UK's first Dolby Cinema opens in Leicester Square

Odeon Leicester Square Dolby Cinema screen

The UK now has its first Dolby Cinema in the heart of London, and it's open for business.

The renowned ODEON Leicester Square cinema has been closed to the public for the past 11 months, as it underwent significant refurbishment to relaunch as a more premium cinema experience.

The 81-year-old cinema has played host to hundreds of film premieres and countless patrons in its lifetime. Now kitted out with Dolby Vision laser-light projection and Dolby Atmos surround sound, the rebranded Odeon LUXE Leicester Square looks to bring even sharper, more immersive viewing to the public in the years to come.

With all five of its screens now open, TechRadar went behind the scenes to see what was changing, and what cinema-goers have to look forward to in the revamped venue.

A whole new look

There are certainly some cosmetic changes. Much of the building was gutted, with entirely new seating, screens, projectors, and decor to bring the cinema's offering up to date for 2018. 

The formerly split entrances have also been combined into a single 'red carpet' thoroughfare, with a Hollywood Golden Age aesthetic harking back to the cinema's original opening in 1937. Add to that two glass elevators, new wheelchair spaces in the stalls – and dress circle – and an 'Oscar's Bar' named after Odeon founder Oscar Deutsch.

The venue will also offer a more eclectic line-up than simply cinemas screenings, with a 'floating' projection screen that can be lifted back and forth out of view, opening up a stage space for talks, discussions, or a wider range of events. The previous Odeon's orchestra pit will also remain in use, while the venue's organ is also being refurbished for continued use.

But the main change will be for the viewing experience itself. 

Odeon LUXE Leicester Square under refurbishment

The new cinema has halved the number of seats in its main auditorium, to only 800, with more spacious reclining seats and leg room, as well as more forgiving sight lines. The smaller, secondary screens (2-5) add another combined 132 seats to the total, leaving the venue just shy of a 1,000 person capacity.

With the rise of home TV and film streaming, and increased competition from rival cinema chains, venues like the Odeon Leicester Square might not have need for as many seats as they used to – but those who do opt for the bigscreen experience are getting more with their ticket than ever.

Dolby Cinema screens are capable for far crisper 8K images, with two 4K laser-light projectors ensuring a huge level of detail and wide range of colors. Add to that a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio five times that of a regular cinema, and you're getting some serious blacks and images that truly pop. 

In terms of audio, the Dolby Atmos technology can place up to 148 distinct objects in surround sound, with the option to individually control every single speaker in the cinema (400 in total).

As the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square opens today to the public – with the likes of Disney sequel Mary Poppins Return, DC's Aquaman, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gracing its new screens – it hopes to offer a more targeted experience for discerning cinema audiences wanting some 'glamor' from their movie nights they can't get at home. Even if you'll be paying anywhere between £10 and £26 for the privilege.

Odeon LUXE Leicester Square: Dolby Cinema

New kid on the block

As the first Dolby Cinema to open in the UK, having already established a presence across Europe and the USA, it could well be the start of a much wider push across the country. Julian Stanford, Senior Director of Business Development at Dolby Cinema Europe, is calling it a "historic occasion".

Dolby's main rival in the high-end cinema space, IMAX, already has a handful of venues running in the UK, such as the BFI IMAX, or Empire cinema that already sits in Leciester Square with a sizeable 1,746 capacity and 87.5ft main screen.

Both cinema brands now user laser-light projection, rather than the xenon projectors you'll find in most other chain or independent cinemas worldwide – and are gradually refitting their older venues with the new technology.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.