Chinese cinema proprietorsspoke of the difficulty of securing enough product to make the expansion ofdigital cinema a profitable business, on the first day of the CineAsia conventionand trade show in Beijing.

China's State Administrationof Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has recently reiterated its goal to rollout a nationwide network of digital cinemas and the country currently has around200 digital screens. But cinema owners, speaking at a CineAsia seminar onTuesday (Dec 5), said they're being held back by a lack of product in digitalformat - particularly Hollywood films.

'We don't have Hollywood blockbusters to show, which make us less competitive than traditionalcinemas,' said John Sham, executive director of Guangdong-based digital cinemachain, Guangdong Dadi Cinemas.

The Chinese governmentstarted to develop the country's first digital cinema circuit in 2002 with aninitial investment of $25m. Local cinema owners then began to lease equipment -mostly from state-owned China Film Digital - which has been sourced from globaldigital cinema service suppliers such as Barco, Christie and Panasonic.

Panasonic, for example, has sold70 high-end projectors to China's major cities. Singapore-based GDC Technologyprovides digital servers for most of China's 200 digital screens.

However, few digital cinemasin China are compliant with the Digital Cinema Initiative's2K technical standard announced in July 2005. Therefore the US studios have stopped distributing digital versionsof their films in China even though such films bypass the country's import quotas.

The last US blockbuster released in China's digital cinema circuit was Shark Tale in April 2005.

Barco and GDC Technology arebusiness partners with Guangdong Dadi Cinemas and have supplied its six cinemasand 14 screens with 2K - 4K resolution equipment.

But as the US studios say there are not enough screens to make itworthwhile releasing any digital versions, even the DCI-compliant cinemas areunable to show Hollywood films.

'As cinema owners we hopethere is a better solution,' Sham said.

Jiang Wei, managing directorof Beijing-based Broadway Cinemas, agreed: 'If Hollywood films were to have a digital release in China again, I'm sure more cinemas in Beijing would change their facilities overnight.'

Currently, state-owned ChinaFilm Group is the only company permitted to import films from overseas. It hasbeen reported in the Chinese media that China Film has been negotiating withthe US studios for a possible solution on digital releases.

Separately from d-cinemaexpansion in China's major cities, China's Film Bureau is rolling out cheaper,lower-resolution e-cinema in smaller cities and rural villages.