The famed bastion of immersive cinema, IMAX, has shown off its first UK laser system at The Empire cinema in Leicester Square. We went along for a full demo and screening to see if this is the future of cinema.
Short answer: it is.
The new IMAX with Laser is the product of $60 million of development that has resulted in a completely redesigned projectors. These offer richer colours, sharper edges, brighter images and better contrasts than any cinema experience before it. Plus it's all at 4K and with the latest 12.0 surround sound, meaning overhead audio too.
In reality all these facts and figures could amount to very little, but they don't. We were moved by the IMAX with Laser experience, something that's tough to do to an adult. The last time we were so blown away - with hairs standing on end - was the first DTS surround sound in that Jurassic Park T-Rex scene.
So what makes IMAX with Laser so good?
Brighter than film
Thanks to laser light the almighty IMAX screen, which is 87 feet across in The Empire, can be lit up far brighter than traditional projectors can manage. But why is brighter better?
Not only does the extra brightness offer a more realistic image but it also means dark 3D is no longer a problem. We were shown the new Star Wars trailer in 2D then in 3D. Thanks to the laser light there was no difference in the brightness, despite wearing the 3D glasses.
That said, the picture was so good it felt almost 3D even without the glasses.
Contrast on a micro scale
The difference between light and dark, or even between blacks, is astounding. We were shown a test card with black and white squares and there was no bleed whatsoever. In movie clips this means the difference between white and black, and indeed colours, is so sharp it make the picture look even more real.
It felt like watching 1080p or 4K for the first time, the jump in quality was that prominent.
This contrast is achieved by redesigning the way light is channelled. A new system was built that keeps all chips separate meaning there is no light bleed or distortion at all. An old problem of black next to white causing a reflection on the black, leaving it lighter, has been overcome here to great effect.
Colours like real
One of the stand-out features of laser is its ability to recreate colours in a super realistic way. By offering a wider colour gamut the pictures look deeper, richer and essentially, more real.
One video we were shown of a train making its way through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado had such brilliant greens and blues our brain was momentarily tricked into feeling like we were there. The immersion is difficult to describe, but it's worth experiencing if you get the chance.
The sound demo we were given to show off the new 12.0 system, jumping up from the old 5.0 offering, was excellent. It started with mono, playing the sounds of an old piano like something from a western film. It then moved into two, either side of the screen for stereo. Then added more to the sides and behind for surround sound. Then it jumped to IMAX Surround 5.0 adding more height. Finally the 12.0 IMAX Surround kicked in and the entire room was filled with sound, even above us.
A clip showing off planes flying around the cameras showed the potential for this complete surround immersion for audio. With Dolby Atmos also offering overhead audio this is something filmmakers are begin to take into account, meaning we should be able to look forward to more and more surround specific audio experiences in the future.
Now it's your turn
This demo was for media, but The Empire in Leicester Square is now ready for public viewings. You can go along to have the IMAX with Laser experience yourself.
Whatever film you choose will have been digitally optimised for the system. But there are films being made specifically for the cinema including the upcoming Batman v Superman. Upcoming releases at IMAX with Laser include The Walk on 2 October, Crimson Peak on 16 October, Spectre on 26 October, Star Wars: The Force Awakens on 17 December.
The IMAX with Laser system is a huge jump forward in cinema technology.
Just when cinema looked in trouble, the quality has moved so far forward that going out for an experience is worth the money again. No home setup can touch this experience for powerful immersion.
Enough singing its praises, go see it for yourself.