You'll need to go to a Dolby Cinema in order to see Avatar 2 as it's supposed to be seen

You'll need to go to a Dolby Cinema in order to see Avatar 2 as it's supposed to be seen
(Image credit: Disney)

If you want to see Avatar: The Way of Water as it's meant to be seen, you'll need to go to a Dolby Cinema. Those are currently the only places capable of showing the film in all its 48fps HFR, 3D, 4K, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos glory, FlatpanelsHD (opens in new tab) reports.

And that's exactly how director James Cameron wants it. The Titanic helmsman is known to be a fan of big screens – in 2010, he described watching a film on the iPhone as "dumb". And he's engineered such a combination of technology that's only available at certain cinemas.

But hang on, there's a catch. While Dolby Cinema is Dolby Vision-certified, it's not technically HDR. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range – it creates a greater difference between the light and dark parts of the picture, with more gradual steps in between, making for greater contrast and a more realistic image. But Dolby Cinema uses something called EDR (Enhanced Dynamic Range), which isn't quite the same thing.

The film will also use a clever hack, to avoid making cinemas upgrade their projection equipment. While more visually impressive scenes will be rendered at 48fps, more mundane ones (such as people talking) stay at 24fps. If everything was at 48fps, Cameron claims, it would "create a kind of a hyper realism in scenes that are more mundane".

Cinemas don't have to work out a way to vary the frame rate, they just show it in 48fps. But for those mundane scenes of which Cameron speaks, they show the same frame twice to slow it to 24fps. But this is apparently invisible to the naked eye, so the viewer will be none the wiser. Clever.

Of course, not every cinema is equipped to show Avatar: The Way of Water with all this tech. IMAX's more advanced screens will show it in 48fps HFR, 3D and 4K (with no HDR or EDR). Less advanced IMAX screens will screen it in 3D 2K at 48fps HFR or 3D 2K at 24fps. And your more bog-standard multiplex will show it in 3D HFR or in standard 3D or 2D without HFR (24fps).

Avatar: The Way of Water is released on 16th December. Disney is yet to announce details of its home release.

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Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.