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A cam (camrip or camming, deriving from camcorder) is a bootleg recording of a film. Generally unlike the more common DVD rip or screener recording methods which involve the duplication of officially distributed media, cam versions are original clandestine recordings made in movie theaters.
The most common type of cam is produced by a theater patron who smuggles a compact digital camcorder into the theater by hiding it in their clothing or in a container such as a handbag or backpack. The filmer then records the movie using the camcorder as unobtrusively as possible. They may try to pick a seat as far back in the theater as possible to avoid the attention of other patrons (and to ensure proper framing of the screen) and/or choose sparsely attended showtimes. The filmer may also rely on cinema employees who will overlook infringement activity because of an existing friend or family relationship, collusion, bribery, or apathy to the law.
In an attempt to impede this practice (as well as curb the smuggling in of non-theater food), some establishments now ban customers from carrying bags or other containers into theaters. As an additional form of deterrent, theaters may equip ushers with night vision goggles to discreetly catch a bootlegger in the act of recording.
Cams produced in this way use the camera's microphone to record audio, which tends to produce a recording that sounds "muddy". In addition, the microphone may pick up ambient noises in the theater, such as the audience's response to the film (e.g. laughter, screaming) or disruptive noises (crying baby, mobile phone ring, people coughing, etc.). In older or poorly maintained theaters, other sounds such as air conditioning or sound from adjacent theater screens may also be audible. In other cases a tripod is used in the handicapped sections of a cinema while plugging the jack in a hard-of-hearing device. These recordings with better sound are called telesync.
A camera situated in the audience area may record silhouettes of other audience members, especially those leaving the theater for the restroom or concession stand. In parts of the world where the video standard is PAL, such as most European countries and Australia, the standard frame rate is 50i or 25p, which may result in video problems due to frame rate conversion between the 24fps film projection and the PAL camera.
Sometimes cam versions are made by projectionists themselves, either for home use or to distribute (with or without profit). This provides several advantages: first, the projection booth window has a central, unobstructed view of the screen. Second, the projectionist can bypass the built-in microphone and link the camcorder directly to the monitor output of the audio rack, resulting in a clear, well-separated stereo recording. The projectionist can also alleviate the frame rate conversion problem described above by speeding the projector up from film's traditional 24 fps to 25 fps and then use a standard PAL video camera to record the film picture. However, these advantages come at the price of higher risk: a projectionist, if caught, will almost certainly be dismissed, and is more likely than the typical audience member to face prosecution.
Since 2001, many major motion pictures have been shipped to theaters with watermarks of unique patterns of tiny dots embedded throughout the film, known as Coded Anti-Piracy technology. If the cammer is unable to catch and blur all of these sequences, the studio can determine at which theater the cam was recorded.
The overall quality of cam bootlegs is highly dependent upon the choice of theater (and sometimes the individual screening), the quality of camera used, the skill of the operator in framing the screen and minimizing camera movement, and the method of encoding used before distribution. Cams are generally considered to be the lowest fidelity method for duplicating video and film content, somewhat behind Telesync and markedly worse than DVD rips or screeners. For newly released films, however, cams are often the first bootleg copies available. In the developing world, cam DVDs are often available from street vendors for prices equivalent to US$1–2 (PPP); worldwide, they are swapped or sold on Internet pirate sites.
Around the start of the millennium, many first time camera recordings originated from Malaysia, recognizable by the burn-in Malay subtitles. VCDs often appeared 2 to 3 days before the theatrical release. In some cases, they were even available online 3 months before release. Robert Krulwich sees two possibilities as the main reason for such early availability of these illicit recordings. Someone in Hollywood shows movies a couple of days before they show them in America, or some people get prints sent to them from people in the Californian movie business.