How can IMAX Enhanced make home cinema better?
Source: Essential Install magazine April 2019
Ion Smith of CEDIA member, Cyberhomes, looks at the future of IMAX Enhanced in the home
IMAX is renowned for being, arguably, the best cinema experience at the local multiplex with its giant screens, improved audio and alternative aspect ratios. IMAX Enhanced aims to bring that premium experience to the home cinema and media room environment.
We think it has great potential in the CI space, providing a fantastic opportunity for our businesses to engage with existing and new customers. Launched late last year, IMAX Enhanced is both a new licensing and certification program for home entertainment equipment.
Certification, content and optimisation
The IMAX brand is the ‘go to’ for those looking for premium entertainment experiences. To qualify and carry the IMAX Enhanced logo, the highest-end TVs, sound bars, AV receivers must meet carefully-prescribed performance requirements established by IMAX, DTS and Hollywood’s leading colour experts to create a consistent and higher bar for image and sound specs on premium devices.
By marking home cinema equipment with the IMAX Enhanced logo, IMAX is adding its stamp of approval to what it considers to be the best performing AV products.
The IMAX Enhanced logo, already starting to appear on some 4K Blu-Ray disks, means that the content has an expanded aspect ratio and immersive sound (other immersive sound formats like DTS:X and, more commonly, Dolby Atmos are already featured on many Ultra HD Blu- Rays; and DTS:X is the core codec behind the immersive sound format used in IMAX Enhanced).
IMAX digitally re-mastered content for the home environment will, it is claimed, provide the sharpest 4K HDR images and powerful, immersive sound as the filmmaker intended.
IMAX is designing an ‘IMAX Mode’ for the enhanced devices that will be meticulously calibrated to play digitally re-mastered content to deliver the best viewing and listening experience on that device. This advanced process accurately reduces noise and grain under the filmmaker’s guidance to best optimise the content for a much higher quality, higher brightness 4K HDR display format.
Without this technology, high-dynamic range content can sometimes look worse than what was originally seen and intended by the filmmaker due to excessive noise and grain in the film.
How similar is IMAX Enhanced to the multiplex cinema experience? The majority of films in IMAX cinemas use the 1.90:1 aspect ratio, which also works well in the home because with 1.90:1, there is only a very small amount of letterboxing on a 16:9 (1.78) display. At most, it will fill the 1.78:1 TV screen, eliminating letterboxing entirely. This is likely to drive a shift from 2.35:1 to 16:9 ratio projection screens in home cinemas—something that Cyberhomes has been advocating for some time, especially when motorised masking is not installed.
For optimal playback of IMAX Enhanced content, the recommended speaker layout for an IMAX Enhanced system is 7.2.4 with seven main speakers (left, centre, right, left surround, right surround, left rear and right rear), two subwoofers and four height speakers. 5.1.4 is the minimum layout for IMAX Enhanced AV receivers and processors.
The AV industry has seen many standards and formats come and go over the years. Some have succeeded, others like HD-DVD, and, to some extent, 3D, have paled into obscurity.
Timing wise, there are more 4K HDR displays than ever, making it a good time to release a standard that capitalises on IMAX’s system of high-resolution cameras and film formats that use bigger, brighter, higher resolution projectors boasting higher contrast. IMAX Enhanced TVs and projectors must be 4K HDR, and to get IMAX Enhanced audio, the AV processor must carry the IMAX Enhanced logo.
It is aimed at home cinema enthusiasts that are looking for the premium entertainment experience in the home and are prepared to commit the budget necessary to achieve it. That gives installation businesses an upgrade option, where existing home cinema clients need to consider replacing their equipment with IMAX Enhanced-certified alternatives. Not all of this needs to be done at once to see an improvement.
For example, if a customer already has a DTS:X capable AV processor and immersive speaker array in their media room, they may choose initially to just replace the display to get the IMAX Enhanced image experience.
As with most technologies and formats, content is king. If IMAX Enhanced isn’t supported by filmmakers and the studios then it is unlikely to achieve the necessary momentum to be supported by all the equipment manufacturers or justify the extra investment for a small number of optimised movies (brands like Sony, AudioControl, Denon, Integra, Marantz, Trinnov and others have already announced their support). The next 12 to 18 months will surely see it either sink or swim; but we certainly support endeavours to improve the potential of the home cinema experience for our customers.