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IMAX vs Standard – Key Differences

When the next large blockbuster hits movie theaters, you are going to be faced with a choice on how you’d like to watch it. You can always go to your typical movie theater, as you do with most movies, or you can make it a one-of-a-kind experience by watching it at an IMAX movie theater. But, what are the differences between the two really going to be?

The key differences between IMAX and standard movie theaters are the sizes of the theaters, the quality of the visuals and audio, the number of theaters available, the size of the movie screens, and the cost of the movie tickets. IMAX movie theater tickets are more expensive than standard tickets.

IMAX vs Standard

There are actually quite a few differences when it comes to an IMAX theater and a standard movie theater. Keep reading to learn more about the differences and if the IMAX experience is worth the extra cost.

Also read: IMAX vs 4DX – Which Is Better?

IMAX vs Standard

For your convenience, below is a table showing some of the key differences between the two types of movie theaters.

IMAXStandard Theater
OriginFound by the IMAX Corporation in 1967Originally made by a French Physicist between 1879 and 1965
MeaningA big-screened movie format that is ten times larger than your standard movie format with higher quality video and audio Standard cinematography that uses limited video and audio quality and is used in standard theaters and home televisions
Video QualityDual 4k laser projectionsRanges from 720 p to 4K HD, with resolution at 1.5 Mbps to 4K Ultra HD at 16 Mbps
Audio Quality12 high-quality sound channelsTypically use standard speakers
Screen RatioAspect ratios of either 1:43:1 or 1:90:1Aspect ratio of 2:40:1
Ticket Cost≈$20$6-$13
Locations430 locations in the United States11,874 locations in the United States

What Is an IMAX Theater?

IMAX is a Canadian corporation based in Ontario and was founded in 1967.

Together, three filmmakers and an engineer worked to develop a projector that could screen shows up to ten times larger than the then-standard 35mm picture frame reels. They succeeded, and in 1970 they showed the first IMAX movie, Tiger Child.

When asking what IMAX actually is, there is a very simple dictionary definition. IMAX is short for Maximum Image, but the company changed the letters around to make it sound more appealing.

IMAX is also a trademarked film projection process where the image displayed is about ten times larger than the screen in a standard movie theater. (Source)

Not only do they offer the biggest theater screens, but IMAX also claims to offer pitch-perfect audio tuning and pinpoint audio accuracy so that every seat in the theater is the best seat. This, along with the large screens that feature high-quality images, helps create an immersive experience. (Source)

Because of the immersive experience that these features create, IMAX movie theaters are often considered superior to standard movie theaters.

The Size Difference

An IMAX movie screen is six times larger than your standard movie theater screen, and along with that, the screen is curved slightly to provide a better viewing experience for the whole theater.

Because of the curved screen, everyone in the theater has a clear view of everything that is happening, even if they are sitting in the end seats rather than in the middle seats. The curved screen also helps to make it more immersive.

The original movie theater screens and showing process were created in the 1920s by French Physicist Henri Chretien. While this is one of the older versions for viewing movies, it has become the standard and foundation that most other viewing methods have built off of.

Since it was invented, movie theater screens and projectors have improved over time, providing millions of people each year with entertainment. However, IMAX managed to improve that technology so much that, although it is considered the best type of theater to watch a movie in, other companies have not been able to replicate it perfectly.

Your typical movie theater screen is a flat screen that sits on the wall and can range from 30 to 90 feet wide and 10 to 30 feet tall. This is definitely going to look great and be a good experience for a casual movie-goer and even for most movie fans, but IMAX screens start at a size around 180 feet wide and 60 feet tall and have a curved screen for viewing pleasure. (Source)

The Quality of Picture

When it comes to video quality, IMAX again is superior, not just from their larger screens, but because their projectors are specially built to capture images and display them in high-quality resolution.

Standard movie theaters use the same quality projectors that will show you a picture of a similar quality to what you will see on your TV while watching movies in the comfort of your own home.

When IMAX was first establishing itself as a company, it really had one main goal; to improve the picture quality in movies and movie screenings. They eventually succeeded in this goal and became a full company worth around $1.28 billion.

When it comes to quality, IMAX is typically going to provide a video of around 3 times the quality of the video seen in standard movie theaters. This is partially because after filming movies, even if their specialty cameras are not used, they remaster the film using DMR, a remastering process that they invented. (Source)

DMR is the key to how IMAX offers such great video quality, as well as the twin 4K laser projectors that are used in IMAX theaters. This means that instead of having just one projector pointed toward the large screen, the twin projectors are working together to create a cleaner, crisper 4K resolution.

Also, IMAX screens have a ratio of either 1:43:1 or 1:90:1. The simple explanation of this is that they are roughly 6 times larger than standard movie theater screens. The majority of movie theaters have an aspect ratio of 2:40:1, which is the same as what Dolby cinema can offer you.

Audio Quality

The same thing goes for the audio quality as well. IMAX claims to have the best audio quality to the point where you can hear a pin drop and easily determine where it fell, even if you can’t see it in the dark theater. This is because of their unique 12 high-quality sound channels.

Each one of these channels is placed strategically throughout the theater and provides the sound in an immersive way so if there is a sound to the character’s left, there is a sound on the left side of the theater.

Meanwhile, standard movie theaters are a bit lacking when it comes to audio, as they use the same audio that televisions have, just with larger speakers throughout the theater. Although you won’t have trouble hearing the movie being played, you won’t feel as immersed in it.

Those are the real differences that we see and hear between IMAX and standard movie theaters. Before movies even are completed and sent to theaters, IMAX works with movie directors to get the best sound and video for their movie theaters, meaning that the movie is edited slightly differently than how it is edited when it’s going to be sent to standard theaters. This editing process makes it so movie watchers become more immersed in the movie.

When it comes to sound, something IMAX doesn’t do that some standard theaters do is attach speakers to the bottom of seats. Standard movie theaters do this so that you can more clearly make out the dialog of the characters. However, IMAX has never had a problem with people being unable to hear the dialogue, so they have never bothered to install under-seat speakers.

Movie Fitting to the Screen

Everything IMAX does for their movie showings is specifically for an IMAX theater. Because IMAX theaters are so limited throughout the country, and the fact that they are so large, they aren’t able to show very many movies, so typically, they will just show the movies that are expected to be highly anticipated and do extremely well.

While IMAX theaters are very limited in their showing options and what movies you will be able to watch, they make up for that by providing the best possible movie viewing experience they can. They specifically take steps to make it as immersive as they can so that your viewing is a one-of-a-kind experience. (Source)

This is accomplished by using unique, extra high-quality twin 4K laser projectors, a larger and curved screen, and by placing their 12 high-quality sound channels in specific spots throughout the theater so that you feel you are alongside the main character in the movie, whether it be an action movie, horror, or even romance.

IMAX theaters also only show the movies for a few weeks, although the amount of time that a movie is available varies depending on the demand and interest in tickets and what movies are supposed to be available after the current movies leave IMAX theaters.

Ticket Cost

One of the most important parts of any movie-going experience is the price of admission. You should already be aware that if you are planning on getting popcorn, candy, or a drink once you are at the theater, you will have to budget for them beforehand because of how expensive they will be, but what about the cost of a ticket to an IMAX or traditional movie theater?

Well, a standard movie ticket will typically range from $5 to around $15. If you are going to an early afternoon showing on a weekday, they typically have lower prices than during the weekends, but that isn’t always true. Meanwhile, for an IMAX movie ticket, you will pay between $17 and $20 per person.

For children between the ages of 1 and 12 years old, a ticket to an IMAX theater will cost about $17, although that will likely vary depending on where you live. Once you hit the age of 60, the price will drop back down to $17, but between the ages of 13 and 59, your ticket is going to cost $20 per person.

If you want to take your entire family to the movie theater, you might want to go to a standard theater just for the cheaper cost alone. Many theaters will let children in for an incredibly discounted price, but IMAX will still make you pay a ton for your toddler to see a movie they probably won’t remember seeing.

So, while the movie experience is one of a kind and many people find that the cost is worth it, it is up to you to determine if watching a movie in an IMAX theater is worth paying over $30 for the movie, popcorn, and/or a drink.

Where to Find IMAX Theaters

Now, because of just how large the screens and showing rooms are for IMAX theaters, there aren’t very many throughout the country. Within the U.S., it is estimated that there are 11,874 different movie theaters and some 200,000 movie theaters throughout the world.

Meanwhile, there are only 438 IMAX theaters in the U.S. and 1,500 in the world. That means that only 3% of the U.S. theaters have IMAX screens and less than 0.1% of theaters worldwide have IMAX screens.

The easiest way to find an IMAX theater near you is to use the IMAX.com Find A Theater feature, which will show you where the closest IMAX theater to you is, but depending on where you live, it could be located several hours away. But, if you live in or near a large city in the United States, there will likely be an IMAX movie theater near you.

Now that you know the differences between IMAX and standard movie theaters, you know that the experience is quite different. You will pay a lot to see an IMAX movie, but once you try it, you may never go back to a standard theater if you are a movie-lover.