After an upbeat presentation by Paramount Pictures International Andrew Cripps on the opening day of ShoWest, the tone darkened somewhat as attendees heard a somber warning about the cost of digital conversion.

Speaking on a panel entitled Digital Cinema - The Way Forward, Warner Bros International Cinemas Millard Ochs called for greater competition among the creators of digital equipment to drive down prices.

'I hope that we, as a cooperative group of distributors and exhibitors, can go to the manufacturers to get their prices down,' Ochs said. 'Being quoted $85,000 for a screen doesn't motivate us to install a digital system. If Texas Instruments technology is the only commercially available system, let's try to get some more manufacturers.'

And while Ochs noted the domestic viability of virtual print fees (VPF), an early economic model that offsets the digital conversion cost to exhibitors by making distributors pay manufacturers every time a film is projected onto a deployed digital system, he cast doubt on its relevance overseas. 'I don't see how VPF is going to work in the international market because there are so many distributors,' he said.

Odeon/UK's executive vice president of digital development Drew Kaza agreed that VPF need not become the sole option if other 'equitable' solutions emerged.

Earlier in the day Cripps presented an overview of the international market in which he hailed resurgent box office in many territories and noted a change in perception over the playability of local-language product.

'It used to be that local films only worked in their markets, but the ability of these films to travel has become clear,' Cripps said. 'Perfume grossed $116m worldwide and took $49m in Germany, Volver took $82m around the world and grossed $12 in its native Spain, and The Queen grossed $106m worldwide and took $16m in the UK.'

Cripps also urged international exhibitors to toughen up their stance on piracy and adopt stricter measures to prevent the illegal use of camcorders and theft of films during the various stages of production and delivery.

Meanwhile in other breaking news at ShoWest:

*Twentieth Century Fox has signed a worldwide print services agreement with Deluxe Laboratories, covering the duplication of both celluloid and digital prints as well as digital cinema delivery and logistics services.

*DTS Digital Cinema will preview an Avica FilmStore D-Cinema player at this year's convention. The updated product supports DCI specification JPEG2000 decoding and decryption.

*Thomson announced it has, through its Technicolor Digital Cinema business, chosen to deploy Christie's CP2000-X digital cinema projector in approximately 250 North American screens under its beta test of end-to-end digital cinema services and equipment.

*Christie will introduce the Christie CP2000-ZX DLP Cinema projector, which the manufacturer claims is approximately half the size of nearest competitors and has a brightness level of 17,000 lumens.

*Kodak will unveil the Kodak Theatre Management System (TMS), which the company says is the industry's first 'universal' system capable of managing all content from all suppliers. Kodak will begin deploying TMS at multiple sites throughout North America.