If we told you that this Saturday night you could invite friends over for a personal screening of ‘Jurassic Park 3D’ in your home theater—you know, the classic dinosaur movie that’s getting a 3D facelift for re-release in theaters this week—you might think it’s an April Fool’s joke, right?
Actually, the thought of being able to view commercial box office theatrical movie releases in your home the same weekend they come out in the local cineplex seems like it could be a bit of a consumer electronics tease.
And for the general public, it will be just that—something that is not really within reach, so just carry on with your cable’s VOD service, premium channels, Netflix, Vudu, Blu-ray disc or however you typically bring Hollywood home to your TV or projection screen.
That’s also part of the premise behind Prima Cinema, an exclusive movie server that delivers current commercial cinema releases into your home while they’re still in the theater. We’ve written about Prima before, but this week seems like a particularly good time for a refresher, seeing as how they’re upping the video ante with their first 3D release, the aforementioned ‘Jurassic Park 3D’ that stomps into theaters April 5.
Let’s get the cost out of the way first: a Prima Cinema server (or Prima Movie Player, PMP) runs $35,000 and then after that each movie rental is $500 a pop (3D films reportedly will cost an extra $100). So keep in mind that this is a product for the elite (Prima even calls owners of its product “Members” to foster that feeling of exclusivity) whose home theaters are more likely to be of the variety that win in our annual Home of the Year Awards Best Home Theater $150,000+ category and even then go way beyond that minimum and into the “movie palace” territory.
“The premise of Prima Cinema is to be to the Hollywood box office what private jets are to commercial aviation,” explains Prima CEO Jason Pang. “Both serve a purpose in aviation and transporting people. But you and I would fly $500 coach from L.A. to Chicago, and someone else might pay $20,000 for a private jet.”
Either way, Pang notes, the aviation industry reaps the revenues in some fashion, which is the thinking behind what led to Prima Cinema’s establishment in 2010. The company worked with Hollywood movie studios to get licensing rights so it could offer movies at the time of their release to people who can’t necessarily afford to go see them in a commercial cinema but would pay to have that experience and convenience in their homes. Think celebrities and athletes who get hounded by paparazzi, for one. And as Pang explains, box office is box office and Prima’s rentals are just that only in a different form.
“Some people are willing to pay a lot more money and watch a movie in their home theater. Business executives, pro athletes, celebrities ... some just can’t go out, some are too busy with their schedules traveling all over,” Pang says. “This is new, incremental revenue for studios and it doesn’t compete with the general box office, which has been a one-size-fits-all model for 100 years.”
Pang says Prima is still in negotiations with many studios, but says that none has “flat-out rejected” the idea. The company currently can offer movies from Universal, Focus Features, Magnolia Pictures and Cinedigm, as well as a couple of specialty content providers that bring live events such as Italian opera performances to the big screen. The origin of Prima Cinema can be found in the so-called “Bel-Air Circuit” of Hollywood industry types that have first-run movies couriered to their homes for private, exclusive screenings ... and Prima wants to be the modern, digital courier.
“Technology has gotten to the point where you can have an incredible experience in the home, and this is designed for those people that want to build and have a truly theatrical experience,” Pang says. “Some private home theaters are just incredible.”
Here on Electronic House we can certainly attest to that, and one thing that separates Prima from some other manufacturers’ A/V products (though not unique to the custom electronics industry) is that the server must be installed by a certified professional that’s been trained on all the security requirements that go along with owning a Prima Cinema server. Industry colleague John Sciacca, who is also a custom electronics pro, humorously blogged about the security features here after having spent time with a Prima server, but suffice it to say that it’s the only A/V product I’ve heard of that requires a biometric fingerprint reader to use.
The server itself can hold up to 50 movies at a time, and the huge movie files are downloaded onto owners’ servers during the week (or whenever leading up to their theatrical release) so they can then be enjoyed without the hassle of waiting for a download when the viewing time comes. After a file is downloaded, it appears as a “Coming Soon” movie trailer for people to watch until it is officially available and moves into the “Now Showing” category. A typical 2D movie is about 45GB and on a 20mbps Internet connection takes about five hours to download, according to Pang (those with faster connections might take only two hours or so).
“We do everything behind the scenes for the customer. We’ll get the film before it comes out in the theater, a week ahead typically, we encrypt the file, then send it out to your home ahead of schedule,” he says. “We control everything on the box on our central server, so the customer only needs to use the control interface and buy a movie. Every film we receive you have on your system—when you go to the movie theater, you’re not waiting there to order a movie, it’s there ready to play. So they’re sitting on your local hard drive, but if you don’t buy one, you don’t pay. When you hit play, we send the key in real time to decrypt the file.”
Some of the more recent offerings from Prima included ‘Ted,’ ‘The Bourne Legacy’ and ‘Les Miserables’ last year. Once you order a film you’ve got 24 hours to view it (and the movie player knows it’s you because of that finger swipe), though you can pause it.
Besides the convenience, another benefit to the Prima Movie Player, Pang notes, is that movies are served up in better-than-Blu-ray video quality. While Blu-ray discs incorporate 8-bit pixel data, Prima uses 10-bit (commercial digital cinema is 12-bit) for its high-defintion in 4:2:2 color space so it’s as close to the real thing as possible. For the audio, Prima takes the raw feed used in digital cinema for uncompressed PCM 7.1-channel surround sound, and the certified Prima installer will send the A/V to your system via single HDMI cable—there’s a second HDMI out if you wanted the audio separated from the video.
Aside from delving into 3D with the new ‘Jurassic Park’ you’ll likely see 4K “on the future road map, definitely,” to further maximize the image quality of Prima offerings. With 70 authorized dealers nationwide, there’s also more opportunity for those considering becoming “Prima Cinema Members” to check it out. It’s even more reason to make movie night something extra special in your home theater.
“We’re so used to iTunes and Netflix, but you’re not going to sit by yourself and watch ‘Ted’—you’ve built this incredible theater for entertaining,” Pang says. “This is an event.”
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New Home Theater Projectors from CEDIA
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.