©2016 Hermosa Beach Filmworks

Post Production-Digital Cinema Specialists

Everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about D-Cinema and Digital Cinema Packages

DCP Info

Q: What is a Digital Cinema Package (DCP)?

A: Simply put, a DCP is the digital equivalent of a 35mm film print.   It is what you give to a commercial theater so that they can screen your movie on a digital (also known as "D-Cinema") projector.  Like a 35mm print, a DCP is a world-wide standard.  If you walk into any D-Cinema theater, anywhere in the world, they can play your DCP without a problem.  

The DCP itself is composed of several computer files containing video, audio and subtitles (if needed) along with instructions for how to play them.  It can be delivered to a theater on a standard computer hard drive, either USB or “CRU”.  A CRU is  basically just a hard drive in  metal carrier.  Either way the actual movie is the same.

Here is what a CRU looks like.  This is how the major studios deliver their films to your local theater.  Many independent filmmakers however will delivery their movie on a regular USB drive instead to save money.  There is no quality difference either way.

Q: Why would I want to make a DCP instead of a traditional 35mm film print?

A: Because 35mm is (sadly) dead!  Due to the emergence of Digital Cinema, 35mm film has nearly vanished in the last few years.  Many theaters do not have any 35mm equipment at all!  Virtually all new theaters being built are digital only, which means if you want to show your film you'll need a DCP.

Way back in the good old “pre-digital” days (from the late 1800s up until about 2011), if you wanted to show your movie in a theater you had to make a 35mm film print.  If you shot on video tape you’d have to transfer it to 35mm in a process called a "filmout".  The cost of that for a feature film was typically $40,000 or more.  And once you had your film on 35mm you still had to make prints and send them to every theater, at a cost of about $1500 each.  A studio releasing a movie to 4000 screens might spend $6 million just in film prints alone!  None of that happens anymore.

In contrast, making a feature DCP typically costs 90-95% less than a “filmout”, and instead of those $1500 prints DCPs are sent out on computer hard drives that can be reused hundreds of times.  With such large cost savings, it is easy to see why all the major film studios have moved towards digital distribution.

Another huge benefit of DCPs is that they’re digital so they don't wear out like 35mm.  Digital copies do not degrade, so you'll never have a broken, scratched or dirty DCP.  The 1000th screening will look just as perfect as the first.


Q: What do DCPs cost to make?

A: The big question!  A professionally encoded feature-length DCP typically costs between $1000-$3000 depending on the runtime of your film and any special options (such as 4K, 3D, encryption, editing, etc).   That price price should include everything (mastering, quality check and first/master DCP hard drive).  Additional DCP copies if needed run about $160-$350 each, depending on whether you need USB drives or a CRU.


The typical turnaround time for most labs is 5 business days.  DCPs can be comfortably made in 3 days, or under certain circumstances as little as 1-2 however most labs will charge significantly more for this type of “rush” service.  It’s best to avoid rushing work at the DCP stage.  Plan ahead and leave enough time so that a lab can correct any mistakes that are discovered, such as glitches in the video or audio of your source files.   

Please note: Hermosa Beach Filmworks does not charge for rush or weekend service.  If we can meet your deadline we will at no extra costs!  

Q: What exactly should I ask for when obtaining a quote?

A: When comparing prices, be sure all of the following are included in your quote:

1: Mastering - this is the actual process of converting your video/audio files into the format recognized by D-cinema systems.

2: A quality Check or 'QC' - this is where the final product is checked for glitches, dropout, sync problems, gamma, color, etc. by an experienced technician.  This step is absolutely crucial.  There is too much that can go wrong in the editing and DCP mastering process not to make sure the final product is as flawless as possible.  Small mistakes look huge on a 30 foot theater screen, and it’s easy to miss things when you’ve been editing your film for the past several months.  Having a fresh set of experienced eyes look over your project is great insurance against opening night surprises.

3: Transfer to USB or CRU drive.  This is the final step when the mastered files (collectively called the DCP) are transferred to an EXT 2/3 formatted Linux hard drive.  The actual drive can be a standard portable USB available in any computer store, or a professional "DX115" drive carrier, which is called a CRU.  Again, both USB and CRU have the exact same information on them, so there’s no difference in quality.  Some theaters and film festivals demand a CRU however most are perfectly happy to use the much less expensive USB drives

4: A guaranteed turnaround time.  If you need your DCP in 48 hours for a special screening be sure to have that included  in the quote for service.  

5: Lastly, and THIS IS HUGE:  Always ask the cost of a “re-encode”.  For example if you have a DCP made and then discover a minor mistake that was your fault, or you want to trim or change a couple of scenes–does the lab charge you another full encoding fee to fix it (because most do!) or do they offer a discounted re-encoding of the same project?  You may think that your movie has been absolutely finalized but these types of last-minute changes happen all the time, so it’s best to negotiate this in advance.  

Q: What frame rates are acceptable for DCPs?

 A: If you want to maximize compatibility, shoot and at edit at 24p and make a 24fps (frames per second) DCP.  If you want to qualify to win an Academy Award, you MUST have a 24fps DCP.  If you are planning on selling your film to foreign buyers, many will demand a 24fps DCP because it’s the established world-wide standard.  If you are not worried about those issues, you can make a DCP that runs at 25, 30, or 48 frames/second.  For 24fps DCPs you can edit and finish at 23.98 (technically 23.976) and the mastering facility will conform your film to true 24.00 fps.  DCPs only play in “whole” frame rates.  Video that runs at 29.97fps for example will be converted to 30.00fps for the theater.


Q: Can I make a DCP myself?

A: Yes you can! -- There is software available (Google DCP Software) however you need to be careful--many of them are poorly tested, do not work reliably on all D-Cinema servers, do not properly preserve color and gamma, do not allow for encryption, or do not allow for "signed" DCPs.  The ones that do work properly are fairly expensive-- typically $2,000 - $8,000 per license.  Examples of good, professional-level software are EasyDCP, QubeMaster Pro and Clipster.  You will need to invest some time to learn how to properly make DCPs, and how to properly prepare the hard drives that will be sent to the theaters.  It is easy to make mistakes.  If you are making just a single DCP it will probably be in your best interest to have it professionally made.  It will save a lot of headaches.  If you are making multiple DCPs, it might be worth investing in good software and learning to make them yourself.

Here is the biggest problem with making your own DCPs: They can only be properly tested and viewed on a D-Cinema projector in a theater.  DCPs use a completely different color space than your computer or TV monitor, so all you can ever do on a PC or MAC is "simulate" what it will look like in a theater.  If you want to make DCPs, you'll need to establish a relationship with your local theater so that you can test out your results.  If you are a non-profit or making a documentary, many theaters will be happy to help–very possibly for free.  Your best chance will be at an independent or art house type theater.

Q: Does the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences accept DCPs when qualifying for an Academy Award?

A: Yes, but to comply with Academy rules, your DCP must meet the following specifications:

Video:               24.00 frames per second

Compression:    JPEG2000

Color Space:     XYZ

Video Format:    2K -or 4K (typical container sizes are 1998x1080 (flat) and  2048x858 (scope);

other image sizes are also acceptable)

Audio Format:    24-bit, 48 kHz uncompressed

                        Minimum 3 channels (Left,Right,Center) or any multi-channel format (5.1, 7.1, Atmos, etc.)

Audio Channel

Mapping (5.1):   1:Left   2:Right   3:Center   4:Subwoofer  5:Left Surround   6:Right Surround

Encryption:         Unencrypted material only


Q: Where can I find more complete technical specifications for DCPs?

A: The original DCP specifications are contained in the following:

    SMPTE 428-1-2006 D-Cinema, ISO/IEC 15444-1, SMPTE 428-2-2006

    D-Cinema, SMPTE 428-3-2006 D-Cinema    

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Are you ready to make a DCP of your film and have more questions?

Hermosa Beach Filmworks is ready to help.  We specialize in making DCPs for independent filmmakers at the highest quality and lowest cost possible.  We can encode your film into a Digital Cinema Package, ensure that your project meets all necessary Academy specifications, quality check the final DCP, and provide you with a copy of the finished DCP on an appropriate portable hard drive.

We will need your film in a HD Quicktime or AVI file on a portable hard drive, with the following specifications:

Video:            24 frames per second:  This is the most important part!  If possible your film should be in 24p (23.98 or 24.00).  If you shot your film in 60i, or another frame rate, you should consider converting it to 24p before making a DCP.  If 24fps is not possible, your file can also be 25/30/48fps.

Format:          1920x1080 full screen for 16x9 material (Most HD video cameras)

                      1998x1080 (2K 1.85 flat)

                      3996x2160 (4K 1.85 flat)

                      2048x858 (2K 2.39 scope)

                      4096x1716 (4K 2.39 scope)

                      We can also upres standard definition material, or downres non-conforming higher definition material

Compression: A variety of compression codecs are acceptable:  The ones that work best include: Apple ProRes/HQ/4444, DVCPROHD,  DNxHD or Uncompressed

Audio:            Minimum 3 channels (Left,Right,Center) or 5.1 (L,R,C,LFE,LS,RS) or any multi-channel format- audio can be part of the QuickTime file, or provided as separate uncompressed mono 16 or 24 bit/48khz WAV or AIFF files.

 Audio Channel

3.0 Mapping:        1:Left   2:Right   3:Center

5.1 Mapping:        1:Left   2:Right   3:Center   4:Subwoofer  5:Left Surround   6:Right Surround

**Note: If your source file is on videotape (such as HDCAM-SR) or film negative it will have to be digitized or captured, which will entail additional charges.


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Helpful tips during Production and Post-Production

TIP #1: Do research and ask questions before you shoot!

Post production can be a relatively simple straightforward process or an absolute nightmare (and expensive!) depending on the choices you make while shooting your movie.  Learn about best practices in advance so that you can save money and have a smooth post-production experience.

TIP #2: Shoot and edit in 24p!

If you want to make your life easier in post-production, always shoot and edit in 24p.  24p means 23.98 frames per second (which is actually 23.976).  DCPs actually run at 24.00 but the resampling between 23.98 and 24.00 can easily be done during DCP mastering.  If you think you might eventually create a DCP (or even a 35mm filmout for some crazy reason) from your motion picture, shoot and edit in 24p!  A universally playable DCP is just like a 35mm print in that it runs at 24 frames per second.  While other frame rates are available (25 ,30, 48 and 60), they still are not in common use.  The Academy and many distributors and some festivals will only accept 24fps DCPs.  If you have to shoot in a different format, such as interlaced 60i, PAL, SECAM or any other non-24p framerate, you should consider doing a frame rate conversion before you make a DCP.  You can get good results if you have your footage professionally converted (or use good software such as Magic Bullet or DVFilm) from 60i or 25p to 24p.  Unfortunately if you shot at 30p, the results will not look very good, except as noted in TIP #2a.  Credit crawls and rolls in particular do not look very good when converted from 30p to 24p.

 Sometimes, as with archival footage, you will not have a choice.  If you have 60i archival footage (or PAL, SECAM, or any other type of non 24p material), it's best convert that as early as possible in the editing process.   In summary, edit in 24p whenever possible.  Shoot in 24p if you can.  NEVER SHOOT IN 30p unless you really enjoy complicating your life.  Convert any non-24p material to 24p as early in the editing process as possible so that you'll know what to expect.


TIP #2a: I already shot in 30p so now what do I do?  

In this case your conversion options are limited to a software product called Twixtor, or the built-in frame-rate conversion in DaVinci Resolve 12.  These two software products can intelligently drop frames and create new ones so that you can convert from 30p to 24p.  It is a time-consuming process because you have to define every edit point in the software, and the render time to process the footage can take hours (or days!) however results are often excellent.  Keep in mind however it doesn’t work 100% of the time, especially with certain types of very fast motion or with end credit crawls.  The results however are MUCH better than any of the professional lab options (such as Teranex or Alchemist) and much less expensive as well.  Of course you can avoid this issue entirely by not shooting in 30p in the first place!  (See Tip #2)

TIP #3: Color correct your film!

When your picture editing is finished, have your project professionally color corrected.    Having your film color corrected, with shots adjusted to smoothly blend together will make a big difference when you see your movie on screen.  DCPs and theatrical D-Cinema equipment will make well-shot and color-corrected footage look absolutely fantastic.  The color gamut and contrast are far superior to anything you'll see on your computer monitor.

That nice, rich, contrasty image you see in Final Cut Pro on your monitor will look superb in a theater.  But there is a downside: mistakes will also be magnified.  Video noise and poor contrast  will become more noticeable when you see your movie on a big, bright 30-foot theater screen.  This is why it is to your advantage to invest in professional color correction as the last step in your video editing.


TIP #4: Mix audio with at least 3 channels!

Having dialog or voiceover in the center channel, and music/effects in the L/R side channels is the standard in theatrical exhibition.   It is not much more work to mix audio in three channels instead of two (simple stereo), but the result in theaters is dramatic!  Simply put, audiences are used to and will expect dialog to be in the center channel.

 If you are planning to have your film qualified for an Academy Award, you must mix with at least three channels of audio.  This is a mandatory Academy requirement.

Of course, if you are mixing with three channels (Left, Center, Right) -- it's not much more work to mix in full 5.1 stereo.  Like editing in 24p, it's best to make this decision early so that your sound editor will know to keep dialog and voiceover in a separate track.

Sound can make or break a film, and it may sound counter-intuitive but sound quality will “give away” a film as being low budget much more so than picture quality, so don’t rush this critical step.  An investment in a good sound designer will pay huge rewards in the final quality of your film.  

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Still have questions?

 Call or email Hermosa Beach Filmworks and we will be happy to provide additional information, and answer any questions you may have!

Jliebert@hbfilmworks or info@hbfilmworks.com

(310) 897-6277  Normal office hours are M-F 9:00am - 6:00pm PST