As many South Africans may already be aware, Ster-Kinekor is in the process of completing a digital overhaul of all its 438 sites. The completed result would mean the end of 35mm reel screening at SK cinema complexes across the country, as well as some of its other African theatres. With the advent of digital screenings, 35mm became more costly to run as an operation, while logistics and limited supply and demand also reduced the amount of screenings at any given time across the cinema complexes, and on more than one occasion, a delayed release date in South Africa for a particular film.
On 20th September 2012, SK started a trial run for the conversion at an event in which it made the big announcement about its digital switch, while at the same time screening the first 4K film in South Africa. The initial trial was conducted at the Sandton and Gateway complexes, two of its biggest movie houses in the country. The full operation commenced on 17th June 2013, and to date a total of 15 houses have seen the digital modification. At a demonstration event held at their headquarters, SK highlighted the major differences between traditional 35mm screenings and that of digital. Since last year’s trial, this demonstration was essentially the first time I’ve seen a 35mm screening; already hinting at how far along the process is in some parts. Although it may not have been planned as such, the last of the rollout will be concluded on the 17th December 2013, right as the festive season kicks off.
Apart from the obvious picture quality improvements, another advantage of the switch is in the sound upgrade. Once the rollout has completed, each of the sites will have at least 5.1 surround sound technology, while many of the main theatres can experience 7.1. SK also announced, and demonstrated, the new Dolby Atmos setup, which is currently on trial at the Gateway Shopping Complex. This specific upgrade meant a complete shutdown of the main theatre in order to add a further 55 mounted speakers for SK’s unique design and layout; even requiring official sign-off from building engineers.
Although the concept was slow off the blocks, Ster-Kinekor’s Cine Prestige has also seen an increase in sales at the Rosebank Mall. Since there are just over 40 tickets per screening, it rare to find an empty seat over the weekend. During the rollout, SK will also be introducing a number of additional Cine Prestige theatres at specific movie houses, which is expected to be completed by November. The SK app also received a quick mention, having [unofficially] reached the 1m mark in downloads across multiple platforms.
During this phase, SK also undertook the task of training and equipping all of its technicians and projectionists with the necessary skills to operate the new hardware and software. Old equipment will be dismantled and recycled where possible. While many die-hards out there still prefer the smoke-burned 35mm projection of the classics, the digital theatre experience is well and truly upon us, delivering an crisper, sharper and more realistic imagery and sound.