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Dolby looks to kill the IMAX giant with new ultra-bright laser projection

hdr laser projection dolby atmos imax vision 3
Dolby has been to the top of the mountain and laid eyes on the future of visual technology, and that future begins with three simple words: high dynamic range.

Everyone knows IMAX is the big name in cinema for those seeking a transcendent theater experience, offering over 830 theaters worldwide, with massive, visually stunning screens that aim to make it worth leaving the comfort of your home theater to brave the crowds. However, while Dolby may be best known for its indelible mark on the world of sound, the company’s latest large-format theater projection technology aims to put the name IMAX in your rear view mirror.

Related: IMAX screens get smaller, prices stay the same

While 4K Ultra High Definition is quickly gaining ground as a familiar buzzword in film and TV, it’s arguable that high dynamic range, or HDR, will be the technology that really brings visual imagery to life. Through an expansion of light emission, HDR allows for brighter whites, darker blacks, and more vivid colors that better match the range of light and dark we see in the real world. And Dolby is betting that will mean big ticket sales.

As outlined by the Hollywood Reporter, Dolby is planning a wide expansion of its new HDR technology, called Dolby Cinema, which began in earnest with a recent exhibition at the Vine Theater in Hollywood. There, Dolby showed off the powers of its dual Christie 6P 4K laser projectors, which offer higher brightness levels than standard projectors, enhanced by proprietary Dolby technology. Christie and Dolby will reportedly work together to update the laser projectors to produce even more advanced imaging, creating what the company is calling “Dolby Vision.”

The first Dolby Cinema experience will begin in the new JT Cinemas complex in Eindhoven, Netherlands sometime this month, according to the report. From there, Dolby will expand to another theater in the Netherlands in June, and begin spreading outward from there. Dolby will provide its new projector technology to select theaters, in exchange for theaters covering the building costs, and the company will also offer profit sharing of the ticket sales, which will likely cost about the same as an IMAX ticket.

Dolby is hoping its new projection technology will take off as well as as its latest surround sound format, Dolby Atmos has, following a similar deployment. Many new theaters and movies now incorporate Atmos tech, which first landed in the Disney Pixar animated film, Brave.

Dolby is far from the only company hitching its star to HDR, which many think is poised to offer a much more potent impact on the future of visual imagery than 4K UHD. While the latter employs greater pixel density for a more clear and refined image, the human eye has its limits when it comes to distinguishing those higher resolutions. When it comes to extreme contrast between light and dark, however, there is a lot more room to play with.

Dolby, and other companies, are working on HDR tech for TVs as well. As reported by Variety, a presentation of HDR tech for TVs at the most recent NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) show in Las Vegas seemed to create a lot more excitement with today’s film makers than 4K UHD. Emmanual Lubezki, who created the visual masterpiece, Gravity, is excited to see his film in HDR, having already color-graded the film for that purpose. And CEO of the video service Vubiquity, Darcy Antonellis, gave her seal of approval to HDR as the next big thing at the show, as well.

“It’s not just the number of pixels it’s the quality of pixels. Those of you who have seen high dynamic range, have really seen a color palette you’ve never seen before. It is stunning.”

Not to be left behind, the Hollywood Reporter says that IMAX is busy working on its own laser projection system. Technicolor claims it has its own system for HDR in the works as well.

The last few years at America’s largest tech show, CES, were all a twitter about 4K UHD, painting it as the next big thing in TV and film. Will this year’s conference put HDR on that pedestal instead?

We know where Dolby stands on the subject. The company is working hard right now to put HDR into theaters so we can all get a taste of Dolby Vision and see just how potent and visceral HDR is for ourselves. And as stalwart lovers of the theater experience, we’re pretty excited to find out. Bring on Dolby Cinema.

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Ryan Waniata
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
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