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Why Are There So Many Movie Theater Formats? | Movies Insider

[Narrator] This is the AMC on East Illinois Street in Chicago. They’re playing 17 movies. But you actually have 21 options because there’s so many formats. Should you see “Toy
Story 4” in 3D? Digital? Hang on, what’s Dolby? And why does it cost 18 bucks? Which one do you pick? If you’ve bought a movie
ticket in the last decade, you’ve seen this: a bunch of different options, each with dramatically different prices. The same movie is being screened, but there are a lot of
ways it can be projected. In order to figure out why
there are so many formats, we need to find out what
these actually mean. It’s more complicated than
the five names you see listed. Let’s start with the basics. Standard, sometimes just
referred to as digital: This is your average
movie-theater experience, found anywhere from Regal to
a small independent theater. Then there’s 3D, the one with the glasses, usually branded as RealD 3D. These projectors use polarized light to create the illusion of depth, which supposedly makes
the film more immersive. But a lot of people just
find it disorienting. 3D movies aren’t as
popular as they once were. In fact, in 2018, the MPAA reported a 20% year-over-year decrease
in the global 3D box office. All right, let’s ditch those 3D glasses and check out the newest
format to hit theaters, Dolby. Dolby Digital Cinemas, made by Dolby, can be found at AMC theaters. It uses dual 4K laser projectors. That’s four times more resolution than a standard theater projector. These projectors produce
super crisp images with deep blacks and bright highlights, at 500 times the contrast ratio and twice the brightness
of a standard projector. Dolby is the best HDR you
can get in the theater. High dynamic range means
really bright highlights and really dark blacks. Dolby Cinema images
appear less muddy or gray compared to the traditional projectors. Overall, it’s supposed to
create a more realistic image. And it reminds you, over
and over, with this video… Ad announcer: Fire becomes fire. Sun becomes sun. [Narrator] Yeah, we get it. But the biggest difference with
Dolby is their sound system. They call it Dolby Atmos. All movie theaters use surround sound. That means using more speakers so the viewer can hear
sounds from the direction they’re supposed to be
coming from onscreen, like behind you, or to your right. But Dolby Atmos is like
super surround sound. It uses many more speakers to completely surround the viewer. There are even speakers on the ceiling and transducers, which
produce bass under the seats. There’s also a version of
Dolby that offers 3D movies. Thanks to the higher-quality projectors, the image actually appears brighter than with traditional 3D. And then there’s IMAX. You’ve probably heard of IMAX, because it’s actually been
around since the ’70s. But this can get a little confusing, because unlike Dolby, not
every IMAX theater is the same. Unique to IMAX is its huge screen, which is bigger than any other
format, up to 40% larger, and it uses an aspect ratio that’s taller than other theaters. With some movies, this means
you’re seeing more of the image instead of black bars on the
top and bottom of the frame. The newest IMAX theaters
use dual 4K laser projectors and have an upgraded sound system. But if you buy an IMAX ticket, you might not be getting
your money’s worth. Depending on your theater, you may be getting what
some refer to as Lie-MAX. These Lie-MAX, ahem,
IMAX Experience theaters have a smaller screen and
lower-resolution projectors. It’s not clear just
from buying your ticket if your theater is IMAX
with laser or Lie-MAX, but you can check this
website to find out. Like Dolby, some theaters
also offer IMAX 3D. But if you’re walking
out of your IMAX movie wondering why the screen
felt smaller than last time, you might spot one more logo. RPX is Regal’s own
large-format experience, offering bigger screens, newer projectors, and an updated sound system. That list probably sounds familiar by now. Basically, RPX will look and sound better than a standard movie theater. But it’s not as premium as
Dolby or IMAX with laser. Oh yeah, there’s also 4DX, but, uh, that’s its own thing. This is a lot of information. But that’s actually just digital. Some films offer special screenings where you can view actual
film being projected. “Dunkirk” and “The Hateful Eight” offered 70-millimeter screenings. 70mm is huge, more than six times bigger than standard 35mm film. There’s also 70mm IMAX, which is how IMAX first started. Some moviegoers enjoy film projections because it creates a more organic and less sterile image
compared to digital. Besides 70mm, some theaters still offer 35mm film projections, but these are usually for
special events, not new releases. So yeah, there’s a lot
more to these screenings than just their names. Here are a few takeaways
from all of those specs: Bigger screens, newer projectors,
and larger sound systems usually make a better viewing experience. But if IMAX and Dolby are both
bigger and higher-quality, which is better? Well, it depends. If you want the biggest
screen size you can get, you want IMAX. With some screens over 80 feet wide, IMAX is way bigger than Dolby. Just make sure it’s IMAX with laser. But if you’re an audiophile who has to get the best sound possible, go with Dolby. Dolby Atmos is noticeably more immersive than traditional surround sound. Dolby theaters are also usually newer, so chances are it will
be better maintained. But both Dolby and IMAX
have better quality control over the sound and image
than a standard theater. Dolby does offer a crisper, brighter image with deeper blacks than IMAX. But both IMAX with laser
and Dolby look great. The average moviegoer probably
wouldn’t notice a difference without seeing these images side by side. But IMAX theaters also
have a taller screen, so if you’re watching a movie
like “Avengers: Endgame” that was specifically shot for IMAX, you’ll see more of the image instead of having black
bars on the top and bottom. But projection isn’t everything. If you’re going to watch a
three-hour “Avengers” movie, you want to be comfortable. Certain theaters offer reclining seats, food trays, or paired seats. These are a deal-breaker for some people. The specifics will vary
theater to theater, but you can usually check online
before buying your ticket. Obviously, all of these
features won’t come cheap. If you want to see a newer,
higher-quality format, your ticket is going to cost more. Now, if all you wanted was to see a movie on a hot summer day, this
might seem silly to you. But some people are passionate
about how they watch a movie. And who can blame them? Movie tickets have hit an average price of over $9 nationwide, and in big cities it’s
even more expensive. If you’re paying a bunch of money, you want the best experience possible. All of these formats give
moviegoers more choice. If you just want to see a
comedy with some friends, standard digital is probably fine. But if you’re seeing the big blockbuster you’ve been waiting a year for, it might be worth the extra money to see it in the biggest format available. Different genres lend
themselves to different formats. And these formats give directors and cinematographers more choices too. Christopher Nolan shot parts of “Dunkirk” with an IMAX camera, which made those exterior
shots feel large and epic, while the interior shots
felt tight and confined. The taller IMAX aspect ratio was used to add more impact to the story. And sound designers are
able to be more detailed and creative when using a
system like Dolby Atmos. All of these formats give
filmmakers the opportunity to tell their story the
way they want to tell it. Of course, it helps the theaters too. Formats like Dolby and IMAX are a reason to go to the theater
instead of watching at home. But whether you want crispy
Dolby or grainy 35mm, you’ve got a lot of options. And that’s a good thing. Imagine if 3D was the only
way you could see a movie.


  1. JLBee Author

    I'm in Canada, and we only have one theatre chain, with 2-3 options, all of which are quite expensive. All this is still pretty cool. Actually, I've only seen Dolby Atmos in my phone settings. Apparently my Samsung phone works with over 30 speakers, although I have no idea why you'd be using a phone if you had that many speakers.

  2. andykillsu Author

    Yeah you also missed the Ultrascreen from Marcus Theaters, similar to RPX. Also you should have talked more about 4DX since it is 100% a different format.

  3. Selena - Author

    If I go to watch a movie, it's usually a big blockbuster movie. I go with IMAX and if possible IMAX 3D. For me, going to see a movie is a big event! If I'm going to pay then I want it to be worth it. If not I can just wait until it gets on streaming and watch it on my small computer

  4. Carazy123 Author

    My friends when I insisted on watching
    Avengers: Endgame in IMAX:
    “What’s the point? It doesn’t matter.”

  5. Lucas Padilla Author

    Just find a screening on film and watch it the old fashioned way if possible, don’t get screwed over in price over pixelated BS.

  6. Weatheronthe8s Author

    Well, the only theater in my area is very restrictive on screening. You either get standard digital 2D or for some newer movies basic 3D. Most of what they show though is just 2D. We don’t get no IMAX or Dolby or anything. I don’t even think I’ve seen an actual IMAX or Dolby movie. All I know I’ve seen is digital 2D and basic 3D along with some old school 35 MM as a kid on rare occasions. The only movies I could tell I’ve seen on 35 MM though seem to be animated movies. I’m pretty sure I saw Cars 2 of all movies on 35 MM at a drive in theater and I think when I saw Ice Age 4 may’ve been too possibly. Now those are the best examples of 35 mm you can get. I would say I’ve seen some others from before my town went down to just 1 big theater. My mall used to have one and the last thing I remember watching there was the Bee Movie. I couldn’t tell what format it was though. Either way though, I haven’t seen most of these formats. I guess you need to be in a big city for most of this stuff. Of the few theaters I’ve been to recently, all of them seem to be digital. The only ones I’ve been to though in the past few years are my local Marquee Cinemas(a smaller chain actually headquartered in my town) and a drive in theater about 3 years ago. The Marquee seems to be embraced in all basic 2D digital stuff with the occasional basic 3D showing. I haven’t been in the projector room but I can tell basically what it is. It doesn't say IMAX or Dolby I don’t think. It just says Christie right before every movie which I think is the projector company. Some screens are just bigger and some are smaller depending on the movie. Bigger movies usually get bigger screens. The drive in was using a digital projector for the movie I was watching(Tarzan 2016) but had an old film projector sitting right next to the digital one. I actually got a peek into the projector room while getting concessions. However, most studios have stopped printing on film mostly so they had to switch. I’m not sure if I can tell much difference though because I’ve never seen a real movie in any of these fancy formats. It just seems underwhelming sometimes to have my theater's audio compared to my cheap headphones. I think I just like extra loud sound in movies though. If I was to record something in there(just little clips, not the whole movie, I don’t want to get caught or anything) and play it back with my headphones it just sounds louder to me. Sure it’s echoey as can be, but it sounds fuller to me. I kinda tested this with the Circle of Life scene in the Lion King 2019. I guess I like bad sound or something.

  7. [VGB] Orange Juice Author

    i remember watching lion king ("live action") on a dolby theater and thought there was an insect flying around because of dolby atmos

  8. Unicorn Lady (formerly archiecook55) Author

    At my small local theatre, most of the movies are just shown in standard, with maybe a couple of popular ones being shown in 3D too.

  9. InaneArtifactOH Author

    The first official IMAX cinema just came to my city a few years ago. Watched both Dunkirk and Endgame there and my mouth watered.

  10. Bhum Brahmavira Author

    You know why 3D sucks balls? Because they're filmed in 2D then post processed to have artificial depth. That combined with camera angles shenanigans in the original source material and the fabric of space as projected by the 3D movie is seriously out of whack.

  11. maggot238 Author

    Last 2 movies I seen in theaters were silent hill 2 (2012) and resident evil extinction (2007). No wonder I didn't know about any of this

  12. Critizon Author

    Wow… there's so many formats in US? My country only has 2, Digital and Imax. 3D was there too but it got outdated so no one actually watches them anymore

  13. Cool Lobster Author

    Event Cinemas offer 4DX in Australia and I do not actually like it, the lightning simulator is distracting and water spray is frustrating. Just let me watch my movie in peace without shaking the seats and stuff. IMAX, VMAX and everything else just gets better with better seats and sound sealed cinemas.

  14. Tototl Grgavitic Author

    all of these modern formats, especially Dolby and Imax, make movies look really fake, phony and exaggerated. when you see all those ultra-saturated brilliant colors or unnaturally black/white tones, your brain immediately classifies the input as fake and impossible in the real world, thus affecting our viewer experience. in Dolby, everything is just so brilliant and lively that nothing sticks out, and the results are boring images lacking tension. to me, this is one of the problems with modern cinema.

  15. Jeremy Dionida Author

    Why can't they show a movie with an IMAX format in a Dolby theater? That way you can get the bigger picture, but with better sound and picture quality.

  16. Arthur Moreira Author

    The question is: why where I live you can only watch movies on 3D (shit) or IMAX 3D (more expensive shit)? These things should be banned

  17. Bonnie & Clyde Ride Author

    This is why I built a home theater! I have a laser projection screening room with Dolby fill-thrus, sound dampened/absorbing tiles, theater seating, huge beanbags, etc.. and then I turned our master bedroom into a "lazy day cinema" of sorts too. It has an 80" Samsung SUHD tv and Klipsch R-625FA setup.. its wonderful.
    I'm hoping that one day I may be able to buy a THX Ultra2 setup for the screening room! I just need a raise at work or a lottery ticket first.

  18. Jonathan Vazquez Author

    IMAX 70mm is the best out of any format , however only nolan films really shoot that way. I saw dunkirk at a real IMAX screen in Irvine and it was glorious. However, if the film isnt shot in imax and you're not close to a real imax theater with laser then Dolby is better. IMAX 70mm> IMAX laser> dolby > liemax


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