Based upon the recommendation of a friend and as a reality check, we visited the local IMAX last night to see the 3D version of A Christmas Carol. We had not been out to a movie in several years so this was going to be a test of our evolving HT vs. one of the better commercial offerings. This was more of an audio comparison as the big screen 70MM superiority of IMAX is indisputable.
As expected, the IMAX screen and Image quality were excellent. The 3D effects were very cool and although the glasses are a little uncomfortable it was nice to see where 3D is at technically and visually. As you would expect in such a large room the soundstage (39 speakers) was huge with excellent dynamics and vocal clarity but the surround effects were much less impressive. There were many times when I was expecting more enveloping sound but it just never got there. I can think of only a couple of times during the film with effective surround sound. The bass was the biggest disappointment and I would be surprised if there was much if any <30hz content. That said it was loud but loud in the same way my system is, i.e. due to large dynamic peaks of the audio tracks. Your are cruising along at a 75-85db clip and wham the peaks jump up to 110db or more. What was missing in the IMAX presentation was the big tactile and aural bass hits that I now take for granted. It was funny to have my SO lean over to me during the film and whisper “they don’t have enough subwoofers”. Funny, that was exactly what I was thinking.
So overall, I would concede IMAX superiority to the 3D video and the front stage sound which were very good and arguably better than my system. But the surround sound and bass were far less impressive. Kind of what I expected and this pointed out the exact areas I intend to address in the future. I want to get a larger AT screen (AR TBD) and move the LCR off the floor and behind the screen. I believe that will address any short comings with the front soundstage. The projector is another matter and much more problematic. I am happy with the image quality of my JVC (HD-100) but concerned that its brightness isn’t up to a 130” or so screen (current is 106”). The other issue (and that one keeps me up at night) is screen AR. I know the arguments for 16:9 and 1.35 very well. With 3D capable projectors just around the corner, holding off a while on a video move seems prudent. In any case, I may or may not make a move in this direction soon.
The one thing I did not mention and the main reason I hate going to out to a movie is the people. I’m sure the room contained some very nice folks who under different circumstances I wouldn’t mind talking to or even breaking bread with, but damn there are some stupid unaware schlubs out there. I completely missed the first 5 minutes while my fellow IMAXer’s settled in. Arrive late, can’t find their seat (the IMAX was reserved seating), munching, slurping, burping, grunting, farting, cell phones, whining kids … you name it, they do it. I found myself morphing into Larry David (an already easy role for me to assume) and wanting to inform each and every offender of their short comings. Luckily, my SO was right there with me on this one. If anything, she is even less tolerant of the great unwashed masses.
Oh well, the experiment is over, the lessons learned and my obvious obsession for this hobby fully justified. I can now happily retreat to my cave and enjoy movies and concerts with only myself (and an occasional friend/neighbor) to annoy me.