Wednesday, October 24, 2012

IMAX vs lieMAX

Today a friend of mine tweeted into my timeline about IMAX plans for five new theatres across Europe. IMAX claims that this will bring the total amount of IMAX screens in Europe to 132. Milton Keynes will be one of the lucky bearers to receive one of these screens at Odeon & UCI's multiplex. Lucky them, or so you might be led to believe.

Before I start ripping into IMAX, I want to address what seems to be a general confusion within the paying public on what constitutes an actual IMAX screen. There are many who believes whenever they watch a film in an IMAX branded cinema that they are actually watching an IMAX film. Let me clarify.

There's IMAX, and there's IMAX.

More specifically, there's IMAX the experience, and there's IMAX the brand. Many theaters these days contains IMAX branded screens. These may be IMAX branded, but they are certainly not IMAX in the classical sense. These screens, commonly referred to by IMAX enthusiasts as lieMAX, are essentially retrofitted theaters powered by a pair of 2K projectors system. And they costs the same as watching on a real IMAX screen.
IMAX films are shot using a format known as 15/70, meaning they use a 70mm sideways. Each frame is 70mm high and runs on 15 perforations per frame. That's massive, around ten times the surface area of academy 35mm format. Being an analog format, the amount of resolution a 15/70 IMAX film holds is difficult to calculate, but some has estimated a horizontal resolution close to 12,000 pixels. By comparison, a 2K digital format has a maximum horizontal resolution of a parltry 2048 pixels.

Even ignoring the advantages (which you should not) the 15/70 film format holds, IMAX theatres has an advantage of being totally massive in physical size allowing you to fill your entire vision. Most of the current lieMAX theatres are simply retrofitted cinemas, so you get none of the resolution advantage of a 15/70 IMAX format holds and none of that genuine terrifying dimensions and thus immersive experience IMAX is known for. To get that IMAX experience, the film has to be shot on an IMAX 15/70 camera and then shown on a IMAX 15/70 theater.
There are a total of five IMAX theares in the UK that actually shows films in IMAX 15/70 format: the National Media Museum in Bradford, Science Museum in London, The Printworks in Manchster, Science Centre in Glasgow and BFI IMAX in London. Slim pickings I know, but when you want the best these are the five theaters to gun for. Watch an IMAX film at any other IMAX branded theatres and you are actually watching a regular but bright 2K film, just barely a couple of pixels better than that Blu-ray disc you bought from Tesco. Heck, even VUE cinemas are now fitted with Sony 4K projectors, automatically making their theaters the obvious second choice after IMAX 15/70.

Why do they do these? Why, to trick customers into paying more of course. Like 3D, digital IMAX is one of the film industry's big money making spins. Why build a proper new expensive IMAX screen when you can charge film goers into paying the same amount for a lesser experience? It's economics 101.

For these very reasons I outlined, I am extremely cautious over these new IMAX theatres claims. Are these new screens lieMAX 2K or actual IMAX 15/70? I suspect the former.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A great guide to IMAX vs liemax is a map. Since there haven't been many new big screens, this is pretty accurate and useful