The air crackles with the sound of flaming jets, the screen blazes with images of the Space Shuttle Discovery taking off from its stand and the sturdy leather sofa rumbles like I’m strapped onto the rocket myself. Sitting in an impossibly expensive private cinema at an IFA 2019 demo, it’s safe to say that I’m falling in love with IMAX Enhanced.
IFA is a big, busy show with miles of exhibition floor to cover. If you want to see what's new in the wide world of consumer technology, then you’ve got some leg work to do. So it’s something of a delight just to sit down in a quiet, dark, demo room, and be reminded the point of all this fancy new kit. But what I see, hear and, most importantly, feel in my five-minute IMAX Enhanced experience is how I believe that all home cinema viewing should be.
IMAX Enhanced is an AV certification program designed to bring the best of the movie theatre to your home. It’s a three-pronged approach. The first is the creation of brighter, clearer images through HDR video, the second is to ensure immersive, heart-pounding audio using DTS:X technology. The third is about scale. It removes the black bars from the top and bottom of your 16:9 screen and fills the whole display with an image – none of the picture is lost and no inch of display is wasted. After all, you’ve paid for all that real estate, why shouldn’t you get to use it?
That process isn't simple, however. To enjoy an IMAX Enhanced movie, the film either needs to be shot using tall lens IMAX cameras in the first place or it needs to be digitally remastered by IMAX - no small and inexpensive a task. Those recordings, whether on Blu-ray or streamed, carry an IMAX Enhanced flag, which your certified home cinema equipment can recognise and then deliver using its own IMAX-optimised settings.
The results are mind blowing. It’s an utter treat to watch a few web-slinging sequences from Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is soon to be released in IMAX Enhanced on the Rakuten streaming service.
The clips are too brief to offer any real critical value of the technology. Instead what I’m hit by is a sense of pure fun. My middle-aged sensibilities and journalistic cynicism is brushed to one side by a wave of joy. I feel like I’m kid again. I shoot from nought-to-suspension of disbelief at split-second speeds. I am wowed by every little trick of the silver screen all over again.
This is exactly the feeling that home cinema has always been trying to chase. It’s only when the lights come up that I start to wonder just how achievable IMAX Enhanced is really going to be.
Naturally, IMAX has pulled out all the stops for the demo. The screen we’ve been watching is a £14,000 8K Sony ZG9 Master Series TV. The speaker package is part of Definitive Technology’s premium BP9000 series built from two front and two rear top-of-the-line BP9080x floorstanding towers each with 12in subwoofers built-in.
The sides are BP9040 high-performance towers with 8in subs. Then there's the CS9080 centre channel, again with its own 8in sub, four AW6500 wall-mounted speakers with 10in bass radiators and then four actual dedicated SuperCube subs too, with 11in drivers and dual bass reflectors, all arranged in a 7.4.4 configuration.
Add in the Marantz 8805 AVP pre-amp and dual Marantz MM8077 7-channel power amps to push the signals and that's around £35,000-worth of kit - before you’ve considered the disc player and cables. IMAX Enhanced-certified or not, you’re going to feel something even if you’re watching BBC News with that system.
Fortunately, you don’t need to spend massive amounts of money on your home cinema to appreciate IMAX Enhanced for yourself, but there is a minimum spec requirement - and no doubt the need for some new equipment.
For the screen, you don't need a huge 8K TV. A 55 inch 4K, HDR10 TV is a more realistic proposition, with the best 55 inch TVs now featuring models around the £1000/$1000 mark.
But your screen is only one part of the chain. To get the sound you’ll need an IMAX Enhanced-certified AVR, and a minimum 3.1 home cinema set-up (you're going to want 5.1 at least, realistically) which also requires a certain spec of its own.
Anthem and StormAudio are the latest to join the 14-brand strong IMAX Enhanced-certified manufacturer program which also includes devices from Arcam, AudioControl, Denon, Elite, Integra, Lexicon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony Corporation, TCL and Trinnov. Some of our five-star favourites like the Denon AVC-X6500H already make the grade, while the Arcam AVR390, AVR550 and AVR850 need only a firmware update.
Even if you already own some of the kit, the cost very quickly adds up because of course just one product with the IMAX Enhanced sticker isn't actually going to deliver the real results without the rest of the system and content to go with it.
And no doubt some people will be rolling their eyes at the thought of another standard and the pressure to upgrade. There’s already the pressure to go OLED/QLED, to upgrade to 4K or even 8K, plus a host of different HDR standards and audio codecs. Is another label really helpful? Or is it just another hoop for manufacturers and consumers to jump through to see films at their best?
On the plus side, at least IMAX is something that most consumers have heard of. It also partly acts as an umbrella certification, encapsulating other technologies under the same banner, and assuring a base level of AV quality.
As ever, though, these technologies have to begin somewhere and that’s usually with some very expensive kit and not a lot of content. And just as with everything else in TVs, what seems out of reach in one calendar year is often very much on the menu 24 months later.
IMAX Enhanced content is seeping through. It's available on FandangoNow, Rakuten and a few new Blu-rays, and there is a distinct light-lipped excitement when I speak to company executives at the show. Has a deal been arranged with the upcoming Disney Plus service? And what about Apple TV+, Amazon and Netflix? We shall see.
What we know for sure is that there's value in what IMAX has done here and if the likes of Dolby and DTS can get their stickers onto TVs, then why not IMAX too? Enjoying your own home cinema with rumbling furniture, heartbreaking images and no black bars feels like only a matter of time.