IMAX vs Standard Cinemas: Seeking Insights into Cinematic Experiences

Explore the battle between IMAX and Standard Cinemas, seeking insights into their history, technology, and the unique experiences they offer.

Updated on: October 2, 2023

In the world of cinema, two movie formats have the attention of all cinephiles: the IMAX Cinema format and the standard one. Both of these cinema formats have their own features which distinguish one from the other. Let’s look into both cinema formats and find out which one’s better.

Historical and Technological Evolution:

IMAX: IMAX, an acronym for ‘Image Maximum’, emerged in the late 1960s, pioneered by a group of Canadian filmmakers. It was conceptualized to create a more immersive and transformative viewing experience. The first-ever IMAX film was showcased in 1970 at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan, leaving the audience in awe with its sheer scale and immersive experience. Over the decades, IMAX has evolved, employing cutting-edge technology, such as high-resolution cameras and projectors, to elevate the cinematic experience.

IMAX utilizes larger film formats, such as 70mm and its projection system is renowned for its clarity and impact, allowing movies to be viewed on a grand scale, unprecedented in the cinema industry. IMAX’s sound system is another marvel, meticulously designed to envelop the audience in a multi-dimensional auditory experience.

Standard Cinemas: Standard cinemas, utilizing 35mm film formats, have been the industry standard for many years, offering a universal and accessible cinematic experience. The technological innovations in standard cinemas have focused more on improving sound systems, picture clarity, and special effects within the limitations of screen size and aspect ratios.

Market Presence and Expansion:

IMAX has a global footprint, with over 1,500 theaters in 80 countries. It has formed strategic partnerships with cinema chains and filmmakers around the world to bring the IMAX experience to a wider audience. However, IMAX theaters are still relatively limited compared to standard cinemas, focusing on major urban centers and renowned institutions.

IMAX has been particularly active in emerging markets like India and China, forming partnerships and expanding its number of theaters to cater to the growing middle-class population with an increasing interest in premium cinematic experiences.

Comparison: While standard cinemas offer accessibility and a wider range of movie options, IMAX offers an unparalleled, immersive experience. The IMAX evolution underscores the relentless pursuit of cinematic excellence, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in film presentation. Standard cinemas continue to serve as the backbone of the movie industry, making movies accessible to the masses, but IMAX elevates film-watching to an art form, creating experiences that are larger-than-life.

Quick Comparison: IMAX Vs Standard Cinemas

Screen SizeUp to 72 feet tall and 98 feet wide.16-17 feet tall and 30-50 feet wide.
Aspect Ratio1.43:1 – 1.90:11.85:1-2.39:1
Image quality Crystal clear images/2k and 4k resolution because of the specialized camerasNot as good as IMAX
ProjectionDual digital projection and linear polarization. 70mm film system, Imax 4K including laser, 15 perforations, and Imax 2K Digital35mm film system
Sound System12-Channel-based surround sound system (11.1)5.1 surround sound system
Film AvailabilityLimitedWide variety of films available
PriceAverage price: $20$9-$15
AvailabilityLimited IMAX cinemas availableEasily available

Which One’s Better: IMAX Vs. Standard?

Screen Size:

The screen size of the IMAX cinemas is much larger than regular cinemas. With an aspect ratio of 1.43:1 to 1.90:1, these screens can be as large as 98 feet wide and 72 feet tall and provide an immersive watching experience. 

On the other hand, the standard cinema screens are about half the size of the IMAX screens. They are much smaller and have an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 to 2.39:1, which means they can get 16-17 feet tall and only 30-50 feet wide.

Image Quality:

The image quality of IMAX cinema is also better than standard cinema as it uses high-resolution projectors. You can enjoy crystal-clear, high-resolution images in IMAX Cinema with exceptional clarity and details because of its proprietary IMAX Digital Format. This format delivers images/videos with a resolution of approximately 12,000 x 8,700 pixels (2K IMAX), significantly better than traditional 2K and 4K formats.

Standard cinemas offer 2K and 4K image resolution, approximately 2048 x 1080 pixels and 3840 x 2160 pixels, respectively. Although this image resolution is better than normal home theater TVs, yet, it’s less compared to IMAX cinemas.

Sound Quality:

IMAX features a multi-channel speaker setup: an 11.1 surround sound system, which comprises an array of speakers positioned strategically to create a 360-degree sound effect that envelopes the listener through front, rear, and side channels. Furthermore, it uses proprietary sound processing technology to optimize the audio output for its specific theater design.

The standard cinema format uses a 5.1 surround sound system, providing a good listening experience; however, it is not as immersive as its competitor. 


IMAX uses cutting-edge technology for movie projection; it uses specialized dual digital projectors with polarization for image projection. Furthermore, the IMAX movies are recorded using 70mm film cameras with an aspect ratio of 1.43:1 or 1.90:1 to enable high resolution and clarity on massive IMAX screens. 

Additionally, some IMAX theaters have transitioned to digital projection using digital projectors. These projectors can provide a resolution of 12000 x 8700 pixels to project incredibly sharp and detailed images.

In comparison, standard cinemas use digital projections that can handle 2K and 4K resolution at the very best. Furthermore, the standard cinema movie recording requires no specialized cameras and equipment. Filmmakers use conventional digital cameras to make movies in standard cinema format.

Experience and Comfort:

Comfort is another important consideration when comparing the two cinema formats. IMAX focuses on users’ comfort and provides spacious seating with enough legroom for the viewers. The seats in this IMAX cinema are arranged in stadium style, well-padded, and plush to make the watch time comfortable.

However, the front row seats can be uncomfortable because they are too close to the screen, and the massive screen size can cause a bit of discomfort or nausea from the front row due to the proximity to the large screen

On the other hand, the seating in standard cinemas is also quite comfortable; however, the level of comfort and style of seating arrangement may vary from one cinema to another. Most standard cinemas have stadium-style seating, while some may feature the traditional row-seating arrangement. 


With all the benefits of the larger screen, immersive sound, specialized projection, and comfortable seating, IMAX cinema tickets are priced higher than those of standard cinemas. The average price of the IMAX cinema ticket starts from $20 and may vary depending on the location. 

On the other hand, standard cinema tickets are quite handy and economical. Depending on the purchase area, you can easily get one for $9-$15. 


IMAX cinemas are not readily available and only in limited countries or locations. Furthermore, this cinema format doesn’t support all movie formats. It only supports movies shot in 70mm film format.

On the other hand, you can never have trouble finding a standard cinema. They are established in almost all areas and have a wide range of movies available that you can enjoy.

Based on the discussions from multiple platforms, here’s a synthesis of the diverse opinions and facts about IMAX vs. standard movie experiences.

Comparative Views: What Moviegoers Say About IMAX and Standard Displays

In various conversations, participants delve into the nuances of IMAX, debating its merits, and exploring its superior quality. Below are the consolidated key points from these conversations:

Aspect Ratio & Projection Quality:

IMAX is renowned for its unique aspect ratios, such as 1.90:1 and 1.43:1. The 70mm film projection is considered the ideal experience, delivering unparalleled detail and scale. However, distinctions are made between true IMAX and “LieMAX,” the latter being theaters branded as IMAX but lacking in screen size and projection quality.

Sound & Audio Experience:

IMAX stands out for its premium sound systems, featuring custom mixes and high-end hardware, providing a consistent and immersive audio experience across all venues, often seen as superior to alternatives like Dolby Atmos.

Comparisons with Standard/Dolby Cinema:

Conversations draw comparisons between IMAX, standard, and Dolby cinema experiences. While some participants favor Dolby for its superior picture and sound quality, IMAX is often viewed as the superior experience in regions where advanced alternatives are unavailable.

Availability & Unique Experiences:

True IMAX theaters are scarce, leading to discussions about the predominance of “LieMAX” theaters. Nevertheless, IMAX holds a unique position in delivering unrivaled immersive experiences, particularly for films shot specifically in the format.

Anticipation for New Releases:

The upcoming release of “Oppenheimer” has sparked discussions on the desire to experience it in IMAX, emphasizing the format’s immersive and visually impactful nature. The rarity of true 70mm IMAX theaters has also been highlighted, with many willing to travel to experience films in this superior format.

Technical Aspects & Personal Preferences:

Discussions also focus on the technical superiority of IMAX due to its larger film sizes and the potential for up to 8K resolutions, leading to richer detail and quality. While some debate the worth of the enhanced IMAX experience, others find it breathtaking and unparalleled, especially when viewed in a true 70mm IMAX theater.

Overall Synthesis:

Across the discussions, a common acknowledgment surfaces around the superior and immersive cinematic experience offered by IMAX, attributed to its advanced technology, superior design, and unique aspect ratios. However, opinions diverge on the availability and worth of the true IMAX experience, with many theaters offering a lesser “LieMAX” experience. Comparisons with other formats like Standard and Dolby reveal varying preferences, with a consensus on the exceptional visual and auditory experience provided by 70mm film projection in IMAX. Nonetheless, some participants feel that a comfortable standard viewing experience can suffice, questioning the additional cost and inconvenience of IMAX.

Which One To Choose?

Choosing a cinema format is not only about which stands out; you must consider different factors while choosing one for yourself. These factors include the availability of the cinema format in your area, the price of the ticket, the availability of the movie you want to watch, seating comfort, and desired image and sound quality. 

So, even if you want to enjoy a movie in an IMAX cinema, you might have to opt for a standard cinema if IMAX is not available in your area, if budget constraints exist, or if the desired movie isn’t available in IMAX format.

However, comparing the two cinema formats, IMAX is better. IMAX features extraordinarily large screens, 12 12-channel surround sound systems, dual digital projectors, and movies shot with specialized cameras to create an immersive watching experience.

On the other hand, if the IMAX cinema is unavailable in your area or is too expensive for you, you can choose to go to the standard cinema. This cinema format also features larger screens, a 5.1 surround sound system, and an unlimited variety of movies to choose from.  In addition, the tickets for the standard cinema are relatively inexpensive.

So, set your priorities straight and go ahead to enjoy a movie night with your friends!

I’m Shaun Conroy, an audiophile & founder of HiFi Audios. Holding a Bachelor’s in Sound Engineering, I bring deep expertise in audio devices and offer insights & recommendations to fellow enthusiasts.

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