A few weeks ago the news broke that IMAX was getting into the home theater game with the introduction of their IMAX Private Theatre program. While IMAX’s announcement hit the specialty AV space like a tsunami, there wasn’t a great deal of information given as to what having or purchasing an IMAX home theater truly meant. Even IMAX’s own website is a bit vague when it comes to details; suffice to say inquiries are welcome, though I imagine the true cost of ownership is likely high. But that got me thinking. What if IMAX’s move into home theater wasn’t about IMAX theaters at all, but rather the first step in them (IMAX) becoming a licensing platform a la THX or Dolby? With IMAX Private Theatre’s rumored to start at around $2,000,000.00, obviously they’re not for everyone or every budget. But if IMAX started to license their brand, name and methodologies to other companies, then maybe, just maybe us mortals could enjoy some of the “finer” things too. I don’t have any first hand or even secret insider info as to what IMAX’s plans truly are, but I have to say I was intrigued by their move into the home theater space -even if my thoughts went down a road IMAX never intended.

If I were at the controls of IMAX’s consumer or home theater department I’d probably abandon the high-end install market and begin parting my wares out to the highest bidders. But since I’m not, and IMAX doesn’t listen to me (to the best of my knowledge) I’m going to pretend. Based on what I’ve seen, read or been told about IMAX’s new Private Theatre program I’ve come up with a few products/ideas on how you can achieve an IMAX-like look for less.

The focal point of any IMAX theater is the screen. IMAX screens are huge. They’re also curved. Now 2.35:1 curved screens are nothing new in the world of home theater, but curved screens boasting a 16:9 aspect ratio AND a curved surface are a little more rare. Now I’m not certain if IMAX’s Private Theatre screen is a 16:9 aspect ratio screen, it may not be, but it’s okay because we’re going for the look rather than trying to match the specs exactly. Plus, by choosing a 16:9 screen we’re assured all of the content we have available to us mortals today and in the not so distant future will be compatible. Elite Screens offers a 16:9 curved screen in the form of their Lunette AcousticPro 4K Series. The Lunette is available in both 2.35:1 and 16:9 aspect ratios, the latter being what we want when trying to replicate the IMAX experience on a budget. Screen sizes for the Lunette 16:9 curved screen range from 84 inches diagonally to a whopping 230 inches – that’s almost 20 feet! The screen material is an AcousticPro 4K, which is a woven material that allows for sound to pass seamlessly through -this is important for later. Prices will obviously vary with size.

The IMAX Private Theatre program specifies a dual DLP front projection setup, no doubt because of 3D concerns. In our IMAX for the people theater we could easily ignore the second projector and just go with a single, but let’s stay true to IMAX’s intent and go with two. I recently reviewed a system in the AirFlex 5D that allows for such a configuration (2 projectors) only you can choose which two projectors you want. The AirFlex 5D is priced from $600 plus the cost of two front projectors, which could be as inexpensive as say BenQ’s W1070 or as expensive and high end as SIM2′s M.150. Either way, pairing a pair of consumer grade projectors up with an AirFlex 5D is going to be less than springing for a pair of Christie or Barco digital cinema projectors. Also, using consumer grade projectors -albeit stacked – will ensure all your content present and future will be compatible whereas with commercial projectors some added equipment may be required.

IMAX touts their IMAX Sound on their Private Theatre website, and for good reason, sound is a BIG part of the IMAX experience. There isn’t a lot of information given as to what loudspeakers specifically IMAX is using as part of their Private Theatre program, suffice to say they’re professional grade. Well, here is where we can take some liberties. Because our screen is acoustically transparent we can pretty much use which ever speakers we like -or can afford. Tekton Designs’ Pendragon Theater is a quality choice for those seeking cinema-like performance on a budget, but then again so is JBL Pro’s 3677, which is a true cinema loudspeaker. The point being, you can employ whatever speakers you choose so long as you set them up properly in either a 5.1 or 7.1 configuration.

Now, IMAX does elude to a proprietary room EQ and calibration procedure. Obviously, they’re very, very vague when it comes to details; I’m sure it’s but one of the ways installers and designers have to buy into IMAX’s program -not to mention a way for 3rd party individuals to earn a buck or two, which is fine. But since we have but two pennies to rub together, may I suggest a few alternatives. Understand my alternatives are NOT equal to IMAX, but rather ways of enhancing your experience that you should be doing anyway.  At a minimum, and after applying proper loudspeaker placement, you should be EQ-ing your subwoofer. I personally believe in the Room EQ Wizard (REW)/Behringer Feedback Destroyer combo and approach, though there are other ways of accomplishing this feat too. If full-range parametric equalization is the goal then you could just as easily call upon MiniDSP. MiniDSP with the assistance of Room EQ Wizard (a free download) and their calibrated microphone, would allow you to take full spectrum measurements for all of your speakers and create filters in REW for a single listening position. If you want to spread the love, most AV preamps and receivers have some form of auto room equalization that can accommodate multiple listening positions. The point being, our IMAX on a budget theater has calibration features too.

Lastly, comes design. Obviously, IMAX has developed a stringent set of requirements in order for a room and layout to be deemed worthy. What these requirements are aren’t 100-percent known when it comes to the home environment, but the cinema specs are somewhat readily available online. I’m not suggesting these figures will scale proportionately to ones’ home environment, but they could serve as a guide. Obviously you’ll have to let your own eyes and ears be the final judge, but needless to say, achieving the look for less shouldn’t be too difficult.

Of course, everything described above could be made even easier to figure out if IMAX just licensed their wares and methodologies to the public. But for now we’ll just have to rely on our home theater imagination and git r done attitude, when it comes to building our own personal IMAX theaters on a budget.

As always I thank you so much for reading. Until next time, take care and stay tuned…

Andrew