptIPuter at Calit2 and UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) initiated a project termed “CineGrid” to apply OptIPuter architectures to the needs of digital media professionals. Our initial collaborative partners were the Research Institute for Digital Media and Content, Keio University (Keio/DMC), the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts (USC/SCA) and Pacific Interface, Inc. The complex CineGrid project is overseen by Pacific Interface, which first proposed the CineGrid concept to Calit2/EVL and has subsequently incorporated CineGrid as a new nonprofit membership organization to organize a rapidly growing international research agenda ramping up in the US, Japan, Canada, and Europe.