Dolby Cinema and IMAX are two of the most popular movie formats that we see in theaters today. That’s because these two, according to critics, provide the best movie-watching experience that we can get. But how do these two movie behemoths stack up against each other?
Dolby Cinema projects better images with 500 times higher contrast ratio and four times more resolution than IMAX. On the other hand, IMAX uses 40% larger screens and a 26% taller aspect ratio as compared to Dolby Cinema.
Both use dual 4k laser projectors and an upgraded sound system for a more immersive experience.
These metrics are great, but, unfortunately, figuring out which of these two formats is better isn’t that simple. We need to compare the image format, the actual movie-watching experience, and the availability of both. Read on to learn more about these two formats and figure out which is better for you!
If you are interested in setting up an IMAX theater at home, check out my IMAX cost and setup guide.
Dolby Cinema vs IMAX: Side by Side Comparison
Which one is better for watching movies: Dolby Cinema or IMAX? Both formats can provide moviegoers with an immersive experience that is never possible with standard or digital formats. So, a quick comparison table is the easiest way to figure out which of these two is better for you.
|Image Quality||4 times the resolution of standard or digital format||3 times the resolution of standard or digital format|
|Image Format||2.40:1 aspect ratio||1.90:1 aspect ratio|
|Audio||64 audio channels||12 audio channels|
|Comfort||Reclining chairs with more space and equipped with transducers.||Comparable to normal seats that we see in theaters, just slightly more comfortable.|
|Availability||197 Dolby Cinemas around the world.||1500+ IMAX theaters around the world.|
|Film Process||Solely for 2D films||2D and 3D|
Dolby Cinema gets a huge edge for its image and audio quality, and “first-class” seats. However, that’s not everything that we consider when watching a movie. Image format and availability are other huge factors that we have to consider. So, we’re still getting a bit of a close comparison with these two movie behemoths.
Image Quality Comparison
Dolby Cinema provides a better movie experience in terms of image quality. The screen projection is beautiful, and there’s no way to compare Dolby Vision’s projection technology with standard or digital projection.
With up to four times higher resolution and 500 times higher contrast ratio, you’re getting the best image quality possible in a movie.
IMAX isn’t that far behind with its proprietary dual laser projection technology, but most of its theaters only use 2k resolution. You’d have to be lucky enough to have a new IMAX theater near you to experience watching a movie with dual 4k laser projectors. But even that only has three times more resolution than standard movie formats.
Image Format Comparison
IMAX is getting our recommendation for image format because Dolby Cinema is just an average in this arena. The movies that we typically see in theaters; standard, digital, AMC Prime, ETX, and even Dolby Cinema, all use the same image format—2.40:1 aspect ratio.
This format is the same in almost every movie that we see, and is, in fact, the same aspect ratio that we get in newer phones.
On the other hand, IMAX uses its technology to display movies with a taller aspect ratio at 1.90:1. That’s 26% more screen real estate than what we would get from other movie formats. It’s also part of the reason why you should watch a movie, shot with IMAX cameras, in IMAX theaters.
You’re going to get more details and better immersive experience from a taller IMAX screen than you would in a Dolby Cinema screen.
Being a company that specializes in audio, Dolby is an obvious winner with their Dolby Atmos technology. The sound quality is beyond any experience that you would get from a theater that doesn’t use this sound system. Right now, there are more than 5,000 Atmos-enabled theaters around the world!
Atmos is already impressive as it is, but Dolby Cinema at AMC even upgraded it by installing transducers within the seats. Not only will you be able to track a small moving object across the room with sound, but you’ll also feel low-frequency sounds in your seat!
IMAX’s sound system is great, and they’ve made it a lot better than most standard and digital movie formats. Its theaters have more speakers that are much bigger than what you would typically see and produce more precise and smoother sounds. However, Dolby Atmos is on a different level when it comes to enveloping moviegoers with immersive sound quality.
We referred to Dolby Cinema chairs as the “first-class” of theaters because they are. If you’re going to any Dolby Cinema, you’ll get the same high-end chairs that are wider and more comfortable than any theaters have. You can also recline it according to your liking, which isn’t a feature available for IMAX.
IMAX seats are comfortable, but you’ll have to adjust yourself several times throughout a movie. Another factor that can affect your comfort when watching a movie is the number of people inside the room.
IMAX seats are less spacious, trying to fit in as many people as possible and just provide moviegoers with a “good enough” level of comfort.
IMAX is all over the world. It’s most likely the only option for you to level up your movie-watching experience with more than 1500 theaters in 80 countries.
Dolby Cinema is excellent and better than IMAX in a lot of ways. But you’d have to be lucky to find one near you. With only 197 Dolby Cinemas worldwide and 127 located in the US through AMC, there aren’t that many options for you to experience it.
2D vs 3D
We’re not going to discuss which of these two is better, and we won’t be throwing our opinion. However, if you feel like seeing a movie in 3D, Dolby Cinema isn’t for you. It doesn’t have any plans at the moment to play 3D films, so right now, IMAX is your only option.
However, it’s worth noting that you have to be extra careful when you’re off to watch a 2D movie in an IMAX theater because not all of them will provide you with the same immersive experience.
There are two types of IMAX theaters that you can visit: the real IMAX and the fake IMAX, or what critics refer to as “LIE-MAX.” In a “LIE-MAX” theater, you’re paying IMAX tickets to see an enhanced standard or digital movie format, which is still good but not that great.
What Is Dolby Cinema?
We’ve all heard about Dolby, but it’s most likely because of their unparalleled sound expertise. In fact, if you go to Dolby’s website, you’ll know that they’re an audio company more than anything else. However, this is also part of the reason why Dolby Cinema has an unfair advantage in providing the best cinematic experience for moviegoers.
To help you understand what makes Dolby Cinema great, let’s go back to how it all started. We’ll discuss the parts that make up the complete immersive experience that isn’t available in most theaters.
What Is Dolby Laboratories?
Dolby Laboratories is a company that has been synonymous with excellent sound quality. It was mostly because of their logo stamped at the back of every home media release and poster. It’s the company responsible for refining sound systems from Dolby Stereo up until the monumental leap that brought life to Dolby Atmos.
Aside from their incredible sound system, Dolby Laboratories also redefined theater projection using Dolby Vision. This technology delivers screen quality that was never possible for theaters, bringing 2D movies back at the forefront of the cinema experience.
What Is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos is a sound format that Dolby Laboratories released in 2012 to take the theaters’ sound systems to a whole new level.
It still uses a surround sound format that we employ in most theaters. However, instead of having the speakers around the room, Dolby added more speakers above the viewers to envelope them with everything that is happening on screen.
It provides the viewers with the ability to hear audio from 5 in-screen speakers, 48 surround speakers, and four subwoofers. This sophisticated setup allows you to hear 128 different audio tracks from a total of 64 channels. It’s so powerful that you can track a flying bird, across the room, just from the sounds that it creates!
What Is Dolby Vision?
Dolby Vision is a visual technology that changes how we project images on the screen. Instead of a laser or traditional lamp projector, Dolby Vision uses dual 4k laser projectors to display movies that follow Dolby’s specific, high dynamic range.
Since it’s using lasers instead of lamps, viewers see a wider color gamut, and blacks become real blacks instead of a dark gray color.
Both laser projectors throw images at 4k resolution each, so we’re getting four times more resolution than standard or digital movie formats.
It also has a contrast ratio that is 500 times higher than standard projectors! The color reproduction is so accurate that it’s impossible not to see the difference between Dolby Vision and a standard movie format.
What Is AMC Prime?
AMC Prime are high-end theaters that AMC manages. It uses different movie formats, including Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime. It was confusing before 2015 because back then, their theaters use different movie formats.
However, by the end of 2015, AMC removed Prime and other movie formats as AMC’s premium offering. It happened right after Dolby and AMC teamed up to introduce Dolby Cinema at AMC.
The Birth of Dolby Cinema at AMC
Putting all the pieces together gave birth to Dolby Cinema at AMC, which is currently at the forefront of the movie-watching experience. It combined the technology behind Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, then placed it together in the auditoriums of a theater powerhouse—AMC.
However, Dolby Cinema at AMC isn’t as simple as putting together everything and calling it a day. Dolby took the movie-watching experience to a whole new level, by redesigning AMC theaters to match their specifications.
They even used reclining chairs and reduced the theater’s capacity to improve comfort and lessen distractions while watching.
When watching movies at Dolby Cinema, you can literally feel the sound! That’s because they equipped each chair with transducers that hear low-frequency sounds, making the chair vibrate from an explosion or a crash.
To put everything into perspective, if standard or digital cinemas are “economy flights,” Dolby Cinema at AMC is the “first-class” of the movie-watching experience.
What Is IMAX?
IMAX, is perhaps, the most popular movie format, not only in the US but all over the world. If there’s a theater near you with a premium offering, it’ll most likely be IMAX. But did you know that it was initially intended only for documentary and not for Hollywood films?
According to its website, IMAX has more than 1,500 theatres in more than 80 countries. That’s far more than any other premium movie offering ever has in their list of theaters.
There are a lot of reasons why IMAX films are so popular for moviegoers. But to make it easier for you to digest, let’s break it down to the parts that make up the premium movie format that we see.
IMAX movies use a 70mm film stock, which creates 18,000 lines of horizontal resolution. It creates a much better viewing experience than what we would have if we are to watch a film at 35mm film stock. Standard movie formats that use a 35mm film stock only have 6,000 lines of horizontal resolution.
The films that IMAX cameras produce are so good that the only reason movies don’t use this setup is because it’s a lot heavier than most cameras with less mounting options.
They’re also very expensive to replace, which happens quite a lot when shooting movies. Avengers Infinity War was the first movie shot entirely using IMAX cameras because it fits the storytelling they want to achieve in the film.
One of the things that we love about IMAX is the screen size. Most theaters usually have a screen of 15 to 50 feet (4.6 to 15.2 meters) high. A 50-foot screen still delivers an excellent viewing experience.
However, IMAX took it up a notch by having its average screen at 75 feet (22.9 meters) tall, with the biggest IMAX screen in the world, measuring in at 117 feet (35.7 meters) high!
The seats in IMAX are closer to the screen and placed higher than standard theater seats. This position makes it possible for viewers to pay less attention to the edges of the screen and just focus on the movie.
Aside from that, the screen is also slightly curved at the center, because it creates a better immersive experience than the ones we usually get from watching other movie formats.
The IMAX movies that you see in theaters look great, because of its screen and powerful projectors placed at the perfect location. IMAX uses a proprietary laser projection technology that delivers a wider color gamut than what we usually see in standard or digital formats.
It uses dual laser projectors with 2k resolution, while newer IMAX theaters use dual 4k laser projectors. However, the quality that we see on the screen is better because it’s a combination of technology and placement. IMAX projectors are closer to the screen, making it possible to project crisp, clear, and smoother images.
IMAX completes the immersive cinematic experience by using a sophisticated speaker setup that isn’t possible in many theaters. When you go to see a movie, most of the speakers are behind an acoustically transparent screen. Since IMAX can take advantage of a much larger screen, they can put more, bigger speakers behind it.
Every IMAX theater has a different sound setup, custom-built to adapt to the varying factors that can affect sound quality.
They can also remotely control these settings through a network center, keeping it safe from manual adjustments. IMAX even optimized the audio for every seat, so you don’t have to look for the best spot. Any position within the room will get the same incredible sound that is custom-built for that theater only.
Dolby Cinema is a lot better than IMAX when viewing movies shot with traditional cameras. Dolby Vision provides the best image quality among all movie formats that are currently available.
Dolby Atmos is the cream of the crop in audio production and is the most widely used sound system for theaters. The reclining chairs with transducers add a nice touch to the overall experience that IMAX can’t compete with.
However, with more and more movies using IMAX cameras to shoot films, moviegoers are getting more reasons to take advantage of more screen details with its massive screen sizes.
If you see a movie shot with IMAX cameras or want to watch a 3D movie, go to an IMAX theater. But other than that, everything else will look and sound better in Dolby Cinema.