IMAX Enhanced: an inside look at the new standard heading to home theaters

IMAX Enhanced
Image Credit: DTS

If you're a movie buff, an IMAX theater is the best cinema experience money can buy - so how would you like to bring that experience into your living room? 

While it doesn't quite promise to bring hundreds of speakers or a massive 72-foot projection screen into your living room, IMAX Enhanced will be a game-changer by offering expanded aspect ratio and immersive sound to a living room near you.

IMAX Enhanced is both a new licensing and certification program for home entertainment gear that was announced in 2018, launched in December and made its debut to the world's tech industry at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. 

There were billboards outside the venues, there were demo rooms, there were fast-talking presenters on the booths of Sony, DTS, Denon, and Marantz. However, for most attendees, there was still one big question: exactly what is IMAX Enhanced?

What is IMAX Enhanced?

Already available on some 4K Blu-rays, the IMAX Enhanced logo means that the content has IMAX’s remastered picture and IMAX signature sound.

The IMAX Enhanced logo means that the content has IMAX’s remastered picture and IMAX signature sound.

"What we're trying to achieve is to bring the best possible entertainment experience to the home," says the day-to-day lead of IMAX Enhanced, John McDaniel, VP of Business Development, Ecosystems at Xperi, which owns DTS. "These are premium devices to which we're delivering premium content and optimizing the playback of that content."

IMAX and DTS are now hoping that manufacturers of TVs, AV receivers and, eventually, soundbars will all put the logo on their high-end equipment that signifies that it has an 'IMAX Mode'. That's already happening, with Sony, TCL and others previewing equipment at CES certified to be IMAX Enhanced-compatible.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

How similar is IMAX Enhanced to the theater?

From a picture quality standpoint? Almost identical. For example, if you playback a 4K Blu-ray disc on an IMAX Enhanced TV or projector, you will see the trademark expanded aspect ratio used in IMAX content shot on IMAX cameras. So that means stuff like Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’, which back in 2008 was the first IMAX-Hollywood production, will look identical on your IMAX Enhanced setup as it did in theaters. 

"You will get the IMAX expanded aspect ratio, the sharper image and the IMAX signature sound enabled by DTS," says McDaniel. “The majority of films in IMAX cinemas use the 1.90:1 aspect ratio, which also works well in the home because with 1.90:1, there is only a very small amount of letterboxing on a 1.78, 16:9 display. At most, it will fill the 1.78:1 TV screen, eliminating letterboxing entirely.” 

IMAX Enhanced requires a certified display, AV receiver, and enough speakers to cope with the IMAX PPS (Proportional Point Source) proprietary speaker configurations of 5.0, 6.0 and 12.0. Thankfully, it's completely backward-compatible, so any IMAX Enhanced disc will play perfectly well on any TV. 

Unfortunately, however, it's up to you to provide the projector and screen.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Another cinema standard? Really?

In an industry overrun by formats and standards, IMAX Enhanced is arriving at an auspicious time - one that's both good and bad for TVs. 

It's good because there are more 4K HDR displays than ever, making it a good time to release a standard that capitalizes on IMAX's system of high-resolution cameras and film formats that use bigger, brighter, higher resolution projectors boasting higher contrast. Since many homes now have 4K HDR TVs, the time is right for a jump in cinematic quality, thinks IMAX and DTS. 

"One of the technologies that we're leveraging is the digital remastering process that occurs on the content prior to that content being shown in IMAX cinemas," says McDaniel. "When IMAX first got into displaying Hollywood content it noticed that the projection systems in IMAX Cinemas would actually expose anomalies in the content that would otherwise go unseen in any other cinema, so they began remastering the content for those brighter projectors and higher contrast screens prior to it being shown commercially at IMAX cinemas." 

This digital remastering process – called IMAX DMR – is used in Hollywood to produce a 'clean plate' of a film that the director can then make creative changes to in post-production.

Sony Master Series Z9G (Image Credit: Sony)

Sony Master Series Z9G (Image Credit: Sony)

What do you need to get IMAX Enhanced?

IMAX Enhanced TVs must be 4K HDR, and to get IMAX Enhanced audio, that logo must be on your AV receiver or, in future, a soundbar. 

"The target is consumers that that are looking for a premium entertainment experience in the home," says McDaniel. "We are targeting people with expensive home theaters who don't mind replacing all of their components with IMAX Enhanced-certified equipment." 

IMAX Enhanced TVs must be 4K HDR, and to get IMAX Enhanced audio, that logo must be on your AV receiver or, in future, a soundbar.

However, McDaniel thinks that upgrading slowly may be the way to go. 

"You don't necessarily need to replace all of your equipment out of the gate," he says. "It's aspirational – maybe someone already has a DTS:X AVR and they simply want to replace their display to get the IMAX Enhanced image experience. They can still leverage DTS:X until they decide to replace their AVR." 

Here's exactly what IMAX Enhanced gear is available so far:

IMAX Enhanced TVs

For now, it's just Sony, but China's TCL – one of the three biggest TV manufacturers in the world – is also committed to launching IMAX Enhanced TVs in 2019.

IMAX Enhanced projectors 

If you're looking for a larger image, there are also a number of IMAX Enhanced projectors on the market - though, just a word of warning, most of these are for high-end home cinemas and have the price tag to match. 

  • Sony VPL-VW695ES  
  • Sony VPL-VW675ES 
  • Sony VPL-VW385ES 
  • Sony VPL-VW295ES 
  • Sony VPL-VW285ES 

IMAX Enhanced AVRs

High-end AV receivers are regularly stuffed with badges and logos, so it's no surprise that this is the area that’s most competitive. 2019 will see even more IMAX Enhanced AV receivers from Elite, Integra, Onkyo and Pioneer. 

  • Arcam AV860 
  •  Arcam AVR850 
  •  Arcam AVR550 
  •  Arcam AVR390 
  •  Denon AVC-X8500H 
  •  Denon AVR-X6500H  
  • Denon AVR-X4500H 
  •  Lexicon MC-10 
  •  Lexicon RV-9 
  •  Lexicon RV-6 
  •  Marantz AV8805 
  •  Marantz AV7705 
  •  Marantz SR8012 
  •  Marantz SR7013 
  •  Marantz SR6013 
  •  Sony STR-ZA5000ES* 
  •  Sony STR-ZA3100ES* 
  •  Sony STR-ZA2100ES* 
  •  Sony STR-ZA1100ES*  
  •  Trinnov Altitude32 
  •  Trinnov Altitude16 

(* indicates that it will receive IMAX Enhanced capability via a firmware update in Spring 2019) 

Can TVs be both IMAX Enhanced and Dolby Vision? 

Yes, and it's possible that high-end TVs will soon be compatible with both standards. 

"TVs could be compatible with both so it's not going to interfere in any way, but the IMAX Enhanced content is not utilizing Dolby Vision – it's a higher standard because it has a higher standard of visuals," says McDaniel. "We're not creating a new format – we're leveraging existing standards and technologies to bring this to the home – and we've inserted some of our own DTS technologies and licenses."

McDaniel thinks that it's going to be subjective whether people prefer IMAX Enhanced or Dolby Vision.

"We're not comparing ourselves against Dolby Vision because they're doing something very different in terms of the ecosystem."

John McDaniel

"We're not comparing ourselves against Dolby Vision because they're doing something very different in terms of the ecosystem," McDaniel said. "Dolby Vision is its own metadata format, whereas IMAX Enhanced is essentially the best possible version of a film leveraging HDR10 and HDR10+. We're optimizing playback on the displays and on the AVR or soundbar to create the best possible experience."

McDaniel also confirmed that even if your 4K TV is not IMAX Enhanced compatible if it's got HDR10 that when you watch an IMAX Enhanced 4K Blu-ray disc then can still see the expanded aspect ratio and remastered picture that is 'baked in' to the content.

'Venom' is one of IMAX Enhanced's launch titles. (Image credit: TechRadar)

'Venom' is one of IMAX Enhanced's launch titles. (Image credit: TechRadar)

What about IMAX Enhanced content?

At CES it was announced that all IMAX Enhanced-certified Sony TVs would allow the streaming of IMAX Enhanced 4K content through the FandangoNow in the US, Rakuten TV for Europe, and China’s Tencent Video. 

Initial titles include Sony Pictures/Marvel’s 'Venom' and Sony/Studio 8’s 'Alpha', alongside 100 IMAX documentaries including 'Journey to the South Pacific' and 'A Beautiful Planet', which are both already available on 4K Blu-ray. 

As well as Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures is also on board. "You'll see a lot of IMAX Enhanced 4K Blu-ray disc this year," says McDaniel.

Whether or not IMAX Enhanced catches on remains to be seen, but expect the makers of high-end gear to hedge their bets and include IMAX Enhanced just in case. With Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures pictures behind it, it could yet become the benchmark for home cinema. 

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and He also edits two of his own websites, and that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),