Directors Peter Jackson and James Cameron have spent the past few years extolling the benefits of higher frame rates in film, with Jackson wrapping up “The Hobbit” in 48 frames-per-second and Cameron planning the same or higher for the "Avatar" sequels, but now exhibitors are finally getting a wake-up call as the first of these examples plans to hit theatres.
THR reports that High Frame Rates (HFRs) have been proposed to digital cinema leaders as ways to reduce or eliminate certain issues with 24fps, such as jutter or other motion artifacts. In theory, the concept of shooting on 48 or 60fps is fantastic, but the reality has been a bit harder to manage for those behind the scenes.
Digital cinema auditoriums worldwide are currently unable to support HFRs, but extensive work is being done to complete some by the summer, when a 48fps “The Hobbit” trailer is rumored to be released. Roughly 13,000 Sony 4K digital projectors exist across the globe, but Sony confirmed the majority of those only will be ready for the film's December release. Instead, the companies Barco, Christie, and NEC aim to have equipment by June, offering a 3D software upgrade for an estimated $10,000. Overall, tens of thousands theatres could be HFR-capable, but it is up to the hesitant manufacturers and exhibitors to make the final leap.
Those on the production side are stressed as well, since they've had to find solutions while simultaneously shooting on the upgraded formats. Jackson is shooting on the Red Epic in 3D, with completed footage taking up 6-12TB of camera data per day (the production's digital storage center was glimpsed on their video blog, and it is massive). At Park Road Post, where they're editing the film, they've just recently created 3D 48fps systems, while editing 2D 24fps in the meantime before converting over.
There is obviously quite a bumpy road ahead for production houses and exhibitors before HFRs are practiced everywhere. Some theatre exhibitors are even holding out on the process, claiming a wait-and-see approach as “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” opens on December 13th. However, if the results are as spectacular as Jackson and Cameron promised in the early days of their venture, those wary shouldn't remain so for very long.