IMAX seats can be notoriously expensive. So, it makes sense that when you book the seat, you’ll want to get the most out of the experience.
Choosing the best seat in an IMAX theater can seem like a daunting task, but it’s a relatively easy and formulaic experience once you understand what makes a seat in an IMAX theater “good.”
Like in stage theater, the best seats are generally in the center of the theater, neither in the front nor in the back. However, there are more factors with IMAX seats than just your positioning.
The start of understanding what makes an IMAX seat “good” is understanding what makes an IMAX theater different in the first place. You can’t understand why something is better if you don’t know its effects.
What’s Special About an IMAX Theater?
“IMAX” stands for “Image MAXimum.” As the name implies, the screen in an IMAX theater is much bigger than the average cinema theater. An IMAX screen can be as much as 40% larger than the average cinema screen.
When projecting a movie onto such a large screen, viewers can see more of the image in a clearer definition. Things like the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are a thing of the past with IMAX theaters!
However, these giant screens come with increased keystone distortion in certain places, as well as a host of other considerations that need to be made when choosing seats. If you consider all the factors, you should be able to find the best seats in no time!
Keystone distortion or “the keystone effect” occurs when projecting an image onto an angled surface. The keystone effect will cause the image not to appear “flat” unless keystone correction is applied.
Even after an image is keystone corrected, some keystone distortion can be seen in the picture, especially from certain angles. So it’s essential to choose a seat where the keystone effect will be minimal while viewing the movie.
Because IMAX theaters feature 3D projection, you’ll need to account for your taste in 3D projection, as the experience you get from a 3D movie is determined by your position in the theater.
IMAX uses a proprietary sound system to deliver high-quality immersive soundscapes to the audience. Unlike Dolby Atmos, IMAX’s sound system uses twelve channels (7 around the theater and five above the theater) to deliver sound that appears to come from all around you rather than just behind the screen.
However, with 12 speakers around the theater comes complications with seating. Sitting too close to any of the speakers could drown out the other speakers or make certain sounds sound closer than others.
Does Sitting in the Front or Back Matter?
There are differences that viewers will experience when they’re in the front or back of the IMAX theater. Whether you sit closer or further from the screen is essentially a personal choice as rather than a “better” or “worse” option, you just have “different options.”
When sitting in the back of an IMAX theater, 3D images will have more depth but appear further away from you. 3D photos will appear closer but lose depth when sitting in the front.
Additionally, with the size of IMAX screens, sitting close to the screen can cause the image to fill up more of your view, increasing immersion. But there’s a downside to that: humans don’t have infinite peripheral vision. So, if you’re too close to the screen, you won’t actually be able to see the whole image!
Many viewers report discomfort when sitting in the first few rows. This generally has to do with moving the neck (or eyes) side-to-side to see the whole screen, or tilting the head and neck upward due to the screen’s higher position relative to the seat. If you have an option, it is best to avoid the front couple of rows.
Your choice will usually be determined by your personal preference rather than a precise formula. Whichever you find more pleasurable is going to be the better option!
Does Lateral Positioning Matter?
Lateral position matters greatly as your lateral positioning will determine the sound quality you experience while in the IMAX theater. Since IMAX theaters use a proprietary surround sound system, sounds are meant to be delivered from all around the audience to increase the immersion into the film.
Because of this surround sound system, you’ll want to sit just along the centerline of the theater from left to right. This will give you the most comprehensive and immersive sound experience with surround sound.
Lateral positioning also influences how much keystone distortion is visible to the audience. Viewing the screen from a sideways angle, even a slight one, can cause the keystone effect to become visible, even after keystone correction.
If keystone distortion is a big problem for you, you’ll want to sit dead center in the theater. Front or back doesn’t matter for keystone distortion as long as you’re in the center of the theater.
However, if the showing is packed and there are no seats in the center of the theater left, you’ll want to sit in one of the back corners. From these angles, the keystone distortion will be negligible.
Furthermore, if you’re sitting directly underneath one of the speakers, the speaker nearest to you may overpower the other speakers in the theater. So keep that in mind when choosing your position!
Should I Sit in the Front Row?
Sitting in the front row of an IMAX theater is probably a mistake. Putting yourself in the very front row will make it exceptionally difficult to follow any action on the screen since you’re so close to it, especially any action or activity that occurs on the sides of the screen.
Being able to see the sides of the screen is important because of the Rule of Thirds, a common filmmaking rule that allows filmmakers to create dynamic shots by placing items in the screenplay off-center.
Further, when you’re that close to the screen, you’ll be able to see every last speck on the projector screen. While this should amount to just about nothing for most theaters, there have been some worrying reports of people being able to see everything from dust to colonies of bugs on the IMAX screens when sitting too close.
How to Find the Center of the Theater
Finding the center point of a theater is pretty easy, and it’s even easier with online booking that allows you to select a seat in advance since you’ll be able to see the theater’s layout in advance. Further, you’ll only have to find the centerline once; once you’ve found the centerline, you’ll already know what seats are around it for next time!
The easiest way to find the center of the theater is to draw two diagonal lines through the theater. When you do that, the intersection of the two lines is the center of the theater according to its structure.
Choosing seats around the centerline of the theater will provide you with the least distorted experience, both visually and aurally.
Final Thoughts About the Best IMAX Seats
Ultimately, a personal preference is where you think the best IMAX seats are. At the end of the day, just because a particular spot is “better” doesn’t mean you can’t like another area more!
In terms of the mechanics of movie projection and sound, the best overall spot is in the center of the theater, a few rows from the back. Sitting in this space gives you the clearest sound and picture, with the least overall distortion. We recommend that everyone try sitting here at least once!