Posted March 1, 2013 by John Sciacca in John Sciacca

John Sciacca: Prima Cinema—I’ve Beheld the Future!

My colleague Andrew Robinson has espoused the need for movie studios to change their paradigm and embrace the idea of day & date release and viewing outside the cinema. Essentially, give us the ability to view Iron Man 3 wherever we want, be that a multiplex, a boutique movie house, our living rooms, our laptops, or wherever.

It seems like a fanciful idea at this point because, well, it’s just never been done that way—partly because it’s never really been possible to deliver theatrical content any other way. With films traditionally delivered on giant reels, 99.9999% of people wouldn’t the ability to view them. But now, with films largely being distributed digitally, it’s just data—granted, a whopping-large file size—that can be streamed/downloaded to just about anywhere with a high-speed connection.

Sure there have been random experiments by independent film studios where some movies have been released on-demand before the theatrical release, but these are usually small films that wouldn’t have seen a broad audience anyhow. For major Hollywood pictures, the model has always been the same: theater / wait some period of time / home. (This is a large reason why I have still yet to see any of the films nominated for Best Picture this year.)

But I’ve been living with the future, my friends, and I’m here to tell you: Andrew was right! Day & date is the answer! And it’s awesome!

The company that’s delivering this dream today is Prima Cinema, and its technology—and studio-licensing agreements—allows them to deliver first-run Hollywood films into your home the same day they’re released theatrically. For example, on Friday, March 22, the new Tina Fey film Admission will appear and be ready for Prima owners to enjoy. At home.

So far I’ve watched two full-length films during my demonstration period (they’ve requested that I not mention the titles, but let’s just say one of them was No. 1 at the box office very recently), and it’s been amazing. Video performance is spectacular, with better than Blu-ray quality and full-resolution 7.1 LPCM audio.

It’s not too often that you can call a product a game-changer, but this truly is. In the same way that  iPod was a game-changer for music, Kaleidescape is a game-changer for movies, iPad/iPhone a game-changer for system control, and flat-panel TVs a game-changer for the installation industry, Prima is a game-changer for film delivery.

I’m working on a full review of the Prima system to be published in an upcoming issue of Residential Systems, so I don’t want to spoil too much of my review here. But one thing I thought I would share was the incredible lengths Prima has gone to ensure the security and safety of the precious cargo Hollywood has entrusted them with.

Right from the get-go, it’s clear Prima is made by and for movie lovers, and that it takes that roll seriously. As the opening of the “membership agreement” states, “As a Prima Cinema Member, you are in the company of Film aficionados, appreciating and valuing the art of film making and the creative works of Producers, Directors, Actors, owners, and other skilled professionals in the film and entertainment industry.”

In a way, the system is designed to be so secure that when Shawn Yeager, Prima’s SVP Business Development, was going over the system with me and its numerous, layer-upon-layer, security measures, he used the phrase, “Which will cause the system to lock-up and become unusable,” so often I was reminded of this Simpson’s clip:

Every Prima dealer—and every authorized installer within that dealership—is issued a unique PSK (Personal Security Key), which is basically a USB fingerprint reader. When the installer comes to the home, the Prima system is locked and won’t work. So, even if a Prima were to randomly show up on your doorstop, it’s basically a 65-pound hunk of milled aluminum with a beautiful purple back panel.

Prima goes a step further by coding units to specific dealers from the factory. So if a unit meant for a dealer in LA went to a dealer in New York, it wouldn’t work and couldn’t be unlocked. Units will only work if unlocked by the specific dealer for that specific client.

To view a movie, the authorized Prima member must first swipe his/her enrolled fingerprint across the biometric fingerprint reader to authorize the film purchase and authenticate that he/she is present to view the film. There are two fingerprint readers—one a very cool separate chassis that can be placed near the seating position and another in the front panel of the main chassis—to ensure that if one stops working, a movie can still be purchased.

Before you get any Mission: Impossible-style ideas like cutting off Steven Spielberg or Bill Gate’s fingerprint finger (note: I’m not confirming or even suggesting that either of them are Prima members), there are multiple reasons why just having an authenticated fingerprint won’t work. [EDITOR'S NOTE: One of them, according to Prima, is that its reader can tell whether the finger being swiped is alive. No, really.]

First, the Prima will only work on a white-listed IP address. Your home has to have a static IP (meaning that it never changes) and this is registered, logged, and cleared by Prima as being approved to download movies. If the IP address changes, the system locks up and stops working.

Think you could carry the box over to a friend’s house and watch a movie? Well, you can’t. And not just because of the white-listed IP issue. The Prima chassis is outfitted with accelerometers that can detect movement. Any movement beyond regular rack rolling in-and-out and the unit locks up and stops working.

Think you could gingerly move the Prima to another room of your home, maybe for a viewing in the bedroom. I mean, same IP, maybe you won’t trip the accelerometer . . . No. The system is coded and “married” to work with a single EDID (Extended Display Identification Data), which basically looks at the communication and unique identification data between the Prima, your audio processor, and your display. Should that information change, the unit locks up and stops working.

Curious what is inside the Prima chassis? Don’t be. Removing any panel on the unit causes it to lock up and stop working.

Once a chassis has been locked—assuming some violation of the Prima membership agreement hasn’t occurred, in which case the system becomes the proverbial 65-pound paperweight—the original dealer needs to come out with his PSK, ensure that all is well, and then unlock it.

And these are just the security measures Prima was willing to share with me. There are—they assured me—others designed to foil any attempts at subverting the system.

And before you think you’ll get cute with a camcorder or try to make a digital copy of something, be aware that all films are watermarked—differently for every system and for every viewing on that system—so if you try that well, you better believe that’s a paddlin’.

When the demonstration system was delivered, I picked it up and, after my first thought of, “Holy crap, this thing is heavy!” another, far more profound thought hit me. I was literally holding the future in my hands. And that future is not only heavy, it is incredibly cool.


John Sciacca

JOHN SCIACCA is a full-time custom installer/designer and an a-lot-of-the-time writer whose groundbreaking columns and features for Sound & Vision helped bring awareness of custom installation into the mainstream. Along with his work at Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, SC, John is a regular contributor to Residential Systems and has a popular blog, "John Sciacca Writes . . . ," where he covers everything from high-end electronics to high-end beers, with a lot of random musings in between. He can also be found on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets.