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Dolby Cinema vs Digital – Which Is Better and Why?

In the good old days, if you wanted to catch the latest blockbuster, you’d go to your closest cinema theater. Today, there are different ways to watch a movie, and your choice of theater is integral to your viewing experience.

The screen format, be it Dolby Cinema, standard Digital, or any other, can mean the difference between a decent film-watching experience and a fantastic one.

Dolby Cinema is a premium cinema format that uses dual 4K laser projectors and multidimensional surround sound to provide an immersive movie-viewing experience with breathtaking realism. Digital is the standard screen format in most cinema theaters and comes with the lowest-priced tickets.

Dolby Cinema vs Digital

In the rest of this article, I’ll explain the main features of Dolby Cinema and Digital, and how it stacks up against the standard Digital cinema offering. Let’s get started!

Also read: Dolby Cinema vs Dolby Atmos – Differences Explained

Dolby Cinema vs Digital – Understanding the Basics

Very few movies are made on film these days. Almost all movies are digital, which means they are shot with digital cameras, stored on hard drives, and screened digitally.

According to Statista, 96% of 43,600 cinema screens across the United States and Canada are digital.

To be clear, Dolby Cinema is also digital, as are other premium formats such as IMAX and Digital 3D. If you want to know how IMAX stacks up against standard Digital, read my article, IMAX vs Standard – Key Differences.

The premium formats have several innovative features that set them apart from the standard Digital offering:

Dolby CinemaStandard Digital
Projection systemDual 4K HDR RGB laser projector2K or 4K lamp-based projector
Contrast ratio1,000,000:12,500:1
Aspect ratio2.40:12.40:1
Brightness31 Foot-Lamberts14 Foot-Lamberts 
Audio channels64Up to 7
SeatingLuxury reclinerNormal
Availability (worldwide)About 250 locationsAbout 80,000 locations

Dolby Cinema vs. Digital: Which Is Better?

Dolby Cinema’s exceptional visual and audio quality gives it a clear edge over the standard Digital format.

For viewing a blockbuster action-thriller, Dolby Cinema trumps standard Digital and arguably all other formats. The 30% to 40% premium on the ticket cost is definitely worth it.

However, for an arthouse movie or family drama, the viewer experience may not be very different whether you go with standard Digital or Dolby Cinema. The Dolby Cinema experience may still be better but may not be worth the extra money you have to shell out for the ticket.

What Is Dolby Cinema?

Dolby Cinema packs a punch in both the visual and audio departments. It is an immersive movie-viewing experience that transports viewers into the thick of the action with ultra-vivid colors and life-like sounds.

The seats are fitted with transducers, making them rumble or vibrate when events like earthquakes or explosions unfold on the screen. 

Dolby Laboratories created this premium film-viewing experience by combining two proprietary technologies: 

  • Dolby Vision
  • Dolby Atmos

What Is Dolby Vision?

Dolby Vision is Dolby Cinema’s projection system. Dolby Vision features dual 4K HDR RGB laser projectors that have twice the brightness, up to four times the resolution and 400 times the contrast ratio of standard Digital projectors.

Dual 4K Projectors Mean Sharper Images

The typical Digital cinema uses a single projector with 2K or 4K resolution. Dolby Vision uses two 4K projectors, giving it up to four times the resolution of standard Digital. 

The images from the two projectors overlap on the screen, correcting distortions and giving images greater clarity and depth.

RGB Laser Projectors Display Ultra-Vivid Colors

If you’re a regular moviegoer, you’ll know that black often appears on the screen as a shade of gray. The contrast between “black” and other colors is dimmed, making images appear rather dull. This happens when light projectors are used.

Unlike the typical Digital theater that employs light projectors, Dolby Cinema uses laser projectors so that the blackest black will appear as the blackest black. The contrast between the blackest black and other colors is also sharper.

Dolby Vision’s laser projectors have a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1, which means there are one million discernible levels between the blackest black and the whitest white. This makes for vibrant colors and ultra-vivid images. 

HDR Widens the Contrast Range

And that’s not all! Films are now shot with HDR (High Dynamic Range) cameras, which capture a wider contrast range between the blackest black and the whitest white. With Dolby Vision’s HDR projectors, images appear on screen exactly as captured on camera with no loss in color intensity.

What Is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Cinema blows film buffs off their feet in terms of sound. It has been the leader in surround sound since the late 1990s, and the technology was continually upgraded and eventually rebranded as Dolby Atmos in 2012.

Dolby Atmos is installed in over 6,000 cinema theaters worldwide, compared to about 250 installs of Dolby Cinema. With up to 64 sound speakers positioned around the theater, behind the screen, and even overhead, Dolby Atmos can direct sounds at you from any direction.

Dolby defines sounds as objects that move through space. You can hear sounds, such as that of a screeching bat or an airplane, fly overhead in time with the action on the screen.

Luxury Recliners Add to the Premium Experience

Dolby Cinema comes with comfortable recliners, but banish the thought of taking a nap in them. The transducers at the bottom of the seats will shake you out of your slumber if the script demands earth-shattering sounds, making it an immersive experience. 

Better Insulation for Silent Moments

Realism is not just about sights and sounds; it’s also about silence. Dolby Cinema theaters have special insulation on their walls to keep out external sounds. This means those silent moments in the movie are so quiet you can hear a pin drop.

What Is Digital Cinema?

Digital cinema has been around since the late 1990s, with Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace being one of the first fully digital movies.

Since then, many innovative digital formats have been developed, including IMAX Digital, Digital 3D, and Dolby Cinema, which were branded as a cut above standard Digital.

The baseline Digital format has also seen incremental improvements over the years, including a move from 2K projectors to 4K models, and the increasing use of surround sound.

Conclusion

Dolby Cinema offers moviegoers an immersive viewing experience like no other. However, it’s available only at 250 locations worldwide, so it may not be a convenient option for many.

If there’s a Dolby Cinema near you, I suggest you catch the next blockbuster there although the ticket may cost you more. After all, seeing and hearing is believing.

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