Today’s home entertainment systems offer incredible fidelity to AV enthusiasts. With the advent of UHD video and 3D immersive sound, cinematic viewing experiences that used to be exclusive to commercial theaters are now available in your living room. IMAX Enhanced takes this concept to the next level, bringing the IMAX theatrical experience home using optimized content and certified AV gear.
There’s a visual and an audio aspect to the IMAX Enhanced Program. Movies are delivered in 4K UHD with HDR using a proprietary mastering process that optimizes imagery for presentation on today’s big-screen TVs and home theater projectors. Meanwhile, on the sound side, a special variant of the DTS:X codec is used to help recreate the IMAX theatrical experience, a 3D immersive audio experience that can deliver the full range and dynamics of an IMAX theatrical presentation.
What’s an IMAX Enhanced Sound System?
In this article, we’ll look at how to set up an IMAX Enhanced sound system in your home. The good news is it’s simpler than it sounds. That’s because IMAX Enhanced audio is based on DTS:X technology, the popular 3D immersive sound format. When it comes to speaker positions, DTS:X technology offers flexible speaker placement options that are compatible with other immersive sound formats, like Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D. With IMAX Enhanced compatible gear, DTS:X will properly translate the mix to your specific system.
With IMAX Enhanced, home viewers get full-range, high impact sound that envelopes them in a virtual aural environment, delivering a visceral “you are there” feeling. Moreover, the sound is mixed without the dynamic range compression and bass filtering that are the bane of home theater enthusiasts.
There are certain parameters that must be met. For example, a system that offers 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response is the minimum recommendation. Moreover, IMAX Enhanced guidelines suggest using speakers with at least 89 dB rated sensitivity (1W/1 meter), and capable of over 100 dB peaks when you are seated 2 meters away (as tested to CTA loudspeaker standards). This is to ensure that the speakers properly express the dynamics found in IMAX Enhanced certified content. Similarly, in order to feel the full impact of the bass mix, you’ll want subwoofer(s) rated to play down to 20 Hz or deeper with 115 dB peaks. In other words, you’re going to need a fairly serious speaker system to get the job done right.
Selecting AVRs and Pre/Pros
In order to optimally play IMAX Enhanced audio, you’ll need an AV receiver or preamp/processor that has an IMAX Mode. A great place to start your search is our IMAX Enhanced product guide, found here. For example, if you have a smaller space and are certain that a 5.1.4 system is all you need, a 9-channel AVR like the Denon AVR-X4500H ($1599) or Marantz SR6013 ($1499) will get you up and running. Stepping up to an 11-channel AVR or pre/pro—such as the Denon AVR-X6500H ($2299)—brings more power and the ability to process 7.1.4 channels of sound, allowing for the full IMAX Enhanced audio experience.
If you are upgrading a home theater to an IMAX Enhanced system, numerous brands offer AVRs pre/pros to choose from. IMAX Enhanced device partners include Denon, Marantz, Sony, Onkyo, Integra, Pioneer, Lexicon, Trinnov and AudioControl, so there’s plenty of additional options on the way.
Selecting Speakers & Subwoofers
The minimum speaker system recommendation for IMAX Enhanced is a 5.1.4 3D immersive audio setup. However, for the best effect, DTS recommends using a 7.2.4 speaker system, one that incorporates side as well as rear surrounds for greater immersion. Note that dual subwoofers for all layouts will result in a better bass uniformity for all listeners.
If you are not ready to take the immersive sound plunge, it is also possible to deploy a system with fewer speakers than the recommended minimum. DTS:X includes a “spatial remapper” that will make the most of the available speakers when playing IMAX Enhanced content. But to get the IMAX Enhanced audio experience, you’ll need at least a 5.1.4 speaker system and 7.2.4 is what DTS recommends as optimum.
3D immersive sound is a key component of the IMAX Enhanced audio experience. For that, you’ll need height speakers. You can use in-ceiling speakers, height speakers, or reflected-sound style elevation speakers to reproduce sounds that appear to come from overhead. Regardless of the speaker setup, as long as it meets DTS:X guidelines, an IMAX Enhanced AVR or pre/pro will adapt to it and render the “signature sound.”
Configuring the System
You’ll want to consult the manual for your IMAX Enhanced AVR or pre/pro to see what DTS:X speaker configurations it supports. You’ll need to find an approach that works with your room. For example, if you have vaulted ceilings, reflected-sound for the elevation channels is not an option. Wall or ceiling-mounted speakers may be used, with in-ceiling speakers being a popular option for dedicated home theaters.
What’s key is that you don’t need to do anything extra to accommodate IMAX Enhanced sound, aside from setting your system up properly for DTS:X to begin with. You perform the setup either manually, or using automated room correction. For example, with Denon and Marantz AVRs & pre/pros you’d use the setup assistant and Audyssey to configure the hardware and calibrate the speaker system. Once that’s done, the system is ready for IMAX Enhanced.
Using IMAX Mode
Once EQ and speaker levels plus distances are set, when you play IMAX Enhanced content, a compatible AVR or pre/pro will make the necessary adjustments behind the scenes. And once you are done watching, the settings go back to “normal” on your AVR or pre/pro—it’s fully automated.
You might be wondering “what exactly is IMAX Enhanced doing with audio behind the scenes?” There’s a FAQ on the IMAX Enhanced site that addresses this question, but the crux of it is a combination of bass management and channel remapping, along with an established “reference volume level” that mirrors what the filmmaker chose for the IMAX theatrical release. This IMAX Mode applies custom bass management settings that help recreate the IMAX theatrical signature sound. If reference volume level is too loud, you can set the volume to level you like, but with IMAX Enhanced you’ll also know the level of intensity the director intended you to hear.
A key point that emerges in discussions with DTS is that the audio presentation championed by the company is still a matter of choice. The company makes no claim that it’s “better” than alternatives, including DTS:X and Dolby Atmos mixes. The key is that IMAX Enhanced is a different take on immersive audio, with solid science underlying the approach.
With IMAX Enhanced content, there are special qualities that differentiate it from other releases, whether it’s delivered by Ultra HD Blu-ray or a in a UHD stream. IMAX Enhanced gear is designed to make the most of the content, to play it back in the most optimal manner possible. For audio, that means you can get as granular as you wish with putting together a room—multi-sub setups and acoustical treatments and “perfect” speaker layouts are all bonuses that will, literally, enhance the experience. The idea is that the IMAX Enhanced content possesses the fidelity to take advantage of the gear, even in the most advanced systems. After all, with Trinnov as a partner, IMAX Enhanced is headed to a high-end home theater near you.
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