Comparison of Dolby Cinema and IMAX

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A side by side comparison

As films are evolving, so is the experience. There are now special theaters being built with state of art projection, sound, and seating, each adding to the entire movie-watching experience. Dolby Cinema and IMAX are perfect examples of this.

Dolby Cinema is being branded by Dolby Laboratories to give certain movie theaters around the world a performance edge over their competition. Some of the projected images are so vibrant and crisp that the viewer will feel like they are right in the movie. This is all thanks to the unique Dolby Vision projection process.

If Dolby Cinema equipment is set up correctly, it is said that the viewer will get an experience they have never pulled off of their own home television. At Dolby Cinema, the sound is enhanced with Dolby Atmos, which uses an array of speakers, including overhead speakers.

It might blow your mind to know that when you visit a Dolby Cinema theater, there are no speakers on the walls of the theater. The overhead speakers are placed in a way that the sound can stream from them down into where the viewer is sitting. The best part is that you can hear the full spectrum of what the director intended.

IMAX was created over 50 years ago as a larger, more immersive movie experience. However, over the last few years, it has been taken a step further and adopted a new standard of 3D to match. The IMAX 3D format, which uses an aspect ratio of 1.43:1, is bigger and more immersive than the wider and smaller standard IMAX format. This 3D format enjoys a larger aspect ratio of 1.9:1, and, although IMAX offers many 3D movies, it still captures the same feeling of being immersed in the film.

Differences in quality

The two favorite go-to movie formats for moviegoers these days are Dolby Cinema and IMAX. While they are essentially synonymous with the cinematic experience these days, there is a difference between the two. These formats aren’t just different because of the way they look; they also represent a different experience and type of movie experience.

If you’re wondering how the different formats compare, then the most obvious way to tell the difference is in image quality.

Dolby HDR provides more digital information than HDR10, and both support the same color space specifications (PQ). Dolby’s implementation supports more metadata and dynamic metadata. Although HDR10 and Dolby Vision can both support 10-bit video, Dolby Vision supports 10-bit with 12-bit depth/color and 2,000 nits maximum brightness. Dolby Cinema supports 12-bit with 12-bit depth/color and 10,000 nits maximum brightness.

Comparing different image formats

Both formats are 3D versions of the format and can support the same resolution, brightness, native color, and contrast. It’s a toss-up as to which one gives the movie theater’s color an edge. We’ll leave that discussion to your eyes. Both formats are available in various formats. IMAX also offers IMAX Dome and IMAX Laser presentations, which also present unique experiences.

The first difference, and possibly the most important, is the image format. For IMAX, they have their Digital IMAX format. Besides the resolution, brightness, native color, and contrast, they also offer IMAX 3D.

Some movies that have been released in film IMAX are also available in Digital IMAX. However, a few of the films released in Digital IMAX are only available in the standard Digital format in film IMAX.

However, both format IMAX, and their 3D versions, are capable of producing movie theater experiences.

So what about Dolby Cinema?

With its massive experience in audio technology and theater technology, Dolby is the choice for a high-quality experience from sound to image quality. With higher resolution, higher brightness, and the Dolby 3D format, the experience is higher quality.

Comparing the audio

If you've ever wondered what the difference is between Dolby Cinema and IMAX, you are not alone. These movie formats share quite a few similarities, but there are also a few differences between them.

After visiting an IMAX and Dolby Cinema movie theater myself, I've finally gained some insight into these differences. Not only have I noticed the different sound and screen sizes, but I also listened to the soundtrack and the special content created for each format. I couldn't help but compare these two movie formats, and, with about 200 movies to date, it's clear which one I'll be going to more often. Dolby offers a much more immersive and clear sound.

Comparing the level of comfort

Both IMAX and Dolby Cinema have different configurations of seats, screen, sound, and lighting. Depending on the cinema, the seating options may vary dramatically, ranging from theaters that offer tiered stadium seating with a handful of rows to theaters that feature more than 100 rows. While you might think of stadium seating as uncomfortable, they are widely considered the most comfortable and offer the best audio quality and viewing angles, making them the natural choice for a home theater setup. They are also typically the most affordable to have built, but more on that later.

In terms of audio, Dolby Cinema offers a constantly maintained audio experience and offers the option of a variety of different audio tracks, depending on the movie. So no matter how busy the cinema is, or which row you’re in, the audio experience will always be the same. The only way to get better audio would be to pay for a Dolby Cinema Dolby Atmos system, which you would have to install in your own home and is much more costly.

IMAX, on the other hand, is similar to watching a standard movie at home – if you turn the volume up too high, or if you have a competitor whose audio is louder than yours, it’s a bit of a nuisance.

How available are the standards

When comparing Dolby Cinema and IMAX theaters, the availability of the respective technologies is a key difference to consider. In general, IMAX theaters are more widely available in terms of an overall global footprint. Furthermore, there are IMAX theaters in more countries than there are Dolby Cinema theaters. IMAX is also more accessible in terms of finding a theater within a specific proximity to the viewer. The size of individual theaters is also likely to vary with IMAX theaters being larger on average than Dolby Cinema theaters.

An IMAX theater will have one or two IMAX projectors in each auditorium, and Dolby Cinema theaters will have one or two Dolby Vision projection systems. In some cases, Dolby Cinema theaters might be equipped with a single projector, but this scenario is relatively rare, with only 25 Dolby Cinema theaters globally using a single projector setup. The ability to pack more data on the film itself means that a single projector can produce a Dolby Cinema experience. This allows for smaller, more localized theaters, to be able to offer Dolby Cinema, which may not have the necessary size and capacity to utilize a dual-projector setup.

Comparing 2D and 3D

Let’s face it. The decision between a Dolby Cinema or an IMAX experience seems like an easy one. It’s easy to get caught up in the marketing hype and the grandiose of the theater-in-the-round experience. It’s quite literally like you are sitting inside of a movie.

Even the fact that IMAX is the pricier option is no surprise. After all, IMAX boasts of its superlative images with four times the resolution of Dolby Digital and an immersive sound system. But are the added bells and whistles worth it?

This is what I’ve found out after extensive research and comparison of both formats. The IMAX movies indeed have larger screen sizes. At a typical IMAX theater, the screen is about 15% larger than that of the typical cinemas. These larger screens allow movie watchers to get up close and personal with the action.

But it’s not just the size of the screen but also what action you are getting up close and personal with. As the name suggests, the IMAX experience is focused on the film itself.

Both systems offer great 2D and 3D experiences. From there, is a matter of preference.

What is the Dolby Cinema standard?

Dolby Cinema was first launched in April 2013. Since then, many theaters have begun to upgrade their theater equipment to include the Dolby Cinema technology and offer this premium cinema experience to their moviegoers.

Dolby cinema offers a fully immersive experience, with both the sound and image being optimized to get you into the movie action. It is also designed to be upscaled from 2D to 3D in the theater, which may look differently at home.

In a technical nutshell, Dolby Cinema offers up to 2,000 watts per channel of audio and the latest Dolby projection, plus a Dolby Atmos sound system. This helps to add to the ambiance by generating sound from all around the audience. There is also a Dolby 4K laser projector, which helps to add to the crispness of the image.

In short, Dolby Cinema allows you to enjoy the movie from the screen to the sound. And this is a step above your local movieplex.

That’s because Dolby Cinema is based on their decades of experience of being a world leader in surround sound. They have continued to evolve and upgrade so the viewer has the best experience possible.

By 2021, all major movie theater chains will accept 4K digital cinema, and no movie should be shown on any less quality.

Dolby Laboratories history

Dolby Laboratories, Inc. is a Fortune 500 company based in San Francisco, California, United States. Most of us are familiar with the name of the company because it’s a leading innovator in sound technologies. But have you ever wondered what Dolby by itself means?

Dolby began as a sound company in 1965. This means that it deals with audio recording and reproduction. It soon rose to become the premium name in cinema technology throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Dolby’s revolutionary Dolby SR noise reduction technology was used by most major movie studios to create 70mm prints, the best available technology at the time. A movie is not complete without special sound effects, and Dolby ensured that their cinema systems delivered the absolute best-quality audio.

The Dolby Atmos sound standard

Dolby Atmos is an array of special effects and equipment which producers can use to create a feeling of object-based sound. It's based on the theories of David Mamey, but rather than the sound is mixed and played in the standard 5.1 channel setup, Atmos allows sounds, objects, and voices to be mixed and played in a 3-dimensional space above and beyond the viewers.

The Atmos Home Theatre Package includes the equipment needed to play Atmos-enabled movies. It includes the Dolby Atmos Player, Atmos ceiling speakers, Dolby Surround Speaker/Satellite Speakers, and a 7.1.2 HDMI cable. The standard encompasses the speaker package and the Atmos-enabled films, however, Atmos players can also be used with several other packages such as the Dolby Atmos Add-on and Dolby Atmos Elevation.

The Dolby Vision standard

Dolby Vision, created by the parent company Dolby Laboratories, is a dramatic transformation in the West, incorporating HDR and WCG into the PQ grading and cinema playback system to transform the viewing experience. It pushes the limits of artificial light to present an image that looks true to the director’s intent. With Dolby Vision’s superior dynamic brightness, the viewing experience is at its best in the darkest, brightest, and everything in between because it performs at the highest level in bright, vivid, and dark scenes.

How does AMC Prime work?

With AMC Prime, moviegoers can enjoy their movie in an auditorium with reclining leather seats, enhanced audio, and complimentary food and drink. All for a cheaper price than what you’d normally pay to see a movie in an IMAX theater.

If you’re an AMC Stubs member, you get to enjoy the benefits of AMC Prime and pay a lower price than non-members. You just need to use your membership card before entering the theater.

AMC currently has 12,695 screens and over 1,167 locations nationwide. There are over 300 locations in North America that offer AMC Prime, including 17 locations in Canada.

Dolby Cinema & AMC Prime

The Dolby Cinema is the brainchild of Dolby Laboratories, and it was unveiled in 2012 with its first installation at AMC Loews in San Francisco. The concept of the Dolby Cinema was inspired by the IMAX Experience. It is an enhanced theater experience that incorporates the company's advanced audio and visual technologies. Since its launch, the Dolby Cinema technology has been adopted by multiple cinema chains and is now in over 60 locations across the globe.

Five years have passed since we saw the first Dolby Cinema, and the technology is now heading towards its maturity. It's an enhanced cinematic experience that takes movie-going to the next level.

What is the IMAX standard?

IMAX is a well-respected brand for large-format (40ft + diagonal) movie screens that intensify the viewing experience. It is the largest of its kind, and most modern IMAX screens are equipped with up to 64 speakers for maximum surround sound.

IMAX theaters can be found in 75 countries with hundreds of IMAX screens worldwide, and millions of IMAX pay-per-view movie views each week. IMAX is fast becoming the industry standard.

The screens used for IMAX

IMAX is a derivative of 70mm film (big and flat) where the film size is increased and wrapped around the audience. The image is captured by two lenses with a separation of approximately 59 degrees. It provides approximately 1,000% more image area than that of the flat screen.

Dolby Cinema, on the other hand, is derived from the Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs). It is using the 2K image from the server and runs an algorithm to convert it to a larger 2K image. The sound is then super-focused for the best "dashboard" audio. It is then combined with the original 3D sound and produced via the Dolby Atmos (Dolby's loudspeaker configuration), unlike IMAX, it is only a 5.1 system.

In a nutshell, Dolby is taking the image and pushing it so that its 70 feet wide (minimum) and using the server to push it out to both the right and left sides of the screen. In IMAX they are shooting the image using two lenses (with a 59-degree separation) and reading a 70mm film format (much larger than the 2K image from the server).

The speakers used for IMAX

IMAX speakers are carefully placed throughout the theater so that the sound matches the movie action on the giant screen.

First row seats, for instance, contain speakers at the feet of the viewers, similar to the positioning of home speakers. At the same time, speakers above near the ceiling give an expanded sense of height to compliment the sense of depth below.

The speakers have been designed to give the immersive experience of 3D without needing the special glasses.

Increasing the speaker quality substantially in the movie theater makes a big difference in the acoustic experience inside the theater compared to the home.

The projectors used for IMAX

The formats known as IMAX and Dolby Cinema are terms that most of us have heard of but few really understand.

IMAX has been around since 1967 and is no longer protected technology, though they are still the only movie tech company that owns its trademarks.

Both IMAX and Dolby are technologies that are implemented in the theater, by upgrading the equipment rather than changing the size or shape of the screen. So what does this have to do with the experience? In cinematic terms, IMAX is a standard widescreen (flat) resolution whereas Dolby Cinema is referred to as an Asymmetrical projection, meaning it is natively a 4K resolution picture.

The cameras used for IMAX

Vs. IMAX Experience

For decades, films have looked best when viewed on the giant IMAX screen. But recently, the arrival of digital projection is changing the game.

Both IMAX and Dolby Cinema offer immersive experiences, which you can experience at one of the hundreds of IMAX locations or at a few movie theaters that have embraced Dolby Cinema.

While the concept is the same (a giant screen with a powerful sound system and special projectors), the experience is different between the two even though it is hard to pinpoint the cause for this difference. The consensus on the differences has been that the IMAX experience is all about the screen size whereas the Dolby Cinema is more about the Dolby Atmos sound system.


When viewing films at a Dolby Cinema, IMAX, or IMAX dome theater, the debate on which is worth spending the extra money on will not be common. While the picture quality and sound are something that both of these theaters have in common, there are still distinct differences.

With IMAX, for example, you get to enjoy an immersive movie experience that is guaranteed to tweak your senses. You can get a definite thrill from watching a film in a theater that’s wrapped in a dome, like the IMAX Dome.

On the other hand, the Dolby Cinema has proven to be every bit as good in offering a cinema experience. The picture and sound quality have been described to exceed that of any other. Additionally, the Dolby Cinema gives you access to highly enhanced digital content so you can customize your own experience depending on the format of the film you want to watch.

When comparing Dolby Cinema vs IMAX, you'll quickly find that they offer similar benefits: excellent audio and a magnificent picture. But, at a base level, there is also a lot of difference between the two systems. IMAX is a company that specializes in large-screen display technology while Dolby Laboratories is behind the scenes in creating the best sound for every movie theater.

In a nutshell, the benefit of Dolby Cinema is that it augments the sound quality of a movie by adding a Dolby Atmos sound mix to the projection. IMAX, on the other hand, projects a clearer, brighter, and larger image on a screen that's three stories tall.