IMAX Enhanced is a seal of approval for TVs, receivers, or soundbars. It facilitates the playback of movies with an experience close to that of an IMAX cinema. In addition, the certificate also guarantees that movies released on Blu-ray and streaming platforms have the best possible quality thanks to a rigorous scanning process.
IMAX Enhanced drew attention after streaming service Disney+ announced that some Marvel movies could be watched in this new version. But, in this case, the experience is only restricted to the screen format, called IMAX’s expanded aspect ratio. Understand, below, what the label is and what it takes to have a real home theater.
What is IMAX Enhanced?
IMAX Enhanced is a certificate released in 2018 by the movie theater companies IMAX Corporation and audio engineering company DTS. It guarantees the consumer that an electronic device meets the necessary conditions to play movies with a quality close to that of an IMAX cinema, only in the comfort of the home.
First, it is necessary to understand why IMAX is different from a traditional movie theater. In IMAX theaters, productions are usually shot on 70mm film (twice as much as regular 35mm film) or digital cameras with very high resolution, which provides better and sharper images. To take advantage of this technical advantage, IMAX theaters have gigantic screens of around 350 square meters (as opposed to 80 square meters in a conventional theater).
On the sound side, IMAX cinemas have 12.1 channels distributed throughout the room, with seven traditional surround channels, one subwoofer channel, and five ceiling channels. This creates a 360° dome around the viewer, who can hear every detail of the film from any seat.
As you can imagine, not just any product can come close to such an environment. To achieve this level of quality in your home, you need a TV with 4K resolution and HDR, and home theaters with a minimum 5.1.4 channel configuration (five surround channels, one subwoofer, and four vertical channels) and DTS:X compatible.
Which products have IMAX Enhanced?
IMAX Enhanced can be divided into two categories: devices and content. The first is for electronic products, which must pass a series of tests for color, resolution, contrast, and brightness, among others. In addition to the certification, the approved devices also have an option called IMAX Mode, which automatically optimizes the settings of the TV and receiver to offer the best sound and image quality.
For now, only TVs from Sony, TCL, and HiSense have IMAX Enhanced. As for sound, the options are more varied, with models from Denon, Marantz, and Onkyo among the approved list.
The other category is aimed at Blu-ray discs and streaming platforms. To be played in the home environment, the films are digitized with software that can clean up noise and grain typical of high-resolution filming. The sound quality is virtually the same as in theaters, without any kind of compression, thanks to a feature called IMAX Signature Sound.
Currently, the company has partnerships with major movie studios such as Marvel, Sony Pictures, and Paramount. Meanwhile, some content is already available on streaming platforms such as Disney+, Rakuten TV, and Sony Bravia Core, among others.
It is possible to find several movies and documentaries on Blu-ray optimized for IMAX Enhanced. On streams, only Disney+ is available – but only the IMAX expanded aspect ratio format is offered to subscribers, without the option of IMAX Mode or IMAX Signature Sound.
What is IMAX Extended Aspect Ratio?
IMAX theaters are known for their gigantic screens compared to traditional theaters. But this is only part of what makes the system different.
Because of the film used in the recording, IMAX theater screens adopt the 1.9:1 aspect ratio format (close to the traditional 16:9, which is 1.78:1). Some movies, however, use the older format known as CinemaScope, which ranges from 2.35:1 to 2.55:1, similar to ultrawide monitors. It sounds trivial, but this change can modify the impact of some scenes since it is not the same composition originally intended by the director of the film.
So, when the IMAX Enhanced option is enabled on Disney+, the movie will use the same 1.9:1 aspect ratio used in filming and shown in IMAX theaters, at least in some scenes. When viewed on a widescreen TV, the screen is “fuller” than the ultrawide format (which would show black bars in the bottom and top corners of the screen) and still preserves the author’s vision when filming his work.
Can I watch movies with IMAX Enhanced on any device?
Yes, even if your television or home theater does not have the IMAX Mode and IMAX Signature Sound certification or features, you can still enjoy IMAX Enhanced content as usual. In the case of Disney+, the absence of a certified product will not even make a difference, as only the screen format changes.
In the case of Blu-ray movies with IMAX Enhanced, the content will also play normally, but possibly without the advantages of a home theater promised by the company. Important to remember that only TVs and receivers released after 2018 count with the certificate.
Is it worth investing in IMAX Enhanced?
The truth is that IMAX Enhanced is not yet a reality in some countries but is currently available in the US, Europe, China, and Japan, with more launching worldwide. For those who are more casual consumers, the biggest differential is in the expanded aspect ratio of IMAX, which displays the film in a more friendly format for widescreen and with the scenes originally planned by the director. With more and more productions being shot in the IMAX format, other streaming services may offer this option in the future, which is a plus.
However, betting on proprietary formats is always a risk. The biggest rival to IMAX and DTS goes by the name of Dolby. Its HDR-enhanced version, Dolby Vision, is already compatible with services like Netflix and Disney+ as well as on Xbox Series X/S, with promises of brighter, more colorful images. Also, unlike IMAX Enhanced, several TV models already have the feature.
The same can be said for Dolby Atmos, which is present in most home theaters and soundbars, as well as video games, smartphones, and PCs. The three-dimensional sound feature has been the latest addition to music services such as Apple Music and Tidal.