The IMAX experience at home

The IMAX experience at home

The last word in private cinema has landed: an IMAX experience built
for your own home is in the offing. So those who can afford it should begin bracing themselves, writes Ken Kessler.

Film fanatics know with almost total certainty that whatever technology reaches the cinema will eventually end up in a home. Usually it’s a matter of scaling things down to fit. With the latest wide-screen TVs and projectors, all of the various aspect ratios can be reproduced perfectly, as well as 3D. Sound? You can get every flavour of Dolby and DTS surround in a home-friendly form, limited only by the number of speakers you care to accommodate. But surely not the mighty IMAX?

IMAX, once solely the province of commercial cinemas built to specific criteria, is now being offered in a form that will suit home cinemas. While the company has
designed the IMAX Private Theatre to work in rooms hosting as few as a dozen viewers, the target client would be someone whose home cinema is typically 7x10m or more, with movie-house-type seating. Because the price tag is anticipated to be around £1.8m, including installation and all the associated services, it is unlikely to be considered by those living in less than palatial environs.

IMAX Private Theatre is the domestic iteration of the spectacular, eye-popping, curved screen/surround sound system that makes both, feature films and concert video more immersive, thanks to a combination of ultra-wide vistas and dynamic sonics. The effect is truly panoramic, in a way that the original three-projector Cinerama system of the 1950s tried to be, but with less-conducive technology.

To make IMAX adaptable to private cinemas, which will by their very nature require less hardware than feeding a commercial 1000 or 3000-seater, each installation is custom-designed to adhere to IMAX specifications while suiting the
environment into which it will be fitted. Nothing is left to chance, so little will remain of any previous installation save for the client’s legacy sources such as existing libraries of DVDs and Blu-rays, or what may be stored on a server.

IMAX Private Theatre addresses the projection system, sound reproduction, room acoustics and theatre geometry. There are no approximations, for the system will be optimised to address not only IMAX-prepared films, but regular movies – which will be enhanced by the system – as well as TV broadcasts, streaming, gaming and other visual media. Such a project involves a team who will undertake everything from the user-interface to the look of the theatre, which means that IMAX’s specialists will work directly with the client’s architects, interior designers and custom installers.

Despite this litany of workers, IMAX also promises “an integrated solution (with) one point of contact”.

In order to make this a turn-key affair without any hassle, IMAX has a commercial service centre that will remotely monitor the entire system “24/7/365 – featuring
response times of less than five minutes, predictive maintenance, performance tuning and on-the-ground support – so that your system is always running at optimal performance.” Thus, a planned-but-interrupted Christmas Eve showing of It’s A Wonderful Life should come off without a hitch – unless you’re moored off Tristan da Cunha.

What most potential owners will want to know is: “What can we watch for the full IMAX experience?” New films from the IMAX catalogue will be made available with privileged rapidity, while all existing films – from 1.33-ratio, black-and-white silent movies to contemporary non-IMAX features will benefit from what is an impressive array of hardware, with specialised firmware to make everything “better”: more detail, richer colours, brighter images and some tweaking of the aspect ratios.

It starts with two of IMAX’s proprietary 4K projection systems deliver, able to maximise both 2D or 3D material. Because it fills a larger field of vision, the effect is enveloping. IMAX Private Theatre uses the same patented design as found the nearly 900 IMAX cinemas around the world. When designed for the home user, the optimal viewing environment is created to adapt the room's shape and seating placement to maximum use of the curved IMAX screen, which reaches from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. More than any flat screen, or even recent curved screens up to 100  inch, the IMAX display fills the viewer’s peripheral vision to a degree of encirclement not available elsewhere.

Such visuals have to be matched by the sound. IMAX uses a 7.1 channel surround
array, with speakers aligned by laser for precise imaging – the sound effects will occur exactly where they should. IMAX Private Theatre employs a proprietary microphone system to process data from each individual speaker, performing daily tuning calibrations and correcting the sound as required. The speakers are able to reproduce the power and dynamic range of blockbuster soundtracks, as well as concert videos.

Imax Private Theatre is the latest development in bringing the full cinema event into the home. Yes, vibrating seats and thunderous “effects” sub-woofers are
almost old-hat, while the French have made “smell-o-vision” a reality in the home. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that IMAX, arguably the ultimate movie-goers’ experience, has been translated into a solution for domestic use.

If IMAX Private Theatre takes off – and there’s certainly a future for it on yachts, in private clubs and other places where films might be shown for audiences not the size of those at your local Odeon – one would hope that the company might consider down-sized versions. This month, Ideaworks will be demonstrating the system to select clients, to gauge the reaction of what is home cinema without any constraints.

For the time being, movie moguls, voters for BAFTA trophies and the Academy Awards, well-heeled cineastes and world-class gamers need cough up only £1.8m for the privilege of seeing, say, a heightened version of Fifty Shades of Grey – yes, that has been “IMAX’d.” Only now you’re spared the embarrassment of seeing it with a room full of strangers.

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