Guide to IMAX Enhanced: Another in a long row of alphabets or can you really get the IMAX experience at home?
IMAX Enhanced: another in a long row of alphabets or can you get an IMAX in your home?
Note: This feature was first published on 1 February 2024.
It may surprise some to find out that IMAX Enhanced certification has actually been around for quite a while. IMAX Enhanced was launched in 2018 as a partnership between IMAX and audio specialist DTS to deliver IMAX’s signature picture, scale, and sound to viewers at home in 4K HDR.
We first reported on it in 2019 when talking about Sony’s new (then) 4K TVs. In 2021, we covered an announcement that Disney+ was upgrading certain Marvel movies to IMAX's Enhanced aspect ratio format so we would see smaller black bars in several scenes. But more on that later.
But first, what exactly is IMAX Enhanced certification?
Making sense of it all
There are two parts to IMAX Enhanced certification, and it consists of components (TVs and sound systems) and content.
TVs and other supporting components like soundbars and speaker systems have to meet specific standards established by IMAX in partnership with DTS. IMAX determines whether a device meets the required video standards, while DTS evaluates audio standards.
As for content, as long as it means either one of the video or audio standards, it can be considered IMAX Enhanced content.
Now, let's take a look at what these video and audio standards are.
IMAX Enhanced video
IMAX Enhanced certification refers to using proprietary technology developed by IMAX to enhance both the video and audio of a movie.
For the video side of things, IMAX says it uses IMAX Enhanced digital media remastering (DMR) to reduce noise and grain to produce more vibrant colours, greater contrast, and improve clarity. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of detail on how this is done, but all IMAX Enhanced content is either mastered or re-mastered to offer the best visual quality.
More importantly, IMAX Enhanced changes the aspect ratio to something more viewer-friendly. Specifically, this means the content is shown in a 1.90:1 aspect ratio. This aspect ratio allows viewers to see up to 26% more of the picture, as compared to the traditional widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9 or 2.35:1. This also means that the black bars you so often see at the top and bottom of your TV screen are smaller.
Crucially, this larger picture is not upscaled or recut. Instead, it’s the original picture before it was cut down to a new aspect ratio using IMAX-developed proprietary technology during post-production.
IMAX Enhanced audio
IMAX Enhanced audio consists of a custom sound mix powered by DTS. To be certified IMAX Enhanced for audio, IMAX Enhanced devices have to meet performance standards for resolution, brightness, and sonic fidelity as defined by a certification committee of IMAX, DTS, and leading technical specialists from Hollywood. Like IMAX Enhanced video, IMAX Enhanced audio certification seeks to ensure a consistent audio experience as long as you have an IMAX Enhanced certified audio system. Fortunately, the nice thing about meeting IMAX Enhanced audio standards is that almost all Dolby Atmos systems will do.
How does IMAX Enhanced compare to IMAX in cinemas?
Let's talk about the video experience first. If you disregard the size of your home TV or projector, for the most part, you'll be seeing the exact same image in your home as you would in an IMAX cinema – since most IMAX movies are shown in 1.90:1 and that's the aspect ratio that most IMAX cinemas support.
That said, there will be differences for the handful of movies that are shown in the rarer aspect ratio of 1.43:1. But even then, not all cinemas can show IMAX movies in this aspect ratio, so in the grand scheme of things, you aren't missing out on much.
The audio side of things is trickier to address. This would depend on whether you have an IMAX Enhanced sound system, and if your room has been acoustically treated to the same level as the cinema.
IMAX Enhanced vs. Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos
So, is IMAX Enhanced certification the same as having Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos certification? Like the previous section, we’ll be breaking this down into video and audio for better explanation.
IMAX Enhanced Vs Dolby Vision
Dolby Vision works with HDR content to adjust the depth, colours, and brightness, so each frame of video is optimised for your screen, so you get a true-to-life viewing experience. IMAX Enhanced does include some video improvements as we covered earlier, and supports HDR and HDR10+ (with some titles). But the main difference between the two is IMAX Enhanced's resized aspect ratio of 1.90:1 which allows the picture to cover more of your screen.
IMAX Enhanced Vs Dolby Atmos
Both are the latest in object-based surround sound technologies that aim to provide a high-quality audio experience. The main difference between the two, however, is that DTS:X makes height channels optional. This means you don't necessarily need overhead speakers or top-firing speakers – although having them can be beneficial. There are other technical differences such as the maximum number of speakers supported (64 for Dolby vs. 32 for DTS:X) and bit rate (768kbps for Dolby vs. 1.5Mbps for DTS:X). However, we won't be covering these in this guide. The long and short of it is that most Dolby Atmos sound systems will work fine and support IMAX Enhanced audio.
What do I need to enjoy IMAX Enhanced?
To get the full benefit of IMAX Enhanced content you'll need certified displays and audio devices, but since the format is backwards compatible and consists of separate video and audio components, you could gradually build up your IMAX Enhanced system. Ideally, you’d like to have both an IMAX Enhanced display and an IMAX Enhanced sound system.
Where to watch IMAX Enhanced content
You can find IMAX Enhanced content on Disney+, iQiyi, and Rakuten TV. You could also buy them on Blu-ray, such as the example above. It's worth noting that not all content supports both IMAX Enhanced video and audio. For example, Disney+ currently only has IMAX Enhanced video and not audio. Also, Disney+ gives viewers the option to view a movie in its IMAX Enhanced aspect ratio of 1.90:1 or in the theatrical aspect ratio.
Some familiar IMAX-enhanced movies include Iron Man, Guardian of the Galaxy, Avengers End Game, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on Disney+. iQiyi IMAX enhanced content includes Inferno, Men in Black 3, and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.
You'll notice that it isn't a big list, particularly if you want IMAX Enhanced audio, which pales in comparison to the availability of Dolby Atmos content which you can find on Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and even music streaming services like Apple Music.
IMAX Enhanced device support
As for IMAX Enhanced devices and hardware, we should see more appearing this year. The following is a list of devices that support IMAX Enhanced:
IMAX Enhanced TVs
IMAX Enhanced soundbars
IMAX Enhanced AV receivers