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Cinematic Countermeasure

The expansion of digital cinema could be a boon for movie pirates who use camcorders to record films from theater screens and then sell the copies on the streets of New York City and Bangkok. But Cinea, a startup in Herndon, VA, is working with Princeton, NJ-based Sarnoff to develop technology that will make such recordings worthless. Recordings of conventionally projected films contain pulses of black because camcorders catch the brief moments during which the projector light flicks off and the next frame scrolls into place. A digital projector, however, emits continuous streams of light, allowing a pirate to record a great image. Through specially designed software and hardware, researchers at Cinea can control the microscopic mirrors that reflect each pixel of light toward the projector’s lens. Turning the mirrors back and forth in a pattern creates milliseconds-long distortions in the image. Theatergoers don’t see them, but camcorders pick up the distortions in the same way they record the flickers of conventional projection, says Cinea CEO Robert Schumann. Cinea has demonstrated its process using still images, and with a $2 million grant from the federal government’s Advanced Technology Program, the company plans to have a system ready for testing at a large-screen movie theater within two years.


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