What is an XD Movie? Is Cinemark XD Worth the Money?

From IMAX to 4DX, to Dolby Cinema and Cinemark XD, a trip to the movie theater offers a lot of confusing terminology without much explanation.

Since most of these premium options also come with a premium price tag, it is important to evaluate whether the features are worth the extra expense.

Here, we will take a deep dive into Cinemark’s premium movie theater — Cinemark XD. We will look at the video and audio qualities, and compare Cinemark’s marketing versus reality to help you decide whether it is worth the upcharge.

Overview

Cinemark started unveiling the XD theater in 2009, so it isn’t a new technology. However, there have been upgrades released over the last decade-plus.

What is an XD Movie? Is Cinemark XD...
What is an XD Movie? Is Cinemark XD Worth the Money?
Cinemark XD is often compared to IMAX, which makes sense because the two theaters are similar in a number of ways. In fact, IMAX actually filed a lawsuit against Cinemark years ago, claiming that Cinemark XD had stolen trade secrets from IMAX and that XD is essentially a copy of IMAX.

The lawsuit was dropped after a settlement was reached, and IMAX and Cinemark XD are now two of the most popular premium theaters in the U.S.

XD theaters have oversized screens that Cinemark advertises as “wall-to-wall” and “floor-to-ceiling.”

Early XD theaters featured 7.1 surround sound, but most XD theaters have been upgraded to an 11.1-enabled surround sound as of 2022.

In the simplest terms, here is what separates Cinemark XD theaters from a standard movie theater: more comfortable reclining seats, a larger screen, and louder speakers.

The only downside is that the tickets generally cost ~$2.50 more than the same ticket in a standard Cinemark theater.

A Note on “Premium Movie Theaters” in General

Before we discuss XD theaters, IMAX, RPX, 4DX, D-BOX, or Dolby Cinema, there is one thing you should know — advertising tactics of “premium movie theaters” are essentially the wild west.

Premium movie experiences aren’t like nutrition labels, which have a regulatory body overseeing and fact-checking their claims. Instead, every theater chain can make any claim they wish without any fear of it being debunked or disproven.

Generally, the theaters are factually correct in their claims. So, when XD claims to be 11.1 surround sound compatible, it is true that their sound system has 11 channels.

However, the theaters also tend to be misleading in terms of whether or not their fancy technologies provide any benefit to the viewers. For example, XD’s 11.1 surround sound compatible speakers aren’t really providing the intended experience of 11 channels unless you are watching one of the very, very few movies that was mixed in Auro 11.1 (*more on this below). And regardless, the audio experience still lags behind that of 7.1 Dolby Atmos.

IMAX has taken some heat from purists for their “lie-MAX” theaters, which are basically a lower-quality and/or smaller screen digital version of film rather than the 70mm film on massive screens that made the IMAX theater the gold standard more than a decade ago. Basically, IMAX established itself as the best, and then downgraded quality in most of their theaters without telling anybody.

Beyond all of this, movie theaters are now using 2K projectors, 4K projectors, 70 mm projectors, or dual projectors without explicitly telling viewers which technology they are watching.

All of this is to say that, unless you really take a deep dive into the particulars of your nearby movie theater, you won’t know exactly what you are watching. Some viewers even resort to calling the theater and asking for audio and visual details.

A better choice is to open your eyes and ears and decide whether or not the audio and visual meets your standards. If not, just try another theater next time!

Cinemark Claims vs. Reality

Here, we will look at Cinemark’s claims and offer counter-points to each. This way, you can decide whether it is worth spending a couple dollars more.

“Magnificent, 70-foot wall-to-wall surface”

Without a doubt, Cinemark XD provides oversized screens compared to the average theater. 4K projectors power the visuals, which Cinemark advertises as having 35 trillion colors. I’m not sure about you, but my eyes struggle to differentiate between a projector with 35 trillion colors and one with only 20 trillion colors.

With digital 4K projectors, it is definitely possible to have a 70+ foot screen without losing clarity. And I agree with Cinemark’s claim here. Video quality is excellent, even if it isn’t the absolute best video quality in the industry.

“11.1 multi-channel surround system”

This is technically true, but with a caveat. XD theaters feature Auro 11.1 sound systems, which are basically 5.1 surround sound with another level of 5 surround speakers and an overhead speaker. So, although there will be more channels to the surround sound, this isn’t an object-based audio like you would get with Dolby Atmos. In other words, Auro 11.1 can’t “place” a particular sound as accurately as Dolby Atmos can.

The other key here is that very few movies are even mixed in Auro 11.1. Instead, Dolby formats have become something of an industry standard. The number of films that are made with Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, or Dolby Digital Plus is way higher than the number that are made in Auro 11.1.

Cinemark XD cranks the volume higher and adds more bass, so you still get an excellent, immersive audio experience. But my conclusion here is that the 11.1 channel surround system is more marketing hype than anything.

“Plush recliner seats”

Any time we discuss movie theater seats, we should give the disclaimer that your experience may vary.

To my knowledge, part of the Cinemark XD experience is premium seating. Any time I have sat in an XD theater, there has been upgraded seating with recliners. In my experience, these are very comfortable chairs that recline independently for the headrest and the footrest.

So, while we can’t speak to every theater in the country, I will conclude that this appears to be accurate.

THX Certified

Although many of us focus on the screen size and quality, it is sound quality that actually differentiates most modern movie theaters. Cinemark representatives have even acknowledged that “even though the images are pristine, it is the sound that people are raving about the most.”

THX Certification is a badge that “sets the standard for the audio and visual fidelity of entertainment experiences.” So the fact that Cinemark XD theaters are THX Certified actually is a big deal. Now, how big of a deal it is really just depends who you ask.

You can search for THX Certified theaters in your area here, and in most areas you will find that THX Certified theaters are quite rare. If you live in Los Angeles or New York, you will be able to find other theaters with the THX badge. But for most of us in mid-size cities, the suburbs, or middle America, Cinemark XD theaters are usually the only nearby THX Certified theater.

So, we also rate this claim as factually true.

What Do Viewers Say About XD Movies?

Here, we attempt to answer the question, “Are XD Movie Theaters Worth It?”

The general consensus is that XD movie theaters are worth the extra $2.50 ticket price for action movies and those featuring meaningful special effects.

In a Cinemark XD theater, you are guaranteed to be watching on the largest screen in the theater. Additionally, the theaters themselves are larger.

Further, there are no “bad seats.” Instead, you can be confident that every seat is located with an acceptable viewing angle. The seats themselves are extremely comfortable, and most/all XD theaters also have reclining seats.

Cinemark XD also presents one of your only options for a THX-Certified movie theater.

So, the visuals are good, the seats are comfortable, and the audio is good.

The visuals aren’t any better than a true IMAX theater, but XD is still preferable to the “fake IMAX” or “IMAX experience” that many theaters now feature.

And the audio isn’t any better than a Dolby Cinema, especially since most new movies are mixed in the Dolby format rather than XD’s Auro 11.1 sound.

So, Is an XD Movie Worth It?

For $2.50 more than a standard Cinemark ticket, I think it is worth it. For action movies, it is absolutely worth the extra expense. Is it an upsell? Yes, but one that is worthwhile and not terribly expensive.

To recap:

  • Comfortable, reclining seats
  • Large, spacious theater
  • Ideal viewing angles
  • High quality audio
  • $2.50 more than a standard ticket

Final Thoughts

In most instances, Cinemark XD theaters provide you with a superior viewing (and listening) experience compared to a standard theater. For ~$2.50 extra, the difference is worthwhile if you are watching an action movie or anything that relies heavily on special effects. For a comedy or chick flick, it may not be worth it.