Hoyts executive chair Paul Johnson believes all Australiancinemas will be delivering pictures digitally within five years but UIP'smanaging director in Australia, Mike Selwyn, will be surprised if more thanhalf have converted to digital within a decade.

"I can't help feeling this is a product seeking anapplication," said Selwyn, during a robust debate about digital cinema at theAustralian International Movie Convention. "Just because it is affordabledoesn't mean it is a good idea."

Stadium seating, surround sound and other advancements ofrecent years were welcomed by patrons but this was not guaranteed in the caseof digital cinema: "As an industry we seem to be saying 'You can see a film inour theatres just as good as you will see it at home'."

Selwyn also made the tongue-in- cheek suggestion thatperhaps cinemas were being used as a testbed for selling the technology intohomes, putting cinemas out of business.

Australian independent exhibitor Robert Ward, speaking onbehalf of US digital utility company Cinematica's Australian interests, saidthe company would begin its local equipment roll-out in late 2005 or early2006. Cinematica would pay the US$150,000 installation cost per cinema and thedistributors would lease the equipment for about half of what they pay now for35mm prints. It would not be the exhibitors shouldering the cost, he said. Butmany in the room were clearly sceptical about who would pay for maintenance,upgrades and training.

Hoyts has a digital projector installed at a 480-seat cinemawithin its Fox Studios Australia multiplex. The reaction from consumers hasbeen positive, and it has allowed the exhibitor to work with the US studios inthis environment. But it has been a very expensive exercise and Johnson admitsto a great deal of scepticism at the notion that it will be free: "But if wecan get it free, put me at the front of the queue."