What is a CRU Drive, Exhibition Kit, or DX115 Drive?

CRU or DX115 Exhibition Kit

There are two separate parts to most DCP’s:

  1. The Digital Cinema Package file itself.
  2. The type of device storing the file when sending it to a festival, distributor, or theatre.

A DCP is just a digital file, so there are many ways to send it. You could put it on a hard drive, or burn it on to 40 DVD’s. You could even make a stack of 3.5″ floppy disks more than 9 football fields high (we did the math).

Digital delivery of DCPs is possible but, due to their large size, this is not common in most countries. Delivery of the majority of DCPs globally is on physical hard drives of the following types:

CRU Drive / DX115 Drive / Exhibition Kit

All these terms refer to the same thing. A DX115 is a special type of hard drive case specification, designed to plug into most Digital Cinema equipment. Sometimes these drives are also called “CRU” drives, after the name of the largest manufacturer. There are now two common types of “CRU” drive:

Full Exhibition Kit

A Full DCP Exhibition Kit with a CRU Drive

A “Full Kit” or “Exhibition Kit” packages a CRU drive along with extra cables and adapters into a plastic shipping container. These kits contain everything a projectionist may need to connect a drive all in one package. They also can connect in different ways if there is an equipment problem at the cinema. The plastic cases are the most durable for shipping (particularly repeated international shipping) but also are the most expensive due to size and weight.

    PROS

  • The industry standard drive format.
  • Most durable.
  • Widest compatability with Digital Cinema Equipment.
  • Multiple connection options in case of equipment problems.
  • Speed of ingest / testing at theatre is usually the fastest.
    CONS

  • Most expensive option.
  • Most expensive option to ship due to size / weight.
  • Contains items not needed by most cinemas
  • Can require maintenence and repair.
  • 5 year shelf life.

Lite Exhibition Kit

A "lite" DCP exhibition kit contains only a CRU drive in a smaller and lighter container.

A “Lite” Exhibition kit, contains only CRU drive in a laminated cardboard and foam container. The container is still durable for shipping, however the cost is much less. These kits are also much less expensive to ship due to the reduced size and weight. This type of kit is becoming the most common type of “CRU Kit” used across the world.

    PROS

  • The industry standard drive format.
  • Less expensive than a “full” kit.
  • Cheaper to ship than a “full” kit.
  • Very durable.
  • Widest compatibility with Digital Cinema Equipment.
  • Speed of ingest / testing at theatre is usually the fastest.
    CONS

  • Most expensive option.
  • Most expensive option to ship due to size / weight.
  • Does not contain backup cables and adapters (most cinemas have their own sets).
  • Can require maintenence and repair.
  • 5 year shelf life.

External USB Drive

A DCP on an external USB 3.0 Drive

Some festivals, theatres, and distributors will accept DCP delivery on common external USB hard drives. These drives can be either USB 2.0 or 3.0. External drives can be somewhat complicated as there is no standard format. Some venues can work with regular Windows or Macintosh hard drives, but many require DCI “EXT2” formatting which cannot be created by most Windows/Mac computers. There is a wide range of drives to choose from, each of which will have different features.

PROS

  • Least Expensive Option
  • Drive can be reformatted after delivery to be re-used with regular Windows / Macintosh computers
  • Less expensive to ship than Exhibition Kits.
  • Wide range of readily available models to choose from.

CONS

  • External USB drives are most susceptible to damage during shipping.
  • Many theatres / festivals / distributors will not accept External USB drives.
  • Limited connection options.
  • Require understanding of Hard Drive formats (HFS / NTFS / EXT).
  • Required formating may be different for different venues
  • Speed of ingest / testing at theatre is usually the slowest.
  • 5 year shelf life

“Ruggedized” or “Shock-Proof” Solid State USB

Shockproof or Ruggedized DCP USB

In many cases, we have started recommending “ruggedized” flash keys over external USB drives. These solid state drives have fewer drawbacks than their USB cousins, and slightly cheaper than “Lite” exhibition kits. Many shockproof and waterproof models can be as (or more) durable than a full CRU drive. We’ve had reports of clients driving over these keys, and still having them work just fine. Their tiny size can also mean big savings on shipping costs.

PROS

  • Longest shelf life (up to >10 Years)
  • Extremely durable for repeated shipping.
  • Drive can be reformatted after delivery to be re-used with regular Windows / Macintosh computers
  • Least expensive option to ship.
  • Less expensive than full DCP kit.
  • Speed of ingest / testing at theatre may be faster than regular USB.

CONS

  • More expensive than external USB drive.
  • Many theatres / festivals / distributors will not accept Flash USB drives.
  • Limited connection options.
  • Require understanding of Hard Drive formats (HFS / NTFS / EXT).
  • Required formating may be different for various venues
  • Drive damage is usually unrecoverable and results in total data loss

Regardless of which format is the best fit for your movie, there’s a couple of points to keep in mind:

Do I need to buy a Exhibition Kit outright?

Many filmmakers want to own a full DCP kit so they always have one on hand. As an alternative, many facilities (such as TheDCPMaster.com) will rent kits as-needed. This may be a more cost-effective choice for filmmakers who need more than one kit at a time. Renting may also be a better option for filmmakers who don’t want to be responsible for testing and repair over a DCPs 5 year lifespan.

DCPs are NOT Archival Copies

Most filmmakers are not aware that most DCPs have a short life expectancy. Unlike 35mm film which can store for decades, all DCP formats use some sort of magnetic storage. Regardless of type, and even when not in use, DCPs will degrade over time. While many will last longer (and some shorter), we suggest assuming most DCPs with physical hard drives to have a 5 year lifespan. SDD or Flash-based DCPs will have a longer life, we currently project 10 years. However, flash media is rarely used in DX115 or CRU style DCP drives. 10 years may be slightly conservative, but we don’t feel comfortable yet with studies on long-term viability of flash-based media.

Regardless – current DCPs are not suitable for long-term archival storage. Beyond their short life expectancies, they are also formats that can suffer irrecoverable failure. If you have assets you are looking to store long term, feel free to get in touch with us. There are many options for archival storage that we offer and we would be happy to discuss them with you.

 
Do you have questions about the confusing world of Digital Cinema? Don’t worry Ask The DCP Master is here to help. Check out our most common questions, or ask your own.

Are you an independent filmmaker, distributor, or festival looking for professional, inexpensive, DCP services? Visit TheDCPMaster.com to see what we can do for you!