Movie theaters have all sorts of new tricks up their sleeves to make the movie-viewing experience feel shiny and new.
IMAX has been around for some time but has remained a nebulous entity when it comes to the layperson. They cannot tell you why IMAX is better, just that it is.
Here is a comprehensive breakdown of what IMAX offers and whether it is worth the price hike.
What Is an IMAX Movie Theater?
“IMAX” is a portmanteau (combination) of “image maximum” and refers to the ultra-large aspect ratio that IMAX theaters use for their films. IMAX theaters use screens that have a 1.43:1 aspect ratio. With the image being significantly taller than a standard theater, you can see more of the image in the source material that might have traditionally been cut off by the projector.
These theaters operate independently, aiming to bring the most immersive movie-watching experience they can to the viewer. The theater is outfitted with all sorts of technology that improves the immersive experience.
What Makes an IMAX Theater Different?
IMAX theaters have several unique features that allow them to deliver a comprehensive and immersive movie-going experience to all patrons of the theater. Every aspect of the theater is designed with the immersive experience in mind. For further discussion of IMAX versus a standard movie theater, see here.
IMAX theaters feature dual projection setups. The only other commercially available dual projection theaters are Dolby Cinema theaters which feature dual laser projectors like IMAX theaters. With two laser projectors, the colors that are projected are deeper and have higher contrast.
IMAX movies are remastered using a unique process called IMAX Digital Media Remastering to suit the theater. Some films are shot with special cameras that are ideal for IMAX showings and remastered to other formats. The experience will be markedly different if the source film was shot with IMAX theaters in mind.
Dual projection also adds heightened realism by providing a crisper picture through combining the two images projected. There will not be any fuzzy outlines or blurry spots in these theaters. The two projectors run simultaneously and in tandem to produce a crystal-clear image that will wow just about any high-resolution fans.
IMAX showings are commonly shown in 3D to provide the most immersive experience possible. Rather than just be a passive observer, IMAX participants will feel like they are really part of the action on screen. You will feel like you are standing right alongside 007 as he goes through every moment of his adventure on screen!
Since IMAX theaters have hyper-lifelike 3D, you will not just feel like the movie is jumping out at you. You will feel like you are really on set. It is one of the best 3D experiences money can buy—the best, if you ask any IMAX fan.
IMAX does not just provide more pixels. IMAX showings show you up to 40% more of the image captured by the film cameras. They do this with super-massive screens and their exclusive 1.43:1 aspect ratio. The image is just bigger, allowing movie-watchers to see more of the set and actors as they experience the film.
When shot with IMAX compatible 70mm film cameras, films go up to 16K resolution. This provides the crispest quality possible when projecting the film onto the screen. Standard movie theaters support resolutions up to 4K, which means that IMAX films have four times the resolution of a standard movie,
IMAX showings are adjusted in real-time to provide the most immersive experiences. If there is any keystone distortion or audio errors, they will be fixed in real-time behind the scenes so that your movie-watching experience is not interrupted in the slightest.
If you want to be sure that you are choosing the best seat in the theater, see our guide here.
IMAX vs Digital IMAX
One thing you will want to keep an eye on is whether a film is being shown in IMAX or Digital IMAX. If the film is being shown in true IMAX, the extra hefty price tag is well worth the experience. However Digital IMAX is different from IMAX.
Digital IMAX location does not show true IMAX imagery. In a Digital IMAX movie, the supermassive screen is still used, but the source material is a scaled down to a 2K version of the video. That means that the image you see in a Digital IMAX showing contains 10-20 times less data than the source material.
This is a big downgrade for most films as the default resolution that movies are shot in is usually at least 4K. Even before factoring in the theater format, Digital IMAX films contain about half the image data of a high-definition theater.
If your local IMAX theater is a digital IMAX theater, you are better off looking for a Dolby Cinema or Cinemark XD location when it comes to immersive movie-viewing. Digital IMAX is like setting yourself up for failure since it lacks most of the features that make IMAX so amazing.
Digital IMAX is sometimes referred to as LieMAX because it claims to feature full-scale IMAX footage but is often just digitally scaled footage on a 1.90:1 screen.
It is also important to confirm the projectors used at your local IMAX location. IMAX has three standard projection methods that they use, and each comes with their own sets of unique features and challenges.
Unfortunately, the much-hailed full-scale 70mm IMAX projectors have mostly been removed from theaters. These projectors worked best with full-scale IMAX films shot with IMAX 70mm cameras and the lack of support for them in the film-making community meant that they fell out of favor quickly.
They will only break out the expensive 70mm projectors when showing movies made specifically to be shown with those projectors. However, more modern IMAX projectors have comparable quality when used with high-resolution source films.
Is IMAX Worth the Price Hike?
IMAX is worth the price hike if a movie was shot with IMAX theaters in mind. The biggest issue with IMAX theaters is the gregarious use of 3D. Not all movies are ideal for 3D showings and forcing these showings on a movie that does not lend well to e3D can have devastating effects on the viewing experience.
If you are not a 3D person or know a movie will be better in 2D, consider going to a 2D Dolby Cinema showing instead of an IMAX showing. Dolby Cinema provides similar quality to IMAX, is cheaper, and offers both 2 and 3D showings, allowing you to choose the experience that best suits you.
While options like Cinemark XD might leave a little to be desired, Dolby Cinema provides a similar enough experience to IMAX that you do not have to rush to your nearest true IMAX showing to see every movie.
If a showing is being shown at a Digital IMAX theater, you are better off going to Dolby Cinema or Cinemark XD. Both Dolby Cinema and Cinemark XD provide better experiences in numbers by comparison to Digital IMAX showings. So, if your only option is a digital IMAX showing, the answer is a conclusive “no” the experience is not worth the extra money.
It can seem like the way we enjoy our entertainment has undergone amazing changes in such a short amount of time that we get lost. Luckily, a quick read will get you caught up with the latest technology and lingo faster than you can say one-two-three!
IMAX may be worth it for some movie showings, but it is important to know what you are signing up for when you purchase an IMAX ticket. There is a lot more smoke and mirrors involved in IMAX showings compared to some other formats.
Make sure that you are paying for a real IMAX showing before you put down the extra money!