The world is changing at light speed and innovation is happening faster than most people can keep up with it, even in the entertainment industry.
A lot of people wonder if there’s a connection between all of these new movie-going “experiences” and what makes them worth the obvious price hike.
ScreenX is a relatively new addition to the movie-going experience that aims to allow people to feel as though they’re on set with the actors. It’s similar to IMAX in that it aims to capture more of the image than a traditional movie, but they’re not comparable in any other way.
Here’s the scoop.
The Biggest Difference
The biggest difference between ScreenX and IMAX is the format.
IMAX is an innovation and improvement on the traditional movie-watching experience while ScreenX is a complete re-imagining of the experience. The experience ScreenX intends to bring is the most immersive visual experience possible, featuring three panoramic screens that allow you to see the main picture and additional footage on the sides to add more detail to the complete picture.
ScreenX features three screens that each play different films. The middle screen in a ScreenX theater is most similar to the traditional movie-watching experience and features the movie itself. The two side screens, tilted to a 270 degree angle simulate the experience of peripheral vision and allow you to see “off screen” effects like explosions that you would not normally see in a traditional movie.
In this way, it’s something of a lateral version of the IMAX idea which intends to capture more vertical image than is traditionally possible. Still, the experiences are so different in practice that there’s no reason to limit ourselves by attempting to compare them on more than objective metrics.
How Do ScreenX and IMAX Work? The Objective Metrics
When comparing experiences, usually we look at objective metrics first and subjective metrics second.
However, ScreenX and IMAX are so different there’s no real point in comparing their subjective metrics. On the subjective axis, ScreenX and IMAX essentially boil down to “choose whichever you liked best” rather than any comparable subjective metrics.
On the axis of objective metrics, ScreenX and IMAX differ wildly as their ultimate visions and goals are very different. They use different projection methods, screens, and require different levels of pre- and post-productive integration to achieve the maximum benefit from the showing.
One of the primary differences between ScreenX and IMAX is availability. ScreenX theaters need to be built specially to include the technology required to run the show in the first place. As a result, in the ten years that ScreenX has been in operation, they’ve only managed to introduce their service to around 34 countries.
There’s also the factor of the information for the side screens. IMAX theaters are able to show movies that aren’t specifically shot using IMAX compatible cameras. ScreenX showings require extra work to be done at the pre-production level to provide the imagery for the second and third screens.
This requires that the production team essentially shoot and create three separate movies that can all cohesively be seen as one movie. This extra factor combined with the limited availability of ScreenX theaters has been a decisive roadblock for the format.
While IMAX theaters would still be able to show movies made with ScreenX counterpart footage (without the extra footage), the extra work and money invested for such a limited audience means that the extra time and money invested in the extra footage was essentially for nothing.
This vicious cycle has, no doubt, hampered ScreenX’s ability to grow and introduce its platform to new locations. However, it remains a popular alternative to IMAX among a dedicated crowd of fans.
True IMAX theaters use a special aspect ratio of 1.9:1. This means that the image is almost twice as long as it is tall compared to the usual widescreen’s 16:9 (1.8:1). This ultra-wide aspect ratio allows viewers to see more image than the standard widescreen and while 0.1 more image may not seem like a lot on the surface, remember that these screens are 45–50 feet wide on average, and IMAX screens are general 72 feet long, that extra 0.1 is quite meaningful at such a large scale.
ScreenX uses three separate screens using the standard widescreen ratio. However because the three screens provide separate imagery that add detail and information for the movie, there’s an extra layer of immersion, allowing you to feel like you’re part of the action yourself.
It’s safe to say that projecting three simultaneous images is a lot more convoluted than projecting one. But it’s hard to really compare the projection of the two formats since they’re so different.
When talking about projection in films we often compare the projector models, projection methods, and so on and so forth. But there’s really no projection method out there that is anything similar to the ScreenX projection.
Standard projection uses one projector. While dual-projection has become a popular luxury, it’s by no means the standard yet. ScreenX would need a minimum of three projectors to cast images to all three screens, but they actually use five.
The main image uses one projector and the two side screens use four. So it begs the question would ScreenX be the “winner” because they use the most overall projectors or would it be IMAX because they use the most projectors on the main film image? It’s a more nuanced concept that you might first think!
The Bottom Line
ScreenX isn’t as popular in the West as it is in the East. 84 of ScreenX’s 151 theaters are in South Korea and another 46 of them are in China. As a result, there are a wider breadth of Asian films being made for the ScreenX format. Those films are more likely to appeal to an Asian audience and result in more Asian ScreenX location openings.
If you’re in the West, ScreenX is more of a novelty than a legitimate movie-going option. There aren’t that many ScreenX locations in the USA. In many cases, there is only one location per state. Many states don’t have a location at all. IMAX is just going to be the most accessible option for most people in the USA.
Is ScreenX Worth the Extra Money?
ScreenX is an experience that is largely a novelty in the West. If you want to experience it, you might be wondering if it’s really worth the money. Unfortunately, viewer reviews tend to be mixed. A lot of viewers think that ScreenX is good as an occasional treat, but find the experience repetitive or even distracting from the main event.
ScreenX will ultimately be a case-by-case situation. Some people may find it more immersive and fun while others may find it annoying and distracting. You’ll have to try this for yourself before your make any judgement calls on whether it’s better or worse than IMAX.
There’s also the factor of movies needing to be made specifically for the ScreenX format. Movies that are made with this format with great care will largely be improved by the experience. Those done as an afterthought may suffer. Research the movie you’re going to see before booking tickets to ensure that you’ll have the best possible experience.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to compare IMAX and ScreenX effectively since they offer such wildly different experiences.
ScreenX is definitely something we would recommend that most people try at least once, for the novelty factor alone! But, don’t feel bad if you come away from the experience without a burning desire to return as your regular movie-going experience. Movies should be an experience we enjoy, no matter what your preferred theater is.