Digital Cinema Basics Knowledge Base
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Want to learn more about Digital Cinema Packages?

Below you’ll find a glossary explaining basic terms. If you’d like to dive even deeper into the world of digital cinema, make sure to check out Alexis Michaltsis’ list of resources ‘Amazing Digital Cinema’ over at GitHub:


To get more info on a topic, click on the (+) headlines below. You can read more on each subject by following the ‘Read Full Article’-Links.

What is a CPL?

‘CPL’ is the abbreviation for ‘Composition Playlist’.

Your DCP can consist of several video and audio streams. For example, your DCP could consist of

  • a) Video Stream 1
  • b) Audio Stream 1
  • c) Audio Stream 2

You would want the projectionist in a theater to know, that he/she can play two different versions of your film:

  • CPL A: Video Stream 1 + Audio Stream 1
  • CPL B: Video Stream 1 + Audio Stream 2

This means, a CPL defines a specific combination of several assets that are included in a DCP. In other words: A CPL is a playlist for a specific ‘version’ inside your DCP.

Each CPL has a name (or title). The Digital Cinema Naming Convention defines how this CPL name should be structured.


What is the Digital Cinema Naming Convention?

The Digital Cinema Naming Convention is a voluntary industry recommendation, designed to provide human readable information. It defines how CPLs can be named.

The Digital Cinema Naming Convention has two primary objectives:

  • to make as much information visible as possible, and
  • to display the information in a specific order — in assigned fields — so theatres will know where to look for specific information.

To achieve these ends, most of the information is abbreviated — including the movie title if necessary — and most of the abbreviations are standardized.

See also:


What is the DCI? (Digital Cinema Initiatives)

The Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC (DCI) is a joint venture of major motion picture studios.

The DCI was formed in 2002 with the goal of establishing a standard architecture for digital cinema systems.

See also: ‘Digital Cinema Initiatives’ on Wikipedia


Why are there two standards for creating DCPs? (Interop and SMPTE)

There are two standards that define common practices for creating DCPs. The SMPTE standard and the Interop standard.

‘Interop’ wasn’t released as an official standard. The specifications for Interop DCPs are a collection of recommendations, based on a Digital Cinema Specification Document, released by the MPEG Interop Initiative in 2003. In this document, norms for the creation of digital cinema content were established for the first time ever.

The (newer) SMPTE standard was developed and released by the Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC (DCI) and was meant to replace the older Interop standard.

Though the SMPTE standard allows for more flexibility (e.g. in regards to framerates and audio formats) today’s reality still is this: Not all cinema servers are equipped to play SMPTE DCPs properly. Years of experience have shown us: If you want to make sure your DCP works everywhere, the InterOp standard is the safest option available.

Not everything that is possible in a DCP from a technical perspective is also commonly used in digital cinemas. The simple reason behind this is that not every digital cinema server that was installed before the SMPTE standard existed can be updated with the ability to interpret SMPTE DCPs correctly. And – even if they can be updated – not every cinema does so.

For more information regarding the industry’s move towards SMPTE:


How can I manually transfer my DCP to a digital cinema server?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to handle your zipped DCP after download and manually transfer it safely to a digital cinema server.
PLEASE NOTICE: The best way to distribute your DCP to theaters is to send a download link to your zipped DCP. This guide explains how to transfer your DCP to a cinema server manually after download.

Getting your DCP to a digital cinema server without errors can be a tricky endeavor.

Your DCP basically is a folder containing a substantial number of files (media assets and index files). Every time this folder with all of its many files is copied or transferred, there’s a risk of transmission errors. And digital cinema servers are very sensitive to the smallest of errors in your DCP.

Though this step-by-step guide doesn’t claim to be complete, it aims to give you some important tips on how to avoid the most common problems.


What is a DCP? What does the DCP format consist of?

‘DCP’ is the abbreviation for ‘Digital Cinema Package’. As the word ‘Package’ suggests, a DCP is a collection of files rather than a single file.

A DCP basically consists of two categories of elements:

  • media assets (video, audio, subtitles)
  • index files, referring to those media assets

The term DCP has been defined by the DCI, The Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC  in their recommendations for packaging of contents for Digital Cinema.

See also: ‘Digital Cinema Package’ on Wikipedia