How to Get the IMAX Experience in Your Living Room (On a Budget)
Movie theaters are just unpleasant. I’m sorry, but they’re dirty, inconveniently located out of town, full of people you don’t know, and littered with overpriced popcorn. They’re not even a social experience: you get thrown out for talking to your friends in the middle of a movie!
So, why do people still go? Some argue that’s it for things like IMAX – a unique movie experience you just can’t get at home. Rubbish, I say, and to prove my point, here’s how you can get that IMAX experience, right in your own living room, on a budget.
Short Throw 3D Projector
IMAX 3D movies are widely regarded as the best 3D movie theater experiences you can get, but outside of simply having a big screen, there’s nothing unique about the 3D technology that makes it especially better than anything you can get at home – they’re just really high resolution, projected on to a really big screen. Of course, an IMAX screen needs to be really big and high resolution – because you’re sitting so far away from it.
I’d even argue that the passive 3D technology they use is in fact inferior to active shutter 3D, though that might be a matter of personal preference. Not sure what the difference is? Read my breakdown on the different types of 3DTV and why your laptop or PC can’t show 3D .
Getting a relatively large screen from a consumer projector has been difficult in the past, where projectors would require a long throw distance of sometimes twice as far as the image size you wanted (or more) – so a 2-meter image would require the projector to be placed four meters or more from the screen. I don’t know about you, but my living room certainly isn’t that big, restricting a satisfyingly large image size to the realm of classrooms and conference halls (which again, you’d be sitting so far away from anyway!)
Not so nowadays: you can pick up a short throw 3D projector for as little as $700, such as the Optoma GT1080, a full HD active 3D projector with a throw ratio small enough to give you a 100-inch screen when placed just over a meter away – or larger, if you can put it further back and have a wall big enough to accommodate it. If that’s too expensive, you’ll still get reasonable performance from a budget Chinese import, such as this $400 Atco model I reviewed last year .
Don’t forget to pick up a four pairs of decent 3D shutter glasses too. When the image is the size of your entire wall and you’re sitting just a meter or two away from it, the immersion is just as good as an IMAX.
“But IMAX is 4K!”, you cry. Fair enough – we aren’t quite at the stage of affordable 4K projectors yet (unless $3,700 is affordable for you), but it’s a small sacrifice for bringing the movie theater experience to your comfortable living room.
Speakers, Speakers Everywhere
There’s an awful lot of engineering and sound design that goes into the IMAX experience, and I’m not going to pretend you can replicate it at home – you can’t. IMAX movie theaters have speakers in the ceiling, for Heaven’s sake – which they affectionately call “the voice of God”. Soundtracks are remastered to take advantage of this.
Nonetheless, you can get something that still sounds really good – and if you’re one of the people who thinks IMAX movies are too loud anyway, then having control of the sound level because it’s in your own living room could be regarded as a blessing in disguise.
The great thing about speaker systems is that there’s a product for every budget, starting at less than $400 for a decent 7.1 Onkyo complete surround sound system, which includes an amplifier / receiver.
Most Blu-ray discs are encoded for 7.1 systems now, but even if your source isn’t (Netflix, for example, is mostly 5.1), the sound processing algorithms in the amp can fill in the gaps, so it’s not like you’ll be left with two speakers that don’t do anything. Check out this guide from Klipsch on where to place all those speakers.
Shake That (B)ass
Some IMAX theaters are installing enhanced seating that vibrates to the on-screen action; essentially letting you “feel” the movie. Commonly known as “bass shakers”, they have undergone an unexpected resurgence in popularity in the past year due to their ability to enhance immersion for virtual reality experiences and gaming .
Rather than adding more audible bass to your existing surround sound system, the energy is transferred kinetically to your seat. I’ll admit: it sounds ludicrous, and silly. But it works. It enhances immersion; it feels like you are there. And this is one aspect of the IMAX experience that you can in fact replicate perfectly.
You can add a bass shaker to a seat relatively inexpensively if you do it yourself , and there’s lots of build guides out there now. Here’s one from a VR enthusiast that costs under $100, and while it’s designed for a gaming chair, it could easily be adapted for a sofa.
You’re basically just strapping a speaker to the chair frame, driving it with an amp, into which you feed the audio from your regular surround amplifier via a low-pass filter. The filter ensures only bass gets through, otherwise you start “feeling” voices, which is apparently not so pleasant.
If DIY isn’t your thing, the ButtKicker brand is the most popular ready made product – a ButtKicker set designed for the home theater complete with amplifier will set you back under $700 – but snap them up quick as they’re in high demand. It’s easy to install and non-destructive: just slot the base plate under one of the legs of your sofa. Being blown up has never felt so good.
3D Blu-ray Player
You can pick up a bog-standard 3D HD Blu-ray player for as little as $60 nowadays, but I don’t recommend it. If you don’t already have a game console – and since you’re spending a good chunk on an incredible projector and sound system – consider buying either the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One instead of a dedicated Blu-ray player. As of last year, both are capable of 3D Blu-ray playback; they weren’t at the time of initial launch, limiting their use in home theaters.
The Xbox One is arguably better for media playback, since it can also hook into a cable box and has a TV guide; while the PS4 is considered the better choice for gamers. I’ll probably take flack for that statement in the comments, but I’m a gamer, I bought the Xbox One, and I kind of regret it given how little I care about the cable integration. It’s only the disgusting customer service of Sony that keeps me loyal to Microsoft.
IMAX At Home
Aaaaand that’s how you get a not-quite-authentic-but-still-pretty-darn-good IMAX-like experience in your living room. Of course, this isn’t limited to just movies: gaming on a big screen with louder than life surround sound is incredible too, especially when you can feel your butt getting kicked playing Call of Duty.
Do you have any other suggestions for getting the IMAX-like experience at home? Or are you still convinced nothing compares to actually going to the cinema? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Image Credits: Family Watching TV via Shutterstock
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