IS IMAX EN­HANCED THE FU­TURE OF HOME CIN­EMA?

SoundMag - - Editorial - BY STEVE MAY

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?

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