IMAX 101: Sound

December 19, 2012 4:07am
Source: IMAX

Hey movie fans! Welcome to the IMAX 101 Series. We’ve launched the IMAX 101s to give you insight on IMAX technology and what goes into making The IMAX Experience® so unique.

Before we get started we’d like to introduce you to Coco. Coco is a fellow movie nerd and IMAX enthusiast. She’s gotten the skinny on all of the elements of The IMAX Experience® and what makes seeing a movie in IMAX like seeing a completely different movie than in standard theatres. First up, we’d like to discuss IMAX sound.

Take a look at the IMAX 101: Sound video below:

A surprisingly large part of the IMAX experience is the sound. That’s what makes an IMAX movie visceral. You don’t just see an IMAX film, you feel it in your bones.

Let’s take a minute to breakdown some of the elements of the video to explain why sound is so important in movies.

Did you know that the human brain can identify a sound and where it’s coming from in under 50 milliseconds?

That’s 5 to 500 times faster than it takes us to process a visual signal. This means you can actually absorb more sounds than images in a movie. That’s why the way you hear the movie is a big part of what makes your experience so great in IMAX.

Our sense of hearing is always on it operates in the background underneath our cognitive radar; providing information about our environment.

So when you’re watching a movie there’s a lot of really important detail within the sound that you don’t realize on a conscious level. And the way it’s delivered to you can have a profound impact on your experience.

It’s also important to understand that what makes great sound so elusive is the fact that sound is altered by the listening environment and the medium used to deliver it. Simply stated, sound is affected by the room in which the listener sits as well as the quality of the source of the sound.

In a typical surround movie theater you get rows of speakers on the left and right and rear of the auditorium. This isn’t the best setup to be able to hear detail.

What makes IMAX sound different?

IMAX sound is designed in a completely different way.

A big part of creating an immersive sound experience starts with the actual design and material of the theatre. IMAX uses its patents on theatre design to customize the shapes, angles, dimensions and material of the theatre – including better soundproofing and more effective placement of the speakers- to create an optimum listening environment.

Another reason is the sheer power of the patented speaker system – which IMAX builds from the ground up and even customizes for the specific theatre environment. IMAX loudspeakers are also directional – meaning they can distribute audio more evenly throughout the entire theatre so every seat is in a good listening position (larger sweet spot).

Unlike standard surround sound, IMAX can create sound that appears to originate from a specific location in the auditorium where there may not even be a loudspeaker. In fact, every loudspeaker is laser-aligned to deliver sound so accurate that it could hit a bull’s eye from 100ft away. So not only can you hear a pin drop from across the room – you will know exactly where it fell.

Just like most musical instruments, a sound system also requires constant tuning to achieve the desired result. IMAX uses proprietary microphones that are permanently installed in every IMAX® theatre to collect data from each individual channel in the speaker system and perform daily tuning calibrations. These calibrations will correct the response of the channel if it’s out of specifications so the sound you hear is always perfectly tuned.

There’s a lot more to cover on sound and this is just a start. Stay tuned for our next IMAX 101 on theatre geometry.