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First digital Imax screens open

By Dan Whitworth
Newsbeat technology reporter

Imax Digital machines
Imax digital promises a lot but will film audiences pay extra?

Europe's first digital Imax cinema screens have opened to the public in London.

If you believe the hype, they're "crystal clear, revolutionary digital projection technology and laser-aligned sound that will envelop the audience".

There's no doubting the two of them, one in Wimbledon and the other in Greenwich, are big.

They're both 15 metres wide and eight metres high and have hundreds of seats.

But will they deliver the unrivalled quality in terms of vision and sound that's been promised?

And more importantly for Imax, will they deliver paying customers?

With the progress of home entertainment, along with things like the credit crunch and cold winter evenings, a trip to the cinema may not be quite as tempting as it used to be.

To find out if the new digital Imax hit the spot, Newsbeat has carried out a little experiment.

Fans' view

Sam Golding, 21, from Cambridge and his mate Martin Maudsley, who's 20 and from Kendal, are big film fans who know their movies and how to watch them.

To start with, we sat them down in front of a quality home set-up. Think big screen TV, digitally re-mastered James Bond (Dr No), and a Blu-ray DVD system.

Cue the classic theme tune, bikini-clad girls and Sean Connery as the definitive super-spy.

"It looks great, very happy with that. I really like it and the picture is quality," says Sam.

The only downside is that he's a bit disappointed he hasn't got the same set up at home in his bedroom.

His friend Martin agrees: "It's brilliant. The quality of home entertainment you can get these days is unbelievable.

"It's going to be quite interesting to see what Imax digital can come up with."

Martin Maudsley and Sam Golding
Martin was impressed with the quality, but Sam had a few doubts
One quick trip from the centre of London to Odeon Greenwich and we're all settled for part two of the experiment.

This time it's a 20-minute show reel featuring trailers from the latest films, the biggest blockbusters and a live recording of the Rolling Stones performing Satisfaction.

Sam came out with mixed opinions.

He said: "Amazing. My head hurts but the picture was incredible and the sound is amazing as well, but it was almost too big.

"Compared to home entertainment it's obviously amazing, but I don't know if I would pay to see this very often.

"I think maybe every once in a while for the huge blockbusters, but I'm not sure if I could take it for two and a half hours.

"I just think my eyes would hurt too much."

Martin was more convinced and could see himself paying the 11.50 to see a digital Imax film.

"With the quality of home entertainment you can get these days it's easy to see why maybe some people would wait for the DVD of a film to come out," he said.

"But there's no way anything in your own home could ever compare to that. That was special."

Cheaper system

Martin's reaction is music to the ears of Larry O'Reilly, executive vice-president of theatre development for Imax.

He says his company plans to expand Imax digital to dozens of sites across the UK.

He said: "The more locations we have, the bigger the audience.

"The bigger the audiences grow, the more movies we get from the studios and then it's a big snowball effect."

Madagascar 2 premiere
Madagascar 2 is one of the first films being shown in Imax digital
And it's not just about getting more customers and more money.

The Imax digital system costs around 1,000 for every film print, compared to 45,000 for the previous version of Imax.

O'Reilly explained: "Because of those expensive prints it means every location we show a film costs us 45,000.

"The fact that now it's going to be much cheaper means we can get lots more movies."

Film fans are now likely to get around 12 Imax presentations every year instead of the five or so they get at the moment.

He's also confident people will see a difference between the two versions.

He said: "We use two projectors instead of one. We enhance the content. We're putting way more light on the screen.

"When we put more light on the screen we get more colour, we get more contrast. The images absolutely pop".

As for Sam and Martin, they're not quite so enthusiastic, but did like what they saw.

"I don't think it quite lived up to the hype," says Martin.

"But it's definitely worth the money. I've never seen anything that could beat it."

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