A Brief History of Film and Digital Cinema
By Jim Mendrala
1829 Dauguerre joins Niépce to pursue photographic inventions.
Fox Talbot in England produces photographs.
Mid 1800s
Motion devices are used as parlor games. Drawings revolving quickly around a spindle produce the illusion of motion.
French astronomer Pierre Janson invents a device, inspired by a revolver, to track an astronomical event. A single camera registers 12 images per second at a regular interval.
1877 Thomas Edison records sound onto a cylinder.
1878 Eadweard Muybridge, survey photographer, is hired by a horse breeder to answer questions about horses' gaits. He sets up a special track with 12 cameras which are exposed by the horse tripping a series of wires and creates 12 still photographs.
1879 Muybridge increases the number of cameras to 24 and invents the Zoopraxiscope to show their images in sequence.
1880 Edison invents the electric light.
1882 Etienne Marey, a French scientist interested in the study of motion, creates a "photographic gun" to capture images in time.
1888 Edison meets with Muybridge to discuss uniting the Zoopraxiscope with Edison's phonograph in order to reproduce images and sounds simultaneously.
1889 Marey's first film projector uses clear film, developed by George Eastman, on an endless belt.
1892 Edison meets Marey, adopts his use of celluloid strip film.
1893 Edison adds equidistant perforations along both sides of the film to assist in smooth projection and debuts the Kinetoscope, a "peep show" viewing machine, at the Chicago World's Exposition.
1894-1895 Edison sells Kinetoscope to storefront penny arcade operators who set them up as one of their attractions. Common subjects are one-minute long shots of vaudeville performers, strong men, trick dogs, dancers and acrobats.
1895 The Lumière brothers in France develop the first portable camera and present the first public screening of projected film. The mobile camera allows for new exterior images of far off places, people at the beach, city street life, trains and ambulances rushing by. In an early fictional skit, a boy tricks gardener into spraying himself with water.
1896 Edison demonstrates his motion pictures in public showing at Music Hall in New York City on April 23rd. Films are added to Vaudeville theater programs as the concluding number.
1896 Neighborhood storefront arcades include projected films for a nickel to capitalize on a working class public that can't afford a 25¢ vaudeville admission. These "Nickelodeons" are hugely successful.
1896 Manufacturers need to supply their equipment purchasers with films. They set up internal production units and also buy films from freelance cameramen.
1897-1898 The Spanish-American war inspires patriotic simulations. Audience-titillating risqué subjects feature a women's calf momentarily bared. Méliès makes "trick films," playing with the camera's mechanical abilities.
1899 Edwin S. Porter comes to work for Edison as a filmmaker.
1900 A strike by vaudeville performers causes theater owners to explore new ideas to attract and maintain business. For the first time they present all-film programs and are surprisingly successful.
1902 "All-movie" storefront theaters begin to spring up, some marketing themselves as fit for women and children.
1903 Porter directs Life of An American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery, beginning to use more shots, more locations and actual stories with suspense and movement, The public becomes interested in this more complete, novel-like storytelling. Comic chases and westerns become quite popular. 
1903 In France, Pathé colors black and white films by machine.
1906 An animated cartoon film is produced.
1907 Edison ruthlessly pursues control over the income from his inventions until all but one of the major film producers are under license to his company, forced to only sell or rent their films to licensed distributors and exhibitors.
1907 Production units start traveling to Los Angeles to continue filming through winters. Florida and Cuba were also tried, but LA offers accessible and varied locations from mountain to desert to sea, plus cheap, non-union labor and low humidity.
1908 The storefront movies grow so successful, there are over 600 in the greater New York area alone.
1908 D.W. Griffith starts directing films at Biograph and develops a more complex filming style, using more shots, putting the camera closer to actors' faces and intricate editing techniques. In effect, Griffith consolidates a new way of communicating, a language that expresses and capitalizes on unique resources of motion pictures.
1908 William Fox takes over vaudeville houses, lowers prices to 5 or 10¢, fills half the program with films and turns a profit.
1909 The nine principal producing companies organize the Motion Picture Patent Company. They use equipment and process patents to cement control of all phases of the business: production, distribution and exhibition.
1909 Independent film production companies spring up to service non-licensed distributors which the Patent Co. had deemed to small to bother with. Independents begin showing and advertising the names of actors and directors, helping to attract the public to their film and drawing talent to their companies.
1910 The Patent Co. envelops over 60 licensed distributors, creating the monopolistic General Film Co.
1911 After a conflict with General Film Co. in which his supply of films was cut off, Fox becomes convinced that a distributor needs to control his own supply and resolve to integrate vertically-controlling production, distribution and exhibition.
1912 Production output of the independent film companies grows to nearly equal that of the Patent Co. companies.
1912 In an election year move, the Wilson administration sues the Patent Co. for restraint of trade.
1912 Motorized movie cameras replace hand cranks.
1913 While in California for the winter, Griffith secretly makes a 4-reel film (a length not allowed under Patent Co. rules). Biograph is unhappy and delays distribution. Griffith quits and moves to an independent production company.
1913 Theater builders begin making palatial and sumptuous movie palaces to draw greater audiences.
1914 Mack Sennett hires Charlie Chaplin, who perfects the silent comedy.
1914-1917 Production companies and their studios begin to congregate in the Los Angeles area. To ensure profits, they develop an intricate system for releasing films in a way that guarantees a certain income, no matter what the quality of an individual film.
1915 Griffith's Birth of a Nation premiers. At 2 hours, it is meant to prove the epic power and grandeur of cinematic expression and to appeal to a relatively untapped audience -The American elite.
1915 The Justice Department declares the Patent Co. an illegal conspiracy.
1915 Harry Aitken establishes Triangle pictures and finances it by selling shares - the first time a film company goes public.
1917-1920 "Hollywood" blossoms into a large-scale industry, with bureaucracy, hierarchies and its own particular lifestyle of both high-flying gaiety and abject desperation. But this rapid growth and vertical integration requires capital and the studios become increasingly dependent on stockholders and bankers.
1920 Commercial radio broadcasting begins.
1921 While plowing a field, 14-year old Philo Farnsworthenvisions capturing images by scanning them with electrons along furrow-like rows.
1922 Film attendance begins to decline, perhaps as a combined result of radio and more affordable cars.
1922-1928 The studios' financial struggles increase, particularly as expensive majestic movie palaces drain money from their pockets.
1926 Don Juan is released with an orchestral accompaniment and sound effects on a disc. Others print a sound track on a hidden optical band along the edge of the film. However, most studios are busy fighting legal battles and are also reluctant to make the required investment in new equipment and technology. However, William Fox and the Warner Bros. take the plunge.
1927 The Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences is formed in Hollywood.
1927 The Warner Bros. The Jazz Singer opens in New York to great acclaim. It is, in fact, only a partial "talkie" - with musical numbers and a few lines of dialogue only. But the audiences clamor for more.
1927 Farnsworth captures the first electronic image.
1928-1929 As all the studios switch to talkies, the restrictive needs of the new technology temporarily forces a regression in films' storytelling and visual energy. However, in a few years, the ever intensive industry solves the problems by developing quieter camera motors and lights, and more flexible sound equipment and techniques. Again, this all requires capitol, as well as a dependence on the sound companies, particularly Western Electric, a subsidiary of AT&T.
1928 Academy accepts Fox/Case sound track system resulting in the Academy film format. The Fox Grandeur (wide film) is shown in first release film.
1929 A motion picture is shown in color, but the technique is not used widely.
1929 The stock market crashes. The studios hang on for awhile, bolstered by the people's love of sound movies and their need to escape the harsh realities of the times. Sound expands industry-wide.
Mid 1930s Despite efforts to draw audiences, such as offering concessions and nightly drawings and give-aways, the Depression catches up with the studios, and many go into receivership or bankruptcy. There is a rash of take-overs and mergers.
1934 Three-color Technicolor is used briefly in a live action film.
1934 The Production Code Administration begins enforcing a set of rules designed to ensure morality in the movies. Filmmakers turn to making light, romantic screwball comedies and films of classic novels.
1934 Farnsworth produces the first demonstration of a working television system.
1935 Eastman Kodak develops Kodachrome color film. Becky Sharp is the first all color feature length film.
1936 Daily demonstration broadcasts were being made by Harry Lubke from the Don Lee Broadcsting System radio studios at 7th & Bixel streets in Los Angeles using a 300 line 24-frame progressive system. 
1938 The Justice Department files anti-trust suits against eight film companies, but is satisfied for a time by a consent decree promising alterations of the studios' restrictive and extremely profitable booking practices.
1939 Gone With the Wind is released. It relies heavily on special effects such as painted glass mats and optical compositing to create the illusion of spacious plantation mansions and daring rides through burning cities.
1939 New York World's Fair shows television to the public and regular television broadcasting begins.
1939 New York World's Fair demonstrates first public demonstration of 3-D movies.
1940 A Pennsylvania appliance store owner tries to boost television sales by bringing a better signal into his valley town, thus developing cable technology.
1941-1945 During World War II, sales of TVs are halted and film producers return to black and white filming.
1944 The Justice Department re-opens its anti-trust suit.
1945 97% of the population owns a radio and listens to it 4-6 hours a day but moviegoers only go to the movies 3 times a month.
1946 Movie attendance begins to fall even further, perhaps as new parents stay home with their "baby boom" babies.
1947 Hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee lead to blacklists and a spate of timid and tepid films.
1949 Television is introduced on a widespread basis. By 1951, there are 1,500,000 TV sets in the U.S.
1949 A court declares that vertical integration of studios and exhibitors violates anti-trust laws and must cease.
1949 Samuel Goldwyn writes an article, "Hollywood in the Television Age," in which he suggests that, to compete, the film industry has three choices: 1. own their own television stations 2. deliver first run movies to homes via telephone wires in an early version of pay-TV 3. develop large-screen theatre television so that one "print" can be carried by leased wires simultaneously to thousands of theatres. None of the three options are pursued. 
Option 1 doesn't seem advisable with the court pursuing anti-trust actions, Option 2 involves competing with established TV networks for room on the dial, and Option 3 would mean a complete unraveling of the intricate releasing system. 
The studios turn to other ideas...
1951 Stereoscopic 3-Dimensional films succeed in gaining a brief period of audience interest.
1952 "Bwana Devil", produced by Arch Oboler is considered the first color, American 3-D feature. It started the 3-D boom in the U.S. film making industry from 1952 to 1954.
1952 The large-screen Cinerama system is developed, using multiple projectors to create a visual spectacle certainly not available on a home TV set. However, it is quite expensive and cumbersome and would require a major re-tooling of theaters.
1953 The 1953 "House of Wax" was an early example of the 3-D film craze of the early 1950s. The film was the first 3-D color feature from a major American studio, and was the first 3-D feature released by a major studio. It followed the very successful premiere several months earlier of the independent production, "Bwana Devil", both sparking the 3-D film boom of the 1950s. House of Wax premiered nationwide on April 10, 1953 and went out for a general release on April 25, 1953.
1953 20th Century Fox develops CinemaScope, in which the use of an anamorphic lens allows the illusion of wider screen projection with the simple change-out of one part. Other studios follow with VistaVision and PanaVision.
Late 1950s Without a guaranteed-profitable first run, stars and their drawing power become even more important to the studios.
1954 Television begins broadcasting in color on a regular basis.
1960 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents Ampex with an Oscar for technical achievement. 
"Smell-O-Vision" is introduced and quickly rejected by the public.
Late 1960s Interest in foreign, "art" and classic films increases as the children of television discover there is something more.
1969 "The Stewardessesr" is released in 3D and is a huge hit. It used a single strip 3D process with the left and right images anamorphically squeezed on the film. Chris J. Condon designed the 3D aquisition and projection lenses.
1972 The Godfather is released and is a huge hit. The studios begin to look for more of such "home run" films.
1972 Service electric, a cable system in Pennsylvania, offers pay TV, calling it Home Box Office.
1975 Sony markets the first Betamax VCR for home viewing and recording of video and JVC quickly follows with VHS.
Mid 1970s Cable reaches its mature form, becoming a means for delivering new and varied types of programing through specialty and pay-per-view channels.
1976 Dolby Laboratories introduces Dolby Stereo for movies.
1977 Lucas' Star Wars and Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind are released and are hits, relying on good storytelling but also breaking into new special-effects territory.
1978 Philips markets the first video laser disc player.
1980s Computers for individual use develop rapidly in both power and speed and infiltrate the film business.
Early 1990s Computer-based non-linear editing systems are introduced and within a few short years dominate post-production. Likewise, digital media for sound recording and processing quickly become the norm.
1991 Computer-generated special effects in Terminator 2 are visually stunning and firmly established the computer as the most powerful special effects tool yet developed.
1992 The first public demonstration of digital cinema. Pacific Bell and Sony Pictures Entertainment sent the movie Bugsy from the lot in Culver City to the Anaheim Convention Center where a theater had been setup...100s attended and it recieved more news coverage than any other single event in telephone history.
1993 A reel of film is projected at Skywalker Sound in Los Angeles, with the sound track being transmitted simultaneously into the screening room from Skywalker Sound in Northern California.
1994 DirecTV is launched, using satellites in geosynchronous orbit to beam signals to a small receiving dish at each user's home.
1995 Toy Story is released, the first completely computer-generated feature film.
1995 CD-ROM disks are able to store a full-length feature film.
Mid 1990s Computers reach higher saturation in homes and businesses. The development of the hyper text transfer protocol allows mainstream America to join in a world-wide network of computers and computer users.
1998 DVDs are introduced and quickly surge to popularity and gaining critical mass.
1999 Digital cinema demonstrations to the public begin. On June 19th in four theatres, two on the West coast and two on the East coast. Lucas Films and 20th Century Fox debuted "Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace" as the first major motion picture theatrically exhibited as digital cinema using a Pluto digital storage system in the D-5 compression format. 

The Ideal Husband is shown at Infocomm in digital cinema. This was one of the last demonstartion using the Hughes/JVC ILA projector.

Tarzan, Toy Story 2 and Bicentennial Man are released by Disney in the new digital cinema format using the QuVIS wavelet based compression algorithms.

2000 February, digital cinema demonstrations go international with two theaters equipped in London, England, one Manchester, England, one in Brussels, Belgium, one in Paris, France and one in Tokyo, Japan for all digital showings of Toy Story 2.

March 6th, Christie Systems, Inc. announced today that it has been selected as the first OEM to manufacture digital cinema projectors using Texas Instruments DLP Cinema technology. The agreement will allow Christie to develop the Christie DigiPro series of digital projectors using DLP Cinema projection technology.

Mission to Mars (March), Dinosaur (May) and Fantasia 2000 (June) are released by Disney in the digital cinema format.

June 6th, 20th Century Fox, Qwest, Cisco, Texas Instruments, QuVis, Barco Projection Systems, Eastern Acoustic Works, and Sigma Design Group demonstrate the world's first digital cinema network distribution and exhibition system. The movie was "Titan AE"

The Blair Witch Project becomes a hit primarily through marketing on the Web and Web-borne word of mouth. Studios realize the potential power of this new realm to bring them their film audiences. However, others also realize the new technology is, in itself, a new medium in which there is the potential to create a new sort of entertainment, a new sort of storytelling. Yet others begin to use the Web as an alternate means of distribution for personal, independent and undiscovered motion picture entertainment. More international digital cinema theatres were added in: Tlanepantla, Mexico, Seoul, Korea,  Dusseldorf and Munich, Germany, Madrid and Barcelona, Spain.

December 14th, Sunset Post, Inc., Glendale, CA opens the first THX certified Digital Cinema Mastering Theatre.

2001 As of January 1st there are 32 theatres in the world equipped to display digital cinema. Over 1.9 million movie patrons have seen 15 different movies in the digital cinema format. 

January, Japan opens the first totally digital cinema theatre.

March 7th, Technicolor Digital Cinema demonstrates, at ShoWest, Qualcomm's Adaptive Block Size Discrete Cosine Transform (ABSDCT) image compression algorithm. 

April 23rd, Qualcomm, a pioneer in digital cinema technology, has entered into a development license agreement with Teranex, Inc., to demonstrate ABSDCT image compression technology on the Teranex video computer platform.

July 17th, Jurasic Park III opens at Lowes Universal Studios Cinemas on two screens in the Digital Theatre Interim Mastering (DTIM) format using for the first time "MPEG 2 Plus" constant quality compression based on the MPEG 2 compression standard. The multi-screen digital cinema theatre used a server, provided by the Grass Valley Group, to feed two Christie "DigiPro" DLP "black chip" projectors. 
The film was transfered using a Cintel "C-Reality" telecine.  Color correction was done on a Da Vinci 2K and was screened on Sunset Digital's (formerly Sunset Post) THX certified D-Cinemastage.

December 7th, "Ocean's 11" opened in 19 Technicolor Digital Cinemas. 6 new theatres have been added bringing the total worldwide digital cinema theatres up to 40. Technicolor Digital Cinemas use the Qualcomm's ABSoluteTM (formerly ABSDCT) image compression technology and the QDEC-1000 decoder system.

2002 As of March 1st digital cinema technology has now been exposed to over four million movie-goers throughout the world.  These digital cinema demonstrations began on June 18th 1999.  Since that time, over 30 movies have been released in an all-digital form,  including: 'The Perfect Storm', 'Spy Kids', 'Shrek', 'Final Fantasy' and 'The Spirits Within'. 

The total number of digital cinema theatres now is over forty with the addition of the Shanghai Paradise Theatre in Shanghai, China and The Palace Theatre in Budapest, Hungary. 

March 5th, Director George Lucas shows a "Star Wars - Episode II" trailer shot entirely on digital 24-frame progressive high definition. The footage was shown at Showest in Las Vegas, Nevada and was projected digitally using DLP Cinema technology. 

Seven major motion picture studios form NDC/Newco to set new standards for digital cinema.

May 16th, Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" opens in more than 94 digital cinema theatres worldwide. The digitally mastered film shot entirely on digital 24-frame progressive high definition is said to be the first film to skip traditional film photography. 

Multiple digitally mastered film inter-negatives were made of Star Wars to generate the traditional film prints delivered to conventional, non-digital cinema theatres.

July 1st, There are now no less than six digital titles competing for the 120 screens in the United States, four of which are: Star Wars, Windtalkers, Scooby-Doo and Spirit and Lilo and Stitch.

Please check back again later for future updates.

Last updated April 23, 2011