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"IMAX" vs Dolby Cinema: Your experiences?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by steve jaros, Apr 12, 2017.

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  1. steve jaros

    steve jaros Supporting Actor

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    I am familiar with the new scaled-down IMAX that have proliferated cinemas the last ten years and have seen many movies in them, but just this past month, our local AMC installed a "Dolby Cinema" theater that seems very much to duplicate IMAX. I toured it the other day while no movie was showing and it has a bigger screen than the other (non-IMAX) theaters, the screen is moved up to be closer to the audience, and they promise Dolby Atmos sound.

    I've yet to see a film in a Dolby Cinema format but the AMC is showing Fate of the Furious this Friday in both their IMAX theater and the Dolby Cinema theater. Has anyone seen films in both formats? If so, how do they compare? Which should I choose?

    Thanks!
     
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  2. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    I've never seen the same film in both an IMAX and Dolby Cinema auditorium, but I would be interested to try that experiment.

    Dolby Cinema uses dual laser projectors for their imagery; this is similar to the new IMAX system which is slowly being rolled out. Like IMAX, the DCPs sent to Dolby Cinema auditoriums have been specially remastered to take advantage of the color and clarity that their projectors can provide. Dolby usually adds Dolby Vision HDR to the films showing in Dolby Cinema. The films are also presented with Dolby Atmos sound, which can actually contain even more channels than the new IMAX Laser 12.1 system. At its best, the Dolby Cinema screen can compete and possibly even match what IMAX is offering.

    But there are a few things Dolby Cinema doesn't offer. They still show the same version of the film that is shown in conventional theaters; if a film has been shot with IMAX cameras or enhanced visually for IMAX with expanded aspect ratios, those things don't carry over into the Dolby Cinema presentation. You do get HDR on most films, but do not get any changes in aspect ratio. For a film like The Fate Of The Furious, which was not shot with IMAX cameras and does not feature any footage enhanced exclusive for IMAX, I would guess the presentation between IMAX and Dolby Cinema would be very close. But for a film like the new Beauty And The Beast, the exclusive aspect ratio for IMAX isn't preserved in Dolby Cinema. For a film like the upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 which will feature shifting aspect ratios in IMAX, the Dolby Cinema version will have the same standard 2.40:1 presentation throughout the movie that conventional theaters get. And the overwhelming majority of Dolby Cinema showings are in 2D-only, even when a 3D version is available. So if you want to see the 3D version of a movie, Dolby Cinema probably won't be your choice.

    There are a few downsides specific to Dolby Cinema that I've noticed. The first is that, when installed at an AMC theater, the theater includes lots of red light fixtures as part of the auditorium's design, and these do not shut off completely during the film. The last time I saw a film in Dolby Cinema, last year's Deadpool, the bottom left and right corners of the screen had red light reflecting onto them for the duration of the film. This wasn't a switch that was accidentally left on, but an intentional design choice by AMC and Dolby. Call me crazy, but I think when you go to the movies, the only light that should be on the screen during the movie is the light from the projector. And this brings me to my second criticism of Dolby Cinema: there's no one to talk to if someone isn't write. When you see a movie in IMAX, each presentation is followed by a credit card for the company's Chief Quality Officer with an invitation to email them about the presentation. Every single time I've reached out to IMAX for what I perceived to be an issue, whether big or small, they have responded with a class and a professionalism that I wish all companies would emulate. They've given me passes to make up for less than ideal experiences, but more importantly, they listened to what went wrong and fixed it. Even in cases where I found myself disagreeing with something they did, I always felt listened to and appreciated. But there's no equivalent position at Dolby Cinema. If you experience a problem with your screening, you can talk to the local theater chain, but there doesn't appear to be any oversight from Dolby. There's no one at Dolby to write to about a problem at the theater, and no visible commitment from Dolby to make sure that each screening in a Dolby Cinema auditorium meets their standards. I've seen two or three movies in Dolby Cinema and each time, there was a minor issue with the presentation. Nothing catastrophic, but for the premium price they charge, it should be perfect. There was no one for me to reach out to beyond the local theater in order to discuss these issues, and the local theater seemed uninterested in addressing the issues or even acknowledging that they existed. This is especially frustrating because in most regards, the Dolby Cinema auditorium at my local theater has the potential to be outstanding, and I'm hesitant to give them money knowing there are problems that aren't being addressed. That to me is the biggest issue - if they're going to promote Dolby Cinema as being something super special and premium, and if they're going to charge premium prices ($24 for a 2D Dolby Cinema ticket in my neighborhood) the customer service needs to be at that level too. And right now it's not.

    Full disclosure: I will be seeing Fate Of The Furious in Dolby Cinema tomorrow. I haven't been there in over a year, and I am hoping the issues I last experienced have been corrected. The showtime was a little more convenient than the IMAX showtime, the theater was a little closer to the train line I live off of, and the ticket price was a couple bucks cheaper. Since Fate Of The Furious doesn't have anything exclusive in its IMAX presentation and is 2D-only, it seemed like a good title to see in Dolby Cinema.
     
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  3. Tino

    Tino Executive Producer
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    In my experience, IMAX has trumped Dolby Cinema every time. Screen size, sound, immersion etc. and at my local AMC the IMAX showings are a few dollars cheaper.

    Not to mention that for the last year or so, the Dolby Cinema auditorium has, in addition to many of Josh's complaints above, projection issues where the picture is not properly aligned, calibrated, etc. the bottom right section of the screen is out of focus. After numerous complaints they are finally escalating the process to correct it.

    I have NEVER had an issue with an IMAX screening. And that will be my #1 choice for seeing a film every time.
     
  4. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Studio Mogul

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    I thought is only small difference between AMC's IMAX and Dolby ATMOS Cinema was that the Dolby ATMOS Cinema's video presentation had better contrast, deeper blacks, but other than that, IMAX has a bigger picture, and the sound is fine (some like the overhead speaker channels from the ATMOS side, after a while it's just a lot of sound in the theater if it's a loud movie).

    That being said, we're going to see F8 in Dolby ATMOS Cinema tonight because it starts a half hour later than the IMAX showing, and traffic has been terrible in my city due to a section of the interstate getting burned down, and choking traffic in a bad spot in town, causing backups all over the place for now. But I digress...
     
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  5. steve jaros

    steve jaros Supporting Actor

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    Just wanted to give extra props for an extremely thorough response - thanks!

    And yes, FWIW, my AMC is charging a buck less for DC as compared to IMAX, so that is one reason I am giving DC a shot.
     
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  6. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Lead Actor

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    Love "real IMAX' but I'm indifferent toward "mall IMAX" theaters and have rarely gone to any. Saw "Sully" at one outside of Philly last September and was decidedly underwhelmed by the quality of the presentation, partly because the screen itself appeared to have scratches on it.

    Only been to one "Dolby Cinema": an AMC in Mesa AZ in January. Saw "Rogue One" and was also rather underwhelmed. Hated the red lighting others mention and recall nothing especially impressive about the presentation.

    The nearest AMC has both IMAX and Dolby Cinema - next time there's a movie I think I'll see twice, I might go there for the "taste test" Josh proposes!
     
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  7. DavidJ

    DavidJ Producer

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    I'ver been wondering the same thing as our AMC just opened a Dolby Cinema. I'm glad to have Atmos available closer, but some of the comments here give me pause. I will be checking it out. It sounds like ours also has recliners that provide tactile feedback. I'm not real keen on that idea.
     
  8. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    Ours does as well - the recliner part is nice. They seem to vibrate a little extra with heavy bass and explosions, but it's not a 4DX / seat-rocking kind of experience. Mercifully, it's more subtle than that. I'm not sure that I would have even noticed if it hadn't been pointed out to me ahead of time.

    I'm really hoping for a good presentation later tonight!
     
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  9. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    Ok, so I'm just getting home from Fate Of The Furious in Dolby Cinema.

    The presentation was not terrible. I think the tech they've installed has potential to look great, but they crippled it with silly design choices. The auditorium has lots of red light sources throughout it, and the floor strips and exit signs never turn off or dim. The entire left edge and the entire right edge of the screen had a red overcast that remained throughout the movie. In the brighter scenes it wasn't as noticeable but any nighttime scenes or low lit shots had to compete with that red light.

    The auditorium has power recliners for seats. That's cool. The recliners are controlled by blue touch panels on the arm rests which light up insanely bright when pressed. Whenever someone adjusts a seat, it's like having a flashlight turned on in the auditorium for 30 seconds. People really like to adjust their seats.

    Call me old fashioned, but when I go to the movies, the only light I want to see is the light from the projector.

    Before the movie, they showed a split screen comparison between what they said was normal projection and Dolby Cinema projection. The side by side images looked nearly identical. They showed a slide with black on each side to demonstrate that Dolby had blacker blacks than regular theaters. Hilariously, they looked identical. Neither side was truly black because of the red overcast from the house lights. I'd be willing to bet that if they turned those red lights off, it would have looked better.

    To their credit, the theater staff was present before the show to make sure people were sitting in their right seats. Unfortunately, as soon as the lights went down for the trailers, they left and made no effort to ensure patrons were complying with the house rules. What's the point of playing a trailer that says "no smartphones during the movie" if you won't lift a finger to enforce it?

    Essentially, they've spent hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to renovate this auditorium and install a state of the art dual laser projection system, Dolby Atmos speakers, and power recliners, and then crippled the entire thing with a two dollar light strip that makes all of that state of the art stuff look the same or worse than standard digital projection.
     
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  10. revgen

    revgen Screenwriter

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    LieMax can differ depending on the location. In my area, I have two LieMax theaters. One is basically the same as a Cinemark XD screen. The other is much closer in scope to the TCL Chinese Theater IMAX screen. I tend to go to the latter for IMAX screenings, especially on discount days.
     
  11. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Lead Actor

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    Ha - yeah, I remember that demo now that you remind me. I recall watching it and thinking that "normal" and "DC" looked pretty much the same - it's a terrible attempt to make the system look good!
     
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  12. Message #12 of 24 Apr 14, 2017
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2017
    steve jaros

    steve jaros Supporting Actor

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    I saw Fast 8 in DC today and was pleasantly surprised. Yes, there was red lighting in the theater, but the configuration was such that (a) it wasn't anywhere near the screen, and (b) was low-wattage, which meant that it did not interfere with the picture or any other aspect of the ambiance of the theater. So I guess my configuration is just fortunate compared to what others in this thread experience at their theaters.

    Also, while I did not find anything special about the picture quality, it was fine, just as good as IMAX, and I did appreciate the butt-rattling bass effects in the loungers, as it reminded me of my home theater setup (I have the subwoof back by the projector behind our sofa so get the same kind of effect at home).

    Overall, with the exception of movies that were filmed in IMAX, I'm more inclined to do DC again rather than IMAX, especially as long as they keep the price a bit lower.
     
  13. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Studio Mogul

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    Saw F8 of the Furious in Dolby Cinema last night. The split screen comparison between non DC and DC was very apparent in the theater I viewed. The DC side had much deeper blacks (or the non-DC footage was simply gray and not black at all. LOL!)

    The crazy buttkickers in the loungers and directional sound was a tad bit too overcooked, but I treat it like an amusement ride nowadays.
     
  14. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    Patrick, do you recall if there was an abundance of red light hitting the screen at your showing? My suspicion is that there would have actually been a difference between the split screens had the red light not been ruining the contrast.
     
  15. steve jaros

    steve jaros Supporting Actor

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    Yes, today at my DC showing I too clearly saw a difference between the deeper blacks of the DC versus the non-DC footage, but like you i wondered how representative the footage really was. I guess we'd need to know the technical specs and all that to know for sure. But from what they showed me, the DC black was much "blacker".
     
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  16. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    Steve, I wanna ask the same question I asked Patrick - at your auditorium, were the left and right edges of the screen overcast in red light?

    I think the demo I saw would have had that noticeable difference you and Patrick describe if the red lights weren't shining on the screen the whole time. They killed the contrast, and the two images were indistinguishable - neither was actually black. More like grey with a hazy red fog. I am willing to bet that if they would just turn the darn lights off, I would have been able to notice the difference you gentlemen are describing.
     
  17. Message #17 of 24 Apr 15, 2017
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2017
    steve jaros

    steve jaros Supporting Actor

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    Josh, no. There was some red lighting in the theater, I guess it's part of their branding, but nothing close enough to affect the screen. The red lighting wasn't any kind of issue. I guess I'm just lucky in that either the configuration of the theater is such that where they had to place the red lights was far enough away to not be an issue, or whoever designed this particular DC was mindful of possible glare and made sure it wasn't.

    Either way, red glare, either on the screen or generally in the theater, is not a problem.
     
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  18. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Studio Mogul

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    I think the red lighting was on the steps on the right and left side of the theater. Plus a red EXIT sign on the bottom left hand side near the entrance side to the theater, but it was not bleeding a ton of red light to affect the contrast on the screen.
     
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  19. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    Hmm... so it looks like it might be location dependent, since you and Steve had no issues, and Tino and I did. Wondering if it's because they have a standardized parts order where they're going to install "x" number of red light strips in each Dolby auditorium regardless of whether they're needed or appropriate to the specific location, or something similarly boneheaded.

    On some level, it seems crazy to me that we're even talking about this here - I've read estimates that the cost of new projectors for a Dolby Cinema auditorium run hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Throw in the renovation of the space, addition of power recliners, the Atmos sound system, the computer and server equipment necessary to power the projectors and sound system, etc., etc., and you're talking millions of dollars in cost. And then, at least at certain locations, they're crippling the entire thing by leaving on lightstrips that probably cost $10 from a discount shop and have the effect of making all of that state of the art equipment look the same as outdated, bargain priced/budget priced equipment from ten years ago. I don't get how they could put all of that equipment in and turn it on and not see that they're killing their own system. It's ridiculous that we should have to be talking about this.

    This shouldn't be hard - the only light on the screen should be the light from the projector.
     
  20. Wayne_j

    Wayne_j Cinematographer

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    Depending on where you live fire regulations could require enough light that some of it ends up on the screen. That is no excuse for strange red light filling the screen though.
     
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