The seven Hollywood studioshave clubbed together to develop technical standards for digital cinematechnology. The companies - Disney, MGM, Paramount, Sony, 20thCentury Fox, Universal and Warner Bros - are creating an entity to ensurethat competing digital exhibition formats are "open, compatible andinter-operable" and weigh up strategies for deploying digital exhibitionsystems in movie theatres across the US - and eventually the world.

"We strongly believethat digital film exhibition will significantly improve the movie-goingexperience for the public," said the studio statement released thismorning (Tuesday). "Digital technology guarantees that all patrons canenjoy the highest-quality film experience regardless of the venue or whetherthey are attending the first showing of a film or the fiftieth.

"In order to bring thebenefits of this technology to the public on a large scale basis, there needsto be industry-wide standards so that movie producers, exhibitors, andequipment manufacturers can be confident that their products and services areinteroperable and compatible with the products and services of all industryparticipants."

Out of a potential 150,000screens in North America, South America, Australia, Europe and Asia, there arecurrently only about 50 cinema-grade digital projection systems in operation.Who will pay for the conversion of the lion's share of theatres has beena cause of conflict between distributors and exhibitors. But once theconversion is complete, digital exhibition eliminates the costs of printduplication, and the problem of wear and tear which affects traditional film.

The US will be the firstmarket targeted by the working group but international will not be far behind."We are working on adopting standards to be used in the US, although ourlongterm goal is inter-operability with deployments by others worldwide,"said a spokesman for the venture.

A small, dedicatedmanagement team for the venture is expected to be announced within the next fewmonths.