[UPDATE: Since writing this story, I’ve heard from an owner of a Marantz AV8805 processor who says it is due to receive an IMAX Enhanced firmware upgrade in October. The feature has even been listed on Marantz’s website. This raises hopes that IMAX Enhanced can be rolled out retrospectively to lots of other kit too – including, perhaps, Sony’s TVs. I’ll provide further updates as I get them. The original story continues below.]
Anyone who’s visited an IMAX cinema knows what a difference the format can make to the movie experience. Its huge format picture and cutting edge sound immerses you in the world of what you’re watching far more than a typical cinema set up. So AV fans will be excited to hear that IMAX is now turning its focus on the home cinema experience too.
The IMAX Corporation has just launched a new IMAX Enhanced Program that it claims ‘gives consumers access to the highest-quality image and sound experience for the home.’
The IMAX Enhanced Program is a new certification and licensing platform designed in conjunction with audio giant DTS that will cover both the hardware and software sides of the home AV world.
Its stated aim is to ‘make it easier for consumers to select the products and content that will deliver the highest-quality, sharpest 4K HDR images and immersive sound at home’ on AV devices that have been optimized to play digital re-mastered content as the filmmaker intended.
Given the Program’s scope, it’s reassuring to learn that it already has key signatories from both sides of the home entertainment industry: Sony Pictures and Paramount on the content side, and Sony Electronics and Sound United (owners of the Denon and Marantz brands) on the hardware side.
Any consumer electronics brands which want their TVs, AV receivers, sound systems and so on to be accepted into the IMAX Enhanced Program will need to design them so that they meet a prescribed set of audio and video performance standards, established by a certification committee of IMAX and DTS engineers, and Hollywood’s leading technical specialists.
So far some of this sounds pretty similar to the THX AV product certification program. There are, though, a couple of key differences. First, movies and content that want to be part of the IMAX Enhanced program will be digitally remastered by IMAX itself using its proprietary, ‘cutting edge’ post-production processes.
This could prove very welcome given the inconsistencies in approach and technical prowess that appear to exist across the wider 4K mastering world. Certainly IMAX claims that its IMAX Enhanced titles will boast more vibrant colors, greater contrast and sharper clarity, as well as reducing noise and grain under the filmmaker’s guidance to suit higher-brightness 4K HDR displays. These apparently enhanced visuals will, of course, be accompanied by ‘premium immersive sound’.
The other intriguing and unique point about the IMAX Enhanced Program is that it will work to deliver more of the IMAX movie format’s expanded aspect ratio on home entertainment releases of films shot with IMAX cameras or specially formatted for IMAX theaters.
This will be exciting news to anyone who’s witnessed the spectacular picture quality IMAX resources can deliver on the occasional movies that have used them on previous Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray releases. Check out, for instance, the majority of Dunkirk on 4K Blu-ray, some Disney 3D Blu-rays, and small sections of Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness on 4K Blu-ray.
In fact, there’s even a change.org petition asking Disney to start offering IMAX footage on its 4K Blu-rays (as reported in this earlier story) following its failure to do so on its Star Wars and Marvel Studio releases to date.
IMAX Enhanced movies are set to appear on streaming platforms and 4K Blu-rays. It’s unclear at this point if there will be separate IMAX Enhanced and ‘regular’ 4K Blu-rays – though IMAX states that if you play an IMAX Enhanced movie on a non-IMAX TV, ‘you will still get the best possible version of the content, but it will not be optimized to deliver the same level of experience as watching or listening to it on an IMAX Enhanced device.’ I can imagine a few film fans, though, liking the idea of a new IMAX Enhanced release for Avengers: Infinity War on 4K Blu-ray if Disney decides to sign up to the Program.
On a similar note, different bits of IMAX Enhanced hardware will be designed to work to a high level independently of each other. But it’s only when running a full IMAX Enhanced eco system that you’ll get the maximum performance the program is designed to achieve.
I have to say that the new IMAX Enhanced Program runs the risk of further dividing and complicating an AV world for consumers who already have to get their heads around Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+, HLG and THX. But I guess if the quality really is there, AV enthusiasts will likely buy into it.
There’s currently no word on when the first products (software or hardware) might appear, but as soon as I hear more I’ll provide an update on my Forbes feed.
If you found this story interesting, you might also like these:
‘Avengers: Infinity War’ 4K Blu-ray Set To Frustrate AV Fans
Marvel Film Fans Petition Disney To Give Them The Whole Picture
Hey Disney – Stop Getting Your Star Wars And Marvel Soundtracks Wrong
Dunkirk 4K Blu-ray Review: A Picture Quality Masterclass
Avengers: Infinity War 4K Blu-ray Review: A Galaxy Half Empty Kind Of Guy
Star Trek And Star Trek: Into Darkness 4K Blu-ray Reviews: The Final Disc Frontier?