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THX takes on IMAX with new large-format cinema projection standard

Thanks to larger-than-life superhero movies from Marvel and DC and visual sci-fi feasts like Gravity, large-format movie experiences are seeing a strong surge in popularity. The leading brand for monster screen sizes is IMAX, with more than 1,500 theaters using the Canadian company’s display technologies. But it’s about to get some big competition from THX, perhaps the best-known technical movie brand in the world. On March 28, the company announced that its first THX Ultimate Cinema will be open to the public at Los Angeles’s Regency Westwood Village Theatre later this year.

THX Ultimate Cinema is being positioned as a “superior premium large format movie-going experience,” though the company stopped short of actually describing just how “large” the projected images will be. Instead, it’s promoting the format’s other benefits, which it lists as: “Sharper picture, brilliant colors, amazing acoustics, clearer voices, and better movies.” And, of course, every THX Ultimate Cinema will meet THX’s specific standards for image and sound quality.

The foundation of THX Ultimate Cinema will be 4K laser projection developed by Barco, a leading supplier of digital cinema projectors for both commercial and high-end home theaters. These laser projectors could cost as much as $1 million each, according to Engadget. While that sounds like a lot, IMAX’s own laser-based projection systems cost considerably more. In fact, THX is touting affordability as one of the big draws for THX Ultimate Cinema, saying that in addition to best-in-class projection technology, commercial cinema operators get the “benefits of flexibility and favorable economics.”

THX is working with Cinionic, a relatively new partnership between Barco, China Film Company, and Appotronics, the company behind ALPD laser-projection technology, to roll out the new format to theaters.

THX isn’t the first to take a shot at IMAX’s large-format crown. A few years ago, Dolby released its Dolby Cinema laser-based projection technology, which has been slowly making its way into commercial theaters. Samsung has also been working hard on its projectorless, LED-based Onyx screens, which offer drastic improvements over lasers when it comes to screen luminance.

Beyond offering moviegoers and theaters yet another large-format movie experience, THX might be planning to use THX Ultimate Cinema to promote new technology for the home. The company has been heavily involved in certifying everything from TVs to computer speakers to A/V receivers, so it’s not a stretch to think that we’ll soon see a home laser-projector built on ALPD technology that will bear the THX Ultimate Cinema mark — perhaps sooner than later, given the significant number of laser-projection systems we saw at CES 2019.

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