I've heard of services like Prima Cinema for some time, but CEDIA Expo 2013 marked the first time I got to see it in action. This company does one thing—deliver first-run movies to home theaters. And by "first-run," I mean day and date with their release in commercial theaters.
How is that possible? First, you apply to become a Prima Cinema client. That's right, you must be vetted by Prima Cinema and its studio partners to make sure you have a sufficiently high-quality AV system with a screen measuring at least 100 inches diagonally, you have no more than 25 seats in your home theater, you have a business-class static IP address with unlimited data, and you aren't likely to try to pirate the movies you receive.
The Prima Cinema server presents a graphic user interface from which to select first-run movies to play in your home theater. Photo by Mark Henninger
Once you're accepted as a client, you purchase a Prima Cinema server ($35,000), which presents a graphic user interface with all the available movies. When you select a title and verify your identity with a fingerprint scanner, it is downloaded to the server over the Internet—which could take a while, since each title is about 40-50 GB using a proprietary codec—after which you have 24 hours to watch it once. You can skip back up to five minutes, but you can't rewind from the end to the beginning and watch it again. Each 2D title costs $500, while 3D movies are $600, and when a movie leaves commercial theaters, it is no longer available from Prima Cinema.
The demo system at CEDIA 2013 included a Digital Projection Titan projector, 135-inch-wide, 16:9 Stewart FireHawk G3 screen (not what I'd choose in a blacked out room), Meridian digital sound system, and Cineak theater seats, which were mighty comfy at the end of a long day of walking the show floor. Interestingly, the screen was not perforated, and we were told that the DSP7200HC center speaker below the screen somehow elevates the sound to appear to come from the center of the screen.
We watched a bit of Rush, Ron Howard's new movie that opened around the country on the Friday of CEDIA. Based on a true story of two Formula One racing rivals in the 1970s, the image definitely had that '70s look—high-ISO color-negative film stock, high contrast, lots of film grain—which we assumed was the director's intent and that the system reproduced very accurately. On the other hand, the sound was pretty bad—somewhat muddled with ill-defined bass, and the dialog did not seem to be coming from the center of the screen. I've heard the Meridian system sound great in other demos, so this one must not have been set up very well.
Obviously, the Prima Cinema service is intended for Hollywood bigwigs and other 1-percenters who want bragging rights about showing first-run movies in their homes. For the rest of us, it's off to the commercial theater or wait for the Blu-ray.
It is worth considering that the ultra-rich not only don't care about $500/pop movies or $35,000 servers—the security risk posed by going to a public movie theater—even if the specific in question amphitheater is rented for a private screening—is not worth it. Plus, that private screening at a real movie theater is sure to cost more than $500.