IS IMAX ENHANCED THE FUTURE OF HOME CINEMA?
When news first broke of a joint venture between IMAX Corp (it of the ginormous cinema screens) and DTS, I don’t mind admitting I was a bit cynical. After all, do we really need more certification nonsense for hardware and software?
But having now heard a demo, I think I’m prepared to change my tune, and eat some crow.
For those not quite up to speed, here’s what you need to know: IMAX Enhanced is a newly announced licensing and certification program which will cover high-end TVs, AV receivers and surround sound processors. It’s also a proprietary software encoding and mastering program for content.
According to the (admittedly not very detailed blurb) hardware suppliers will earn IMAX Enhanced certification if their gear meets predetermined performance benchmarks set by a committee of IMAX and DTS engineers.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it treads the same path as the long standing THX certification program and to a certain extent UHD Premium, created by the UHD Alliance.
Sony, Denon and Marantz have already signed up. The first AV receivers to receive certification are already here, courtesy of firmware updates. Other parts of the puzzle are not so available.
But I think the really interesting bit is what might happen on the software front.
IMAX Enhanced software releases will apparently be mastered using proprietary post production software, supposedly to minimise noise in the 4K encoding process, with audio delivered using the DTS:X platform.
For DTS, this is a welcome second bite of the cherry. DTS:X has clearly lost out to Dolby Atmos, now undisputed champion of immersive audio. IMAX gives the DTS platform a fresh reason to exist.
My demo of IMAX Enhanced was sensationally good. The IMAX component used was a Marantz AV8805 13 channel processor, partnered with Marantz and Classe amplification and a loudspeaker array of KEF Reference speakers and Definitive Technology subwoofers.
The software, an early demo disc pressing, contained footage from IMAX documentaries and some Hollywood movies. The experience was jaw dropping
IMAX Enhanced clearly wants to claim the AV high ground. It says movies shot with IMAX cameras, and shown theatrically in a full IMAX aspect ratio, will be released full frame on IMAX 4K discs. Given the number of blockbuster titles shot with IMAX that are not being released with the same aspect ratio, the news will be warmly welcomed by film fans eager to see films in the way the director intended.
Equally as important, it says IMAX Enhanced audio will be delivered with the widest possible dynamic range. One standout demo sequence I heard, from the IMAX NASA Space Shuttle documentary The Dream is Alive, featured amazing dynamics and truly immersive audio.
Given the dramatic drop in the quality of Dolby Atmos movies released on Blu-ray, with restricted dynamics that barely warrant listening on a soundbar let alone a highend sound system (I’m pointing a finger at Disney here, which is largely responsible for this woeful trend), this can only be great news.
Significantly, all IMAX Enhanced Blu-ray discs appear to be completely compatible with existing home cinema hardware. So everyone can benefit.
Of course, it remains to be seen if IMAX Enhanced gets any traction with mainstream studios, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The home cinema market could do with a new performance hero. Maybe IMAX is what our eyes and ears have been waiting for?