It may have been the first major picture to be shot entirely with high-end digital technology, but the release of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones has seen the film projected at cinemas around the world using considerably less digital equipment.

Episode II has been released on only 103 digital screens out of a possible 116 digital systems worldwide, falling short of previous industry speculation that by the release of Episode II, the industry's migration to digital exhibition would be well underway.

"116 digital screens out of 130,000 does not constitute a commercial roll-out," said National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) head John Fithian at the annual Cinema Expo exhibitors' conference in Amsterdam this week. "We are still in a testing phase."

According to a recent report by media analysts Screen Digest, by the year 2005 there will be some 10,000 digital screens worldwide - and a complete transition to digital within 20 years.

But according to digital equipment and in-cinema digital system suppliers at Cinema Expo, the run-up to the release of Episode II last month did create a surge in demand for digital systems. According to Doug Darrow, business manager of DLP Cinema Products, 45 new digital systems were deployed in the month leading up to the release alone.

"At one level, George Lucas was successful in doubling the number of digital cinema screens in the marketplace," Technicolor Digital Cinema's Doug Olin told a Cinema Expo seminar. "The bad news is that it wasn't up to the expectations we had a couple of years ago."

Of the 116 digital systems worldwide, 70 are located in North America, 25 in Asia, 18 in Europe and three in Latin America.

The relatively slow take-up of digital cinema systems highlights the exhibition sector's less-than-zealous approach to digital take-up. While digital offers exhibitors the potential to programme alternative content and charge premium prices for digital screenings, many remain bullish about the lack of incentive to install expensive digital systems in cinemas where 35mm projectors work fine.

"This is not being driven by the consumer," said Richard Segal, chief executive of Odeon Cinemas, the UK's largest circuit. "This is being driven by the cost savings to the studios. Until exhibitors, distributors, studios and suppliers sit round the table and discuss an economic model, digital cinema is not inevitable."

According to Screen Digest's report, the cost of supplying 120,000 screens across the world with high-end digital projectors would be $10bn - a sum which would take 10 years to recoup.

"It's not a matter of picking a date and saying 'here is when we'll have digital cinema'," NATO's John Fithian told delegates. "It's a matter of answering the questions that need to be answered first."