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December 30, 2008

Rear Window Captioning Makes Digital Cinema Debut

Movie fans heading to the theaters this holiday season can expect thrills, chills, laughter, some tears... and captions in digital cinema! Rear Window Captioning, a system that enables patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing to read captioning discretely displayed at their seat, has been available in select theaters since 1997. While closed captioning has been "almost done" for digitally equipped theaters, a gift from a grandmother named Phyllis Glazer in Omaha ultimately helped push the technology over the goal line.

With the installation of the Rear Window equipment at the Rave Motion Pictures Westroads 14 in Omaha, and through close collaboration by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Technicolor, Doremi Labs and WGBH, Rear Window Captioning for digital cinema debuted on Christmas Day with Walt Disney Pictures' Bedtime Stories.

To date, more than 300 movie auditoriums screening 35mm films in the U.S. and Canada are equipped with Rear Window and its companion system for moviegoers who are blind or have low vision, DVS Theatrical® (collectively known as Motion Picture Access/MoPix®). Mrs. Glazer, who was familiar with the Rear Window system, approached Rave, and asked that they consider installing a system at their new all-digital multiplex in Omaha for her grandson and others to enjoy. She then went a step further and, with her husband, donated the funding for the installation.

MoPix was developed by Boston public broadcaster and media access pioneer WGBH in the early '90s for the 35mm film marketplace. Captioning and description data for 35mm films is sent to equipped theaters on special CDs which, when loaded into a server, sync the access features with the film.

With digital cinema (or dcinema), movies are comprised not of film reels, but digital "packages" of images, sound and data that are compressed, encrypted and transported to theaters via satellite, the Internet, or external hard drives that are downloaded into computer servers. Theater chains and movie studios have been collaborating to convert screens from 35mm film projection to dcinema projection over the last few years. The transition of most screens to dcinema is expected over the next few years.

While a complete roll-out of access-compatible dcinema systems will take place over time, the first major installation of Rear Window is complete and the last major barrier for Rear Window has been overcome. Work continues on DVS Theatrical migration to dcinema, awaiting work underway within the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) on a standard for playout of ancillary audio tracks in dcinema packages. WGBH will continue to work with exhibitors, studios and manufacturers so that dcinema-equipped theaters will be able to welcome all movie patrons in the near future.

Links to companies mentioned:

The Media Access Group at WGBH incorporates The Caption Center, the world's first captioning agency, founded in 1972; Descriptive Video Service® (DVS®), which has made television, film and video more accessible to blind and visually impaired audiences since 1990; and the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), a research and development entity that builds on the success of WGBH's access service departments to make existing and emerging technologies more accessible to these under-served audiences. Members of the Media Access Group's collective staff represent the leading resources and experts in their fields. Visit the Media Access Group Web site for more information about closed captioning and description.

Mary Watkins
Media Access Group at WGBH
617 300-3700 voice
617 300-2489 TTY