A discussion of the DCP would not be complete without mention of the two types of distribution package used in production: Interop DCP and SMPTE DCP. They are functionally similar in that the DCP definitions provided earlier in this chapter apply to both types of packaging formats. But they are substantially different in that they are not interoperable.
Interop DCP is based on an early draft proposal for SMPTE DCP. Interop DCP was put into practice in 2004, prior to the rollout of digital cinema. while SMPTE DCP was not finalized until 2009, four years after the rollout began. It was intended as a temporary format until a standardized version came into existence. However, the lack of backwards compatibility, as well as the requirement for functionality not available in legacy equipment, has hampered the transition to SMPTE DCP.
Digital cinema owes its success to Interop DCP, which continues to be the primary distribution format at the time of this writing. Despite its success, Interop DCP has not been formally standardized or published. In contrast, SMPTE DCP is well-defined, and published as a suite of SMPTE standards. Maintenance on Interop DCP continued up until 2012, when it was decided to limit new development to only SMPTE DCP.
There are several differences in SMPTE DCP that prevent backwards compatibility and interoperability. The most identifiable difference is the inability of the SMPTE Subtitle track file format to be rendered by the subtitle rendering engine in DLP Series 1 projectors, the largest concentration of which are in the United States. This incompatibility can be overcome by rendering subtitles in the server, a feature which is now commonplace in new servers and media blocks, but not in many older systems. Another difference is a reliance on audio channel routing in the server, which also is not supported in many older systems. As a result, practical SMPTE DCP distributions bypass the new audio features, falling back to Interop-style audio packaging using “Channel Configuration 4,” as described in Annex A of SMPTE ST 429-2 DCP Operational Constraints. More explanation of digital cinema audio will be available in a future audio chapter.
The DCP type can be most easily recognized by the namespace root in the Composition Playlist (CPL). SMPTE DCP uses the SMPTE-RA.ORG namespace root, while Interop DCP uses DIGICINE.COM. The top-level document that defines SMPTE DCP is SMPTE ST 429-2 DCP Operational Constraints. Documentation on Interop DCP is available at a password-protected private FTP site. Interop DCP documents are available here.
There is also an excellent presentation by Jim Whittlesey on the differences between Interop DCP and SMPTE DCP.