What Is Imax Enhanced?
When you think IMAX, you can't help but think big - gigantic even. Its system of high-resolution cameras, projectors and mega-screens can now be found in over 75 countries. Hardly the sort of stuff which is going to fit in the majority of dedicated home theatres, let alone your average loungeroom.
'IMAX Enhanced' however is an emerging format that is beginning to be included on the latest product spec sheets and in particular, the current generation of AV Receivers. So what exactly is IMAX Enhanced and what does it offer enthusiasts?
Just like the THX feature of years gone by, IMAX Enhanced is about standards. For an AV component to bear the IMAX Enhanced stamp, it must meet IMAX’s performance criteria, or its 'standard', for both audio and video.
Both Denon and Marantz have already issued firmware updates to bring its AVC-X8500H, and AV8805 products up to the standard. The SR8012 and AV7705 will receive a firmware update in January 2019 also bringing IMAX Enhanced functionality to these two units. And as we enter the season where both manufacturers start rolling out new models you can bet your bottom dollar there will be more to follow.
IMAX Enhanced Certification will be reserved for the biggest UHD televisions and projectors. However, size and resolution alone aren’t the only criteria as the display also needs to meet the program’s standards regarding colour reproduction and contrast ratio.
In addition to meeting performance criteria, IMAX Enhanced Certified displays will also feature an IMAX picture mode. Activated automatically with IMAX content, it's a ‘pre-set calibrated mode’ designed and approved by Hollywood colourists.
As an ISF Certified Calibrator, until I get the opportunity to test IMAX Enhanced picture mode myself, I’m approaching any claims of ‘pre-set calibration modes’ with a healthy dose of scepticism. In the past, I’ve found that while such picture modes offer reasonably accurate colour production, there are often let down by an inaccurate greyscale tracking.
In the US, Sony has already announced that all of their OLED TV’s will be getting the IMAX Enhanced treatment, along with many of their 4K projectors. Given that there’s no date set for Sony’s displays to receive IMAX Enhanced Certification in Australia, we’re assuming that much like IMAX receivers, Sony’s TV’s and perhaps some projectors will receive a firmware update to make them IMAX Enhanced compatible.
Some Denon and Marantz AVR’s will also feature an IMAX sound mode, which is a variant of the DTS:X codec. The IMAX/DTS:X sound mode will be triggered automatically when IMAX Enhanced content is detected. Naturally, being an object based format, IMAX recommends a 7.2.4 speaker configuration (2 front speakers, 1 centre speaker, 2 rear speakers, 2 rear back speakers, 2 subwoofers and 4 overhead speakers), with a minimum, recommended speaker layout of 5.1.4.
However, where such a speaker configuration is not possible, DTS:X will remap the incoming signal to other speaker configurations. Speaker configurations that lack height speakers, along with soundbars, will reproduce the IMAX Enhanced sound mode courtesy of DTS Virtual: X.
An IMAX Enhanced home theatre system is specified as being capable of reproducing the full audio bandwidth of 20 Hz- 20kHz. Although there are no IMAX Enhanced speakers available at the time of writing, IMAX recommends using speakers with a minimum sensitivity of 89db and a frequency response down to 70hz.
IMAX will be releasing select titles from their catalogue of documentaries, in addition to working with its content partners (currently Sony and Paramount Pictures) to develop a range of IMAX Enhanced movies.
The first two of which are the IMAX documentaries 'A Beautiful Planet' and 'Journey to the South Pacific' which have been scheduled for release in the US on 11 December. As yet, there’s no news of when these titles will hit our shores.
If however, you decide you can’t wait, UHD discs are region-free, so there’s nothing to stop you from importing them, apart from the hassle. Not only being amongst the first titles to feature HDR10+, these and future IMAX Enhanced titles will also be created using IMAX’s proprietary post-production process. IMAX will apply an advanced algorithm to reduce picture grain and noise, which IMAX claims will make images both clearer and sharper.
Much like the ‘pre-set calibrated picture mode’ this is another area where we will have to wait and see!
Many IMAX titles have an aspect ratio of 1.9:1, which is much closer to the 1.78:1 aspect ratio that will fill a 16.9 screen. While many will rejoice at this news, those with cinemascope screens will have black bars either side of the image.
IMAX’s sound engineers will work side by side with filmmakers and their sound teams to match the original reference level of the recording and to optimise the sound for IMAX theatres.
To take full advantage of the IMAX Enhanced format, you’re going to need an IMAX Enhanced TV or projector. Currently, Sony is the only manufacturer to deliver three native 4K IMAX Enhanced projectors to Australia which were released this month.
Likewise, you require an AVR or processor which supports IMAX Enhanced, of which Denon and Marantz both currently support on some of their AVR’s and at least one processor.
If you have neither, there’s still arguably visual and audio benefits to be had from using IMAX Enhanced content. For instance, you shouldn’t need IMAX hardware to take advantage of the IMAX aspect ratio.
It’s still early days for the fledgling format, and it’s got some challenges ahead of it, particularly in getting enough content out there and securing more manufacturers. Nonetheless, we’re excited about what the format has to offer and the potential for it to be IMAX-like ... BIG!
For more information visit IMAX.
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.