The age of celluloid is finally drawing to a close. Five major Hollywood studios will be deploying digital projection systems to nearly 20,000 movie theatre screens across the US, including the AMC, Cinemark and Regal chains.

Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney Motion Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios and Lionsgate Films have entered into an agreement with the cinema chains to ensure the widespread roll-out of digital technology.

Shifting to digital projection means large start-up costs - the studios have financing of $1billion in place - but makes cinemas much more flexible, able to change their programming at short notice and screen special interest films, concerts and one-off events, as well as the increasingly popular 3D movies like Beowulf or Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Cinemas running a tight ship

Audiences are split on the quality of digital, which can give strong colours and accurate sound but that often lacks brightness and detail compared with top quality 70mm prints. What finally tempted Hollywood into going digital was the cinemas' acceptance of strict anti-piracy measures.

Bruce Snyder, President of Twentieth Century Fox, said, "Plans to deploy DCI-compliant digital projection systems marks the tipping point for conversion in the United States."

Kodak will be supplying DLP 2K or 4K projectors, 3D-capable content players and its own Theatre Management System to at least 8,000 of the cinemas undergoing upgrades.

Lionsgate will be supplying cinemas with one of the first digital 3D movies under the agreement: My Bloody Valentine opens in the US on January 16, 2009.