IMAX Enhanced vs. 4K, Blu-ray, & Widescreen Streaming

When Disney Plus announced in late 2021 that the service was releasing more than a dozen Marvel movies in IMAX Enhanced, it was a marriage of three great cinema buzzwords – Disney+, Marvel, and IMAX.

These three names are similar in that they all seem to print money, and each has millions of loyal, hardcore fans.

For fans of Disney Plus and/or MCU, adding the ability to stream in IMAX Enhanced seems like a cause for celebration. But the obvious question that springs to mind is this, “What is IMAX Enhanced?

Here, we will take a look at IMAX Enhanced and determine how it compares to other options like 4K Blu-ray and standard streaming in widescreen format.

Quick Overview: IMAX Enhanced vs. 4K Blu-ray

IMAX Enhanced will play certain scenes in an aspect ratio that is taller than a regular widescreen format, so you won’t see as large of black bars at the top and bottom of your TV. This means that, effectively, your TV will be “larger” during these scenes.

However, compared to a 4K Blu-ray disc, you will also have a lower bitrate and a loss of audio quality when streaming in IMAX Enhanced.

If you want to see as much of the screen as possible, including certain views of the periphery that are only available in the IMAX aspect ratio, then choose IMAX Enhanced. But if you want the best possible video and audio quality, your best bet is still a 4K Blu-ray disc.

More Detail on IMAX Enhanced

IMAX Enhanced actually isn’t a brand new format. Lesser-known streaming services like Bravia Core and Rakuten TV were partnered with IMAX Enhanced before it ever came to Disney+.

But it was a November 2021 announcement that Disney Plus would release over a dozen Marvel movies in IMAX Enhanced that really thrust the format into widespread user awareness.

Being able to watch IMAX at home, with the purchase of a Sony Bravia TV, sounded like a gimmick that most of us didn’t want to spend a couple thousand dollars to test. 

But watching Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Black Panther at no additional cost, on a service that most of us already subscribe to – sign me up!

Since the service has the “IMAX” name attached, viewers naturally expect video quality to be an upgrade from other streaming options. And in some ways this is true.

IMAX Enhanced Pros

The primary advantage of IMAX Enhanced is that it brings an IMAX aspect ratio (1.90:1) to your home television. Compared to a typical movie that you would stream at home, this IMAX aspect ratio is taller.

Because of the 1.90:1 aspect ratio, more of your TV’s screen will be filled – so the “black bars” at the top and bottom of the TV will be much smaller. In essence, this makes your screen larger, since there is less wasted space.

The marketing materials have calculated that the screen size increases by 26%. But there will still be small black bars at the top and bottom of your screen.

Disney+ has also announced that DTS audio will be coming to this service soon – but at last check we are still waiting on this feature.

There is one final advantage that should be mentioned. For IMAX Enhanced, there is no need for any additional accessories, gear, or TV. And the service is included with a Disney Plus subscription. So when deciding whether or not IMAX Enhanced is “worth it,” remember that you won’t have to spend anything extra to test it out.

IMAX Enhanced Cons

First, we should mention that the picture quality isn’t actually improved with IMAX Enhanced. In fact, because of the slower bitrate when streaming (vs. playing a Blu-ray), a movie is still going to be more esthetically pleasing when playing from Blu-ray than streaming in IMAX Enhanced.

Next, the audio is not presented in a lossless format when streaming. This means that audio quality is significantly lower when streaming on IMAX Enhanced than it would be when playing from a Blu-ray.

So, if you want the best possible sound and picture quality, a Blu-ray still tops streaming in IMAX Enhanced. The only advantage of IMAX Enhanced is the taller aspect ratio, which makes the black bars on your screen smaller.

Finally, although the aspect ratio of IMAX Enhanced results in a larger screen, most MCU movies aren’t made entirely with the IMAX aspect ratio. This means that some scenes will fill the entire screen, but many/most will still be in the standard widescreen format with black bars at the top and bottom.

IMAX Enhanced vs. 4K Blu-ray

As mentioned previously, you still get better sound and video quality playing a movie from a 4K Blu-ray than streaming with IMAX Enhanced. 

To most viewers, the difference in sound quality is the most noticeable feature. 

Because streaming is designed more so for laptops and on-the-go use, audio quality is actually quite poor on most streaming services. The typical user doesn’t notice it, since he or she is only using TV/computer speakers, or perhaps a soundbar. But for an audiophile with a $5,000+ home theater setup, audio on streaming will be noticeably disappointing.

Video quality is better on a 4K Blu-ray because the bitrate is higher than it is on streaming services.

Overall, 4K Blu-ray provides a better audio-visual experience than IMAX Enhanced. However, the taller aspect ratio on IMAX Enhanced results in less wasted space on your TV screen. So if screen size is your #1 concern, IMAX Enhanced will shrink the black bars and make your TV appear larger.

IMAX Enhanced vs. other streaming

Compared to other programs on Disney+ that are not in the IMAX Enhanced format, you really don’t lose anything by choosing IMAX Enhanced.

As mentioned previously, this format doesn’t cost you anything additional, and there are no accessories or peripherals required to access IMAX Enhanced. And since it won’t increase your subscription cost, there is no reason not to watch the available MCU movies in IMAX Enhanced.

Will Disney Plus add more IMAX Enhanced Movies?

Disney has suggested that additional titles will be added, but the catalog hasn’t grown yet. It has been well-documented that IMAX movies present an additional expense, both in filming and distribution, that is hard for some films to overcome.

At this point, it feels like Christopher Nolan and the MCU are the only things keeping the IMAX brand alive. Hopefully we continue to see the format applied to future projects, despite its flaws and deficiencies.

My assumption is that we will see more IMAX Enhanced movies added to Disney Plus, but this is just an educated guess. And the most likely titles will be Marvel.

Final Thoughts

Being able to watch IMAX on a home TV is a pretty cool feature.

Although the video and sound quality still lag behind that of a 4K Blu-ray, you really can’t complain about IMAX Enhanced films being added to Disney Plus for no additional fee.

Compared to streaming in a standard widescreen format, there is no reason not to choose IMAX Enhanced. Although it won’t do much to improve the video or audio overall, the taller aspect ratio will reduce the size of the black bars and make your screen appear significantly larger.