THX Ultimate Cinema

While IMAX is still king of the premium large format brands because of the sheer size of its screens, it has to face a barrage of new contenders for the crown. The latest is THX Cinema Ultimate, a new premium large format (PLF) brand debuting later this year intended to “help elevate the industry standard and bring premium experiences around the world to a whole new level.”

Viewers of a certain age may feel a twinge of nostalgia at the mere mention of the THX, the quality assurance system originally founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas for Return of the Jedi. (It was named as a partial shout-out to his first movie, THX 1138.) You may have grown up watching short videos like this in your local theater before the feature presentation got underway:

THX has never really gone away, but now it’s going to start competing with companies like IMAX and Dolby Cinema in the premium large format arena. PLFs have been around for years, with higher quality presentation and a larger screen giving theaters the opportunity to charge customers higher prices for tickets. In my experience, whether or not I buy a ticket for a PLF version of a movie usually depends on the combination of the theater chain (are its PLF theaters equipped with upgraded seats and a noticeably better sound system?) and the individual movie itself (is it really worth it to pay extra to see this movie in this format?).

Soon we may have to add THX Ultimate Cinema to the list of moviegoing options. (MovieTickets.com currently lists 18 different types of PLF experiences, and that’s not counting the THX brand or yet another new one from Sony that’s also launching this spring.) The world’s first exposure to it will be at the Regency Westwood Village Theater in Los Angeles and will launch in the spring/summer of 2019, but theater owners will be able to buy the system and set their own pricing for their individual markets.

So what makes this one different? For one thing, the brand already has recognition among consumers. If presented with the choice, I imagine audiences would be more likely to select a THX Ultimate Cinema option than no-name brands you’ve never heard of like MJR Epic, Emagine, or Grand Screen. As for the technical advantages, The Hollywood Reporter says:

THX Ultimate Cinema offers a THX-certified auditorium that uses Barco’s ultra bright, 4K and HDR-capable dual laser projection system combined with a THX-certified immersive sound system of the theater’s choice that exceeds the number of speakers used for 7.1 surround sound (this could include Dolby Atmos).

They also report that THX’s new system “will support at least 30 specially mastered movies for the brand each year, and it also supports standard Digital Cinema Packages (the digital equivalent of a film print) so that a theater has the flexibility to play any movie in the auditorium.” Could THX Ultimate Cinema become the hottest new thing for moviegoers? Personally, I think I’ll stick with IMAX because if I’m going to pay a premium price, I want to be completely immersed thanks to IMAX’s massive screen. But if there isn’t a full-sized IMAX theater around, this sounds like it’d be a good alternative.

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