In 1997 BT worked secretly with Virgin, screening video for guinea pig audiences at a cinema in Ealing. Channel 4 had used high quality telecine equipment to transfer 35mm prints to video.
JVC provided a light valve video projector developed with Hughes. Snell and Willcox fitted equipment to double the number of scanning lines.
In March 1998 BT staged a demonstration for the movie industry at Virgin’s Haymarket cinema. The only 35mm material screened as a point of reference was of poor quality, from the 1929 b/w movie Birds of Prey. The video projector then screened clips from current movies.
The video material was soft and not so bright as film, with poor contrast and detail lost in shadows. But Rupert Gavin, then MD BT’s Consumer Division, called it “A milestone for the British Cinema industry; the start of the next 100 years. We have proved what might become reality.”
After the demonstation, David Youlton of Snell and Willcox spoke angrily from the audience “I am ashamed to be associated with this event. We can do ten times better. You people don’t understand digital processing. I am apalled at what I’ve seen. It is a skunk project.”
An obviously shocked Rupert Gavin responded. “This meeting was intended to initiate dialogue – and it’s cetainly done that”. Soon after Gavin left to join the BBC.
Nothing further was heard of BT’s electronic cinema.