Liberty Theater goes digital

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CORRECTION: Due to a reporter’s error, the amounts of donations to the Liberty Theater for its new digital projection system were listed incorrectly. The correct amounts are: Columbia REA, $5,000; Pacific Power Foundation, $3,000; and Puget Sound Energy, $1,000. We regret the error. Click on the date above to see the previous version.

DAYTON — The century-old Liberty Theater has entered the modern age with the installation of a digital projection system. The new projector, server and associated equipment were installed Aug. 22, and they worked flawlessly for the theater’s showings of “The Dark Knight Rises” the first weekend, according to theater manager Kirsten Schober.

“We were very pleased with how much sharper the picture is and the improved sound quality,” Schober said. “We had people ask us if we got a new screen or new speakers, but we didn’t.”

The Touchet Valley Arts Council, which owns and operates the theater, spent two years raising approximately $69,000 for the projection system, including installation. In July, a $36,500 grant was received from the Donald and Virginia Sherwood Trust in Walla Walla. The group also received a $3,000 grant from the Pacific Power Foundation and $1,000 grant from Puget Sound Energy and a $5,000 grant from Columbia REA. Many other donors gave smaller amounts.

When the theater opened in 2001, after a complete restoration, a used 35-millimeter projector was installed. It necessitated shipping of heavy reels from film distributors and splicing of multiple reels by theater staff.

“Now we just drag-and-drop with a mouse,” said Schober.

The new system is expected to reduce shipping costs considerably.

“Each film now comes on a hard drive in a little box,” said Schober.

Schober said the theater was informed more than two years ago that 35mm film was being phased out, as theaters across the country transitioned to digital. At that time, the cost for new equipment was estimated at nearly $200,000. The theater was also told the deadline for the switch would be about 2015.

“About a year ago, they told us that 35mm wouldn’t be available after 2012,” Schober said.

She went to the TVAC board of directors with the bad news and told them it was time to ramp up their fundraising. But the good news was prices for digital equipment had dropped significantly in the meantime.

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