Space Station – IMAX Enhanced Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Enjoy the IMAX documentary Space Station in IMAX Enhanced and you’ll feel like you are up there with the astronauts in this Ultra HD Blu-ray release.

IMAX Enhanced allows home viewers to enjoy the superb detail and incredible immersive sound of the IMAX theatrical experience. The latest Ultra HD Blu-ray release in the format is Space Station, which is narrated by Tom Cruise and was originally released in 2002. Thanks to the IMAX Enhanced mastering process that ensures the cleanest, sharpest visuals along with audio that retains the dynamics of IMAX theater sound, this Ultra HD Blu-ray is an eye-popping spectacle that shows off the performance of IMAX Enhanced AV electronics.


Space Station is an Ultra HD Blu-ray IMAX Enhanced release

I watched Space Station on Sony’s IMAX Enhanced 65″ Master Series A9G OLED and then again on the IMAX Enhanced VPL-VW295ES projector. You could hardly ask for better content to show off why OLED is the favorite of movie lovers. The pitch blackness of space and the shockingly crisp, bright, sunlit exteriors of the space station and Earth itself provide an eye-candy feast for your retinas on the A9G. Meanwhile, the 295ES delivers on scale and scope, virtually putting you out there in space with the astronauts thanks to the 110″ size of the screen.

Space Station was released in 2002 and given the retired status of the space shuttle, it is in essence a historical document. It is also shot on film but with IMAX Enhanced what you see is a clean, vibrant, ultra-detailed image that has the quality (resolution, dynamic range and color gamut) needed to hold up to a modern 4K HDR presentation. The only hint that it’s film and not digital is a slight “film flutter” in static shots that film buffs will recognize and most people will never notice.

On the sound side, I powered a 7.2.4 KLH speaker system with an IMAX Enhanced Denon AVR-X8500H AVR, which is the recommended speaker configuration if you want to get the most out of IMAX Enhanced (5.1.4 being the minimum). Twin GoldenEar SuperSub XXLs took care of bass, the rest of the system comprised a pair of KLH Quincy towers, a KLH Stage center channel, Beacon surrounds plus Broadway elevation speakers, all calibrated with Audyssey. A Sony UBP-X700 Ultra HD Blu-ray player handled disc playback.


When Space Station started playing, the Denon AVR-X8500h indicated IMAX Enhanced is in use

The Space Station UHD Blu-ray package also included a “standard” HD Blu-ray version. This allowed me to compare the sound and picture quality between the two disc-based formats; surprisingly the HD Blu-ray appears to possess the same sound as the Ultra HD Blu-ray version, it even had the AVR-X8500H displaying “IMAX DTS:X” on the front panel. And it sounded the same, too. But visually the two discs were worlds apart, with the HD Blu-ray looking dull with less visible detail, both when viewed on the 295ES projector and the A9G TV.


Space Station: IMAX Enhanced

In order to best enjoy the 4K HDR IMAX Enhanced presentation of Space Station, I used the “Custom” picture mode on the Sony A9G. I found the picture close to impeccable in terms of color fidelity. This is a “pure” documentary with no artistic effects, just well shot film in outer space where there’s there’s no haze or mist or variance in color temperature. This is science, not fiction and accuracy is part of the package. Moreover, merely launching IMAX cameras and film into orbit cost a small fortune ($10,000 per pound to get stuff up there) so the care taken to ensure the footage is as good as it gets must have been meticulous.

Because the visuals in IMAX Enhanced are delivered through HDR10, you can enjoy the superb visual fidelity of the Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation on any 4K HDR display that offers a big picture and high picture quality. Sony’s Master Series A9G happens to be among the best TVs in the world and is certified IMAX Enhanced and its handling of Space Station included truly jaw-dropping scenes of the International Space Station and the space shuttle Discovery. OLED offers the highest contrast of any current consumer TV technology because it is able to turn off each individual pixel so that it is pure black, even if the adjacent pixel is lit up. The result is incredible delineation when looking at the space shuttle or the ISS floating against the black backdrop of outer space, with no halo artifacts whatsoever. Even more impressive is the planet Earth, which provides the most glorious backdrop for scenes of the ISS being assembled.

There’s more to Space Station than outer space scenery. You also get to see NASA training facilities and of course what it’s like inside the ISS. Thanks to the tremendous resolving power of IMAX cameras, you get to experience the impact of true 4K resolution. Every time I switched back to the 1080p HD Blu-ray version of the movie, I was shocked at how flat it looked in comparison. The loss in detail rendition was palpable, especially on the 295ES projector where the big picture lets you see the full effect of the 4K detail.

Make no mistake, this film will push the limits of your display, which is why IMAX Enhanced TVs and projectors are recommended for the best possible visual experience.

IMAX Enhanced uses a custom variant of DTS:X for 3D immersive sound. In this documentary, one of the primary uses of sound is in the placement of astronaut voices, which matches up with what’s on screen and off. If the astronaut who’s talking is behind the camera, you hear the voice come from behind, too. Obviously it’s not going to be as complex a soundfield as the mix in the final battle of some huge blockbuster, but the cool thing is how much the 3D immersive sound enhances the authenticity and “you are there” feel of this documentary. This is on location recorded sound, not from a studio, and with IMAX Enhanced DTS:X it adds to the realism of the film.

IMAX Enhanced sound features unconstrained dynamics and deep bass, which is why there are performance requirements for speakers used in an IMAX Enhanced setup (read more about that here). In Space Station, these qualities manifest in the rich sound of the score as well as numerous sounds featured in the mix. For example in the first scene, you are shown the CGI graphics of a VR simulation, it includes bumps and knocks and thrust sounds plus an orchestral score that immediately shows this sound mix is sophisticated an immersive. There was not a moment in the film the 7.2.4 speaker system was not being put to good use.

The Russian Proton rocket launch provides an intense taste of what the full dynamic range, 3D immersive sound and deep bass in IMAX Enhanced brings to the table. I jumped the first time I saw it, and as the rocket takes off the glass and debris flying by is textbook home theater demo stuff. Another scene showing astronauts practicing assembly underwater has a nice bubbling water sound effect that surrounds you and has the intended effect of making it seem like you are in that pool.

Space Station is an IMAX Enhanced movie release that is a perfect example of the quality that may be achieved with 4K HDR and DTS:X when proper care is taken with production. It’s a perfect demo disc for systems that can take advantage of the quality it offers and remains an awe-inspiring wonder of the planet Earth’s one and only International Space Station that orbits above our heads every day.