SMPTE members got a special presentation of the new Imax laser-illuminated projector and immersive-sound system this week.
Last night, I attended the monthly meeting of the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) Hollywood Section, held in the Imax auditorium of the TCL Chinese Theatres. The main event was a screening of Furious 7 using the newly installed Imax laser-illuminated projectors (LIPs).
I didn't stay for that, since I had already seen it and written about it here
. But before the screening, David Keighley, Imax's Chief Quality Officer, gave a short presentation with some demo clips, which I was very interested to see. He started with a trailer for Rocky Mountain Express, a documentary about the transcontinental railroad and the Empress, a steam locomotive built in 1930. The documentary was shot on Imax 15/70 film and scanned at 8K for digital presentation. (Interestingly, Keighley said that Kodak claims 35mm film has a resolution of roughly 6Kx4K, which means that Imax 15-perf/70mm film has an effective resolution of 18Kx12K.)
The trailer for Rocky Mountain Express looked so beautiful, it made me want to see the entire documentary just for the imagery.
The trailer looked absolutely stunning, with super-sharp detail, deep blacks, and excellent contrast. In fact, Keighley claimed that the Imax LIPs achieve a greater contrast ratio than film, especially intra-frame contrast. To illustrate that point, he displayed an ANSI white/black checkerboard pattern and a still from Furious 7 with the stars decked out in black-and-white formal wear, pointing out that the bright white did not bleed into the black, and details in the black clothes remained clearly visible.
Next up was the trailer for Tomorrowland, which was shot on the Sony F65 and F55 digital-cinema cameras. Like the Rocky Mountain Express trailer, this one looked spectacular with great blacks and superb detail. It was also mighty loud, especially when a rocket blasts off. The soundtrack we heard was Imax 5.0, though the movie will be shown with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack at other locations, and I assume it will be presented in Imax's new 12.1 immersive-audio format in suitably equipped Imax theaters.
I can't wait to see Tomorrowland next month. I plan to see it in Imax at the TCL Chinese and in Dolby Vision and Atmos to compare the two systems.
The TCL Chinese Imax room was recently upgraded to the new 12.1 immersive-sound system, with front LCR speakers and a center-height speaker behind the screen, massive surround speakers in the upper-rear corners, left and right side-height speaker arrays, and four ceiling speakers along with a huge subwoofer array. To demonstrate the system, Keighley played a montage of clips, starting with a clever sequence that begins with mono sound, followed by stereo, surround, and finally immersive. The subsequent clips included shots of Harrier jets flying alongside a Canadian Navy vessel, a space-shuttle launch, and Muslim pilgrims circling the Ka'ba in Mecca in time-lapse. The immersive-sound system was very effective, creating a convincing hemisphere of sound.
The montage to demonstrate the Imax 12.1 immersive-sound system included some great footage of Harrier jets escorting a Canadian Navy vessel.
In addition to immersive sound, the montage included some clips in 3D using 6P (6-primary) projection and color-separation glasses. This is much like Dolby 3D, but Imax uses different wavelengths of red, green, and blue, and the glasses lenses do not appear to have a hue like Dolby 3D glasses—in fact, the Imax lenses are positively mirror-like on the inner and outer surfaces. As expected with this type of 3D, I noticed reflections between the 3D glasses and my prescription glasses, which was very distracting.
On the plus side, the image was quite bright, much more so than even dual-projector, xenon lamp-based Imax polarized 3D, which is spec'd to deliver 6 foot-lamberts to each eyeball. Keighley wouldn't say exactly how much brighter the LIP 3D is, but it was clearly brighter than just about any commercial 3D I've seen. And the 3D effect was excellent for the most part—one of the Harrier jets poked way out into the auditorium with no problem, though in some shots from inside the bridge of the ship, the image of the windshield wiper was too close to hold together entirely.
The arrival of laser-illuminated projectors is a watershed moment in the history of commercial cinema, with far better images than I've ever seen in that context. I'll be attending as many screenings as I can, and I will report my observations here on AVS. Meanwhile, I encourage you to seek out a LIP-equipped cinema as soon as there's one in your area to see exactly what all the fuss is about.
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