Sunday, May 31, 2009

The marketers want your five bucks

Have you been to one of those so-called iMax theaters--just another room in the multi-screen complex down at the mall? What is happening is the theaters are giving up a few rows of seats at the front (that none of us want to sit in anyway) so they can hang a bigger screen. Then they use a newer digital projection system to screen what they are advertising as--and that the iMax people authorize them to do--an iMax movie.

It ain't.

But you willingly pay $5 more for the "experience." Truth is, theater owners are facing increased competition from digital home sources that look really, really good, like Blu-ray, and easy-to-obtain films such as via Netflix. I have to admit, unless it is something really spectacular, like the recent Star-Trek feature, I would rather see it on my 48-inch hi-def screen in Blu-ray format, with my store-bought popcorn and dressed in my shorts and t-shirt with no shoes.

But lying to me? Telling me I can see an iMax film when the only real extra I'm getting is a bigger screen? Foul!

See critic Roger Ebert's take on this at his blog. It's interesting reading.

Two notes: one is I disagree with Roger that the new technology--48 frames-per-second--has any chance of catching on. Most people are very happy with the digital projection systems now being used. And it's cheaper for distributors, too. The digital ship has sailed. 70mm film is NOT the future.

And speaking of iMax, how many of you know that the sound system for iMax was invented right here in my hometown of Birmingham? One of the folks involved was Jim Cawthon, who is also a ham radio operator.

Don N4KC

Twitter: don_keith


mvandewettering said...

Yes, indeed. "IMAX" no longer means the projection through 70mm film anymore: it's really much more like the THX standard. IMAX Digital theaters have screens which are 58 feet x 28 feet, and they use a pair of 2K DLP projectors. I can't say that I find the experience in one of their theaters substantially better than any other digital experience. There are also some changes in viewing geometry as you mentioned, mainly to reduce the number of front seats and get the audience closer to the screen, trying to fill as much of your field of view as possible. I'm not very convinced that this is really desirable for most conventionally staged films, most of which don't rely on "immersiveness" to tell their story.

This system does have a few advantages when it comes to 3D projection: most notably in image brightness. It's much easier to get a bright image by using two projectors than the ReelD or Dolby alternatives which rely on high speed shuttering and polarization (ReelD) or filters (Dolby) on a single projector. But two projectors mean that they need careful alignment to avoid vertical offsets which can cause troubling fusion problems, and let's face it: most projectionists are paid minimal amounts and are equivalently skilled.

Ebert has been touting this 48fps system for quite some time, and I firmly believe 48fps will happen, but it won't be on film: it too will be digital. Digital cinema projectors can already handle high data rates and refreshes (triple flash for 3d requires 144hz updates) so once standards are in place for 48fps or 60fps imagery, you'll begin to see it in digital theaters. Of course, modern TVs are also increasing refresh rate, so you'll begin to see it in the home environment as well.

It's all fun though...

Anonymous said...

Well said, and thanks for stopping by.