Few economic sectors have been hit harder than movie theaters in the last few years, so one can hardly blame them for trying to branch out into more unique formats. With that said, the two in this article have been around well before the world came to an indefinite close.
What has made these two longer-lasting products stand the test of time in a business that half the world thinks is becoming obsolete or dying? To put it bluntly, they have made some of the most advanced visual experiences you can find in most local theatres today. Whether its the unbelievable comfort of Cinemark XD or the skyscraping screens of true IMAX.
But for those looking for the ultimate movie format – which of the two is superior to the other? Well at the risk of sounding overly redundant, that is exactly what we are going to look at below!
For the sake of comparing true IMAX to Cinemark XD, I will not be including any mentions of digital IMAX or “Liemax” as it is not so fondly called. For the sake of transparency, however, Cinemark XD is far superior to this sham of a premiere format.
Try not to think of this comparison as which product should you put your money into, but which product better fits your purpose of going to the theater.
The Cinemark XD movie format is one that comes with competitive screen sizes, solid visuals, an impressive sound system, exceptionally comfortable recliners, and prices that feel more affordable to regular customers. I would recommend Cinemark XD for those who want more comfortable seats and bigger screens for movies they would otherwise see in a standard theater.
If you think I’m gonna be the guy to say that true IMAX isn’t worth your time, you’ll be sincerely disappointed. I can’t remember what I ate this morning, but I remember the first time Morgan Freeman narrated over a bunch of six-story emperor penguins. Because IMAX at its best really is an unforgettable experience, but it is also an expensive one without recliners. If a movie is made for IMAX, you absolutely should go see it.
Should you go check out the newest romantic comedy on a 100-foot screen? Maybe not.
Anyone who has been to a true IMAX screening has a vivid memory of the first time they witnessed the massive scale of those colossal screens. I can still remember watching a conga line of penguins seeking shelter that looked like they could take out a city block with their unimaginably large, lumbering waddle. Cinemark XD has seen these wide-eyed expressions and said, “Hold my unbelievably overpriced Dr. Pepper and watch this.”
Cinemark XD did not come to the big kid’s table to be outdone and it shows in their massive 70-foot screens that come in dazzling 4k resolutions. It feels impossible to imagine a pixel quality so crystal clear that it doesn’t falter on clarity even at seventy feet, but Cinemark XD has managed to do it with flying colors. The 4k projectors used in Cinemark XD are exceptional and are only aided by the “wall-to-wall” screens that Cinemark has utilized for its enhanced movie format.
IMAX can be a little harder to pin down in terms of technical specs (that’s without bringing up digital IMAX) due to the varying range of screen sizes and projectors they utilize. If you are one of the lucky few living in Sydney, Australia you get access to the biggest IMAX screen in the world at an astonishing 117 feet. For most folks though, a real IMAX experience measures around 70 – 100 feet in size.
As for their projectors, well once again it depends not only on the theater but which film is being shown. Film buffs might already be aware of Christopher Nolan’s decades-long love affair with 70mm IMAX projectors. This is comparable to a 16k resolution, though most films you see in IMAX are not going to be in this incredible resolution. With that said, however, if you can manage to find a film in IMAX filmed in 70mm there will be no visual equivalent you will find out there for years to come.
IMAX films also have a signature aspect ratio (more picture height than a standard movie theater) that you only get in an IMAX theater. So again, movies that are filmed in IMAX should be viewed in IMAX. This way, you are watching the movie as the director intended, without missing any of the action.
Verdict – IMAX is still the king of visual quality and likely will remain for years to come.
What might be easily forgotten by some moviegoers is often one of the most immersive parts of any quality movie — the audio. Neither theater lets this fall by the wayside, but it can be hard to choose a superior sounding system.
Cinemark XD brags quite often about the beautiful audio and soundstage found in their 11.1 multi-channel system. This system comes with a bit of a caveat in the fact that it more closely resembles 5.1 surround sound with an additional level of speakers including the roof speaker.
While these speaker systems are usually manufactured by JBL they have outsourced to other well-known companies like Barco and Auro. Despite this, they still lack the industry-standard Dolby Atmos speakers that are quickly becoming the top brand for movie theater speakers.
IMAX is in a similar boat where no one would ever complain about the sound quality of their speakers – even if they pale in comparison to Dolby Atmos. IMAX employs a traditional 12-channel sound system that feels all-encompassing and well-produced though it’s hard to find points that edge it over the Cinemark XD’s small battalion of speakers littered through their theaters.
Verdict – Cinemark XD has a preferable sound system.
Exciting as it might be for someone to wanna jump into a new format to watch movies, they have to consider a few things. The biggest being ticket prices, how many people they are paying, and if it is worth the added benefits that both formats offer. Well, let’s take a closer look at the cost of both premiere movie formats.
Imax is an expensive option for a movie that is typically justified by marketing as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that every movie buff should see. In the early 2000s, this was certainly true and it was hard to find reasons not to go. However, with the new formats emerging that offer similar or better options for a reduced price, it can be hard to justify.
The average ticket price for an IMAX film is $19.69, which is an expensive price to pay to watch an individual movie. This is especially true in an age of streaming services, stiff competition, and a steep decline in theater sales from a global pandemic. If you do intend on attending an IMAX movie, check beforehand that the theater is true IMAX and not digital, or you will be paying twice for a movie that is basically shown on a standard screen.
This compared to Cinemark XD feels like highway robbery when you consider that the newer alternative averages a ticket price of 13.65 – 16.50 depending on whether or not the film is in 3D. The screens are comparable, the visuals are slightly worse, the sound is better and the chairs are more comfortable. So what does IMAX have outside of an iconic brand name and a small majority of theaters that are a bit bigger? Well, to the discerning customer, not as much as they use to.
For this reason, the customer on a budget would be happier purchasing Cinemark XD tickets. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t drop a dime on an IMAX movie now and then, but repeat customers would get more of their money’s worth for going the Cinemark route.
Verdict – Cinemark is anywhere from 3 – 6 dollars cheaper per adult ticket.
Some of us go to the movies once or twice a month to alleviate the stress of our week, catch a good flick and enjoy some time with our loved ones (even if they are Marvel superheroes). So when you can finally rest in a theater chair to enjoy a film, you don’t want to feel your spine pushing into your chest and your neck cranked upwards to catch the action. So for the majority of us who get waves of involuntary nostalgia for labor jobs whenever our knee pops, which auditorium is the most comfortable?
This can be a hard question to answer due to the fluctuating quality of theaters depending on geography, the staff, and how much money was put into the building. For this reason, we will be going over the majority of theaters – not the unique standouts.
To give an idea of what IMAX has in mind when it comes to their seats, allow me to share a quote from CEO Richard Gelfond, “The problem is, using recliners — for example — you lose 50 percent of your potential seats, and on weekends and busy periods, IMAX is a much higher percentage of capacity than other formats.”
I am not gonna be the guy to blame a CEO for trying to optimize his product to get the most money, but it does come at a cost for the customer. The seats at IMAX are made for efficiency and getting the most butts in seats as possible. Because of this the company probably sees a higher portion of sales pouring in than Cinemark, but they also get harsher reviews from customer-minded guys like myself (sorry Richard).
Cinemark XD on the other hand, offers quite a bit in the way of customer comfort. While it’s likely that not every theater has followed the business model, and some have certainly cut corners, most Cinemark XD auditoriums come with some pretty cozy custom recliners. It really is an incredible experience watching a film in a seat that feels like it could be in your living room. For those who are interested, the recliner offers a head and footrest that both recline separately from the other.
Verdict – Cinemark XD has superior seats. IMAX has put a focus on revenue, while Cinemark has put a focus on relaxation.
Both products are worth experiencing, more than once. The biggest fly in the lotion is the lack of true IMAX theaters that can be found (I would have to drive a state over to get to one).
Because of this, Cinemark XD is likely to be far more prevalent and closer to the average reader. With that said, I would recommend Cinemark XD for repeat visits and IMAX for specific movie experiences.
If you are choosing between “Digital IMAX” and XD, choose the XD without thinking twice.
But if you have a true IMAX in your area, it can’t be beat for movies that were filmed for IMAX. This means that new releases like Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and Jordan Peele’s “Nope” are worth every penny that you pay for an IMAX ticket.