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.
Accessibility and Comfort in IMAX Theaters
Accessibility and comfort should also be a primary consideration when choosing an IMAX seat. For viewers with mobility impairments or who use a wheelchair, IMAX theaters typically provide designated seating areas that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These seats offer sufficient space and are strategically located to offer a pleasant viewing experience.
Comfort is another essential factor. The average movie lasts about two hours – long enough that the comfort of your seat can significantly impact your viewing experience. IMAX theaters often feature plush, high-back rocker seats with liftable armrests. Some even have luxury recliners for maximum comfort. These factors are important to consider, especially for long movies or double features.
What Makes IMAX Sound Unique?
IMAX’s unique sound system is a significant contributor to the immersive movie-going experience. The 12-channel sound system, including five overhead speakers, allows for a more realistic, precise audio placement. But what makes it special?
In addition to the speaker configuration, IMAX’s sound system uses a proprietary method to isolate each channel. This isolation allows for pinpoint accuracy when placing sounds, making the audio experience more immersive. Furthermore, IMAX sound designers remix the movie soundtracks specifically for the IMAX format, ensuring every sound is optimized for this specific system.
Remember, while the best acoustic experience is usually found in the middle of the theater, your personal comfort and the specific film being viewed can also influence the best seating choice for sound quality.
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!
How far in advance should I book my IMAX seats?
For new releases or popular times, it’s advisable to book your tickets a few days in advance to secure your preferred seating location. However, this varies based on the specific theater and the popularity of the movie.
Is it worth paying extra for IMAX?
IMAX offers a unique, immersive viewing experience with a larger screen and superior sound system. Whether it’s worth the extra cost depends on your personal preferences. If you value high-quality visuals and sound and are viewing a film with spectacular visuals or sound design, the additional cost may be worth it.
Can I bring my own 3D glasses to an IMAX theater?
While you can bring your own 3D glasses, they may not provide the optimal viewing experience. IMAX theaters usually provide special IMAX 3D glasses designed specifically for their screens and projectors. Using these provided glasses ensures you get the best 3D viewing experience possible.