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What is IMAX Enhanced? What you need to know about the home cinema format

Everywhere you turn there’s a home cinema format vying for supremacy. While IMAX Enhanced isn’t new, it’s a format that’s steadily gaining more traction.

IMAX Enhanced arrived in 2018 and is a partnership between cinema giant IMAX and audio specialist DTS. It aims to deliver IMAX’s signature picture, scale and sound to the home in 4K HDR.

This guide will go through everything you need to take advantage of it, including what it is, what devices you need and where can you find IMAX Enhanced content.

Related: Why IMAX is the biggest game in town – Interview with CTO Brian Bonnick

What is IMAX Enhanced?

In short, IMAX Enhanced is a certification programme to enable the highest quality playback in the home with regards to resolution, colour, brightness, contrast and sound.

For a longer answer, the standard can be broken down into its three components: picture, sound and scale.

The first relates to IMAX’s Digital Media Remastering technology or DMR. According to IMAX, this can accurately reduce noise and grain under the filmmaker’s guidance to optimise content for “higher-quality, higher-brightness” 4K HDR displays. Without this treatment, IMAX believes that HDR content could actually look worse than what was intended. IMAX Enhanced also supports HDR10+ with some titles.

The sound portion is delivered through IMAX’s partnership with DTS. It uses a variant of the immersive DTS:X audio format to recreate the IMAX sound experience with deeper bass and more dynamic range than is typical for a living room environment.

Scale refers to IMAX Enhanced titles that were shot with IMAX-certified cameras or specially formatted for its 1.44:1 or 1.9:1 aspect ratio. This enables viewers to see the full scale of the image, with IMAX content filling out all four frames of the display.

What devices support IMAX Enhanced content?

A number of content providers, TV manufacturers and AV brands have signed up to IMAX Enhanced. It’s not as many as other formats, but IMAX Enhanced is positioned towards the premium side of the AV market.

With compatible devices, you won’t need to press a button or select a mode either. IMAX Enhanced content will automatically play when it detects a supported device.

In terms of IMAX Enhanced displays you have premium TVs from Sony, Hisense and TCL. For speakers and subwoofers you have JBL, Definitive Technology and Philips, while in terms of AV receivers there’s the likes of Arcam, Sony, Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Anthem, Lexicon, McIntosh among others.

Related: Onkyo’s Premium RZ Series introduces two new IMAX Enhanced AVRs

Compatible TVs have been promised to be getting an IMAX Mode, while some AV receivers already have this special mode that flags IMAX content and displays the format.

To get the impact of IMAX Enhanced content, you needn’t buy the full complement of supported products (TV, projector, speakers, AV receiver, etc). Devices can be bought individually, so if you’ve got an IMAX Enhanced soundbar but not a TV, there’s still the assurance that if you play IMAX Enhanced content through the device, it’ll wring a better performance out of the sound.

But to quote IMAX, “ when playing back IMAX Enhanced streaming content on both certified display and audio devices, the sum of the whole is greater than its parts – creating the most premium in-home entertainment experience anywhere.”

The minimum speaker layout for the standard is a 5.1.4 system. That’s five speakers (in the horizontal plane), one subwoofer and four height speakers. DTS recommends a 7.2.4 system – seven speakers, two subwoofers and four heights – as the most optimal set-up.

If you don’t have that set-up or don’t have the space for it, DTS:X is a flexible audio format and its decoder can remap the audio to the speakers you have at your disposal. Speakers should have a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20kHz, with a sensitivity of 89dB. Subwoofers should be able to go down as far as 20Hz and hit 115dB peaks.

Related: The Philips Fidelio B97 soundbar is the first to get IMAX Enhanced certification

When it comes to TVs there aren’t specific guidelines as such, but it’s more than hinted you’ll need a high-end TV capable of good HDR performance. We wouldn’t expect this format to appear on TVs smaller than 55-inches in order to get that full-screen IMAX effect, so if you are interested in IMAX Enhanced, you’re going to need a big TV.

When it comes to 4K Blu-ray players there’s no official certification required. It only needs to pass on the 4K HDR picture and DTS:X soundtrack to a compatible device.

And if you don’t have IMAX Enhanced gear or aren’t interested, content will still play on your devices in its normal form. It’s only when there’s an IMAX Enhanced compatible device in play that the device will deliver the optimised presentation.

Where can I get IMAX Enhanced content?

Compared to Dolby Vision, there’s not as much content available. Big titles so far include Jumanji: The Next Level, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Zombieland: Double Tap and Bad Boys For Life. Don’t expect IMAX Enhanced content to be the sole preserve of 4K Blu-rays either. If you can’t find the IMAX logo on your physical 4K copy, it’s likely because the digital version is the one that’s IMAX enhanced.

Sony and Paramount have put their weight behind the format, with Sony in particular vowing to release at least 100 new compatible 4K titles throughout 2020 and 2021, with hundreds more expected in the years to come.

Paramount has a number of titles available on streaming sites including Bumblebee, Crawl and Rocketman. Rakuten TV’s streaming service supports IMAX Enhanced content in Europe ,but for the time being there’s not a huge amount of content available.

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