How to Get the IMAX Experience in Your Living Room (On a Budget)

James Bruce 10-07-2015

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 Cinema Is Dying: How Movie Theaters Can Ensure Their Survival Movie theaters need to offer more than just a way of watching the latest films. They need to stop competing on "convenience" and start focusing on "experience." Here's how. Read More – 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 3D TVs: What They Are, How They Work, & What Can They Show In 3D? [MakeUseOf Explains] If you’re in the market for a new TV, chances are it’s going to be 3D - not because you particularly want one that can do 3D, but simply becuase 3DTVs typically have better displays... Read More and why your laptop or PC can’t show 3D Can My Laptop, Monitor, Or TV Do 3D? We're often asked "Can I watch 3D movies on my computer?" The short answer is: sadly, no. Read on to find out why you can't, and how you can make it reality. Read More .

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 ATCO Budget HD Projector with Built-In Android Review and Giveaway We've purchased a budget LED projector to see if you can get that same big screen experience from something half the price. It cost just less than $400. Let's see if it's any good. Read More .

optoma short throw

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 5 Oculus Rift Gaming Experiences That Will Blow You Away Now that the second generation of Oculus Rift development kit is out and in the hands of developers the world over, let's look at some of the best stuff that's hit the Rift so far. Read More .

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 Learn DIY by Watching Adam Savage Build Movie Props When Adam's not busting myths, he likes to relax by recreating movie props. Watching Adam work is not only inspiring, but you'll also pick up loads of techniques that you'll be able to use in... Read More , 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 Think Twice about Buying a PlayStation: How Getting Hacked Made My PSN Content Useless My story begins sometime around the American launch of the PlayStation 4. I hadn’t turned my PlayStation on for about a week having been bowled over in work - I needed a break. I’d bought... Read More 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

Related topics: Home Theater, Projector, Television.

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  1. I know
    January 20, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    Whoever wrote this: Imax does not have shakerseats. You dont even consider illumination per sq ft...it is rather important. You completely missed imax specs for field of view and aspect ratio. Bad article....and try to NOT talk to your friends during a movie. It's rude and childish.

  2. Whom
    December 16, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    A home theater system without a decent sub (that accounts for the room volume adequately) is probably not going to cut it.

  3. Pete
    July 5, 2016 at 1:29 pm


    I have been setting up a home theater with a st projector and surround sound my screen is around 140 diagonal it looks awesome the animated movies look great i call it peter plex hardly turn on my 50 inch lcd any more it will look even better when more sources are in 4k my reciever will up convert but buggy been a pleasure doing it hanging curtains on side to suck up sound wash from bare walls have fun pete

  4. Anonymous
    April 14, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    Yes we can create great 1080p 3d picture at home, but nothing can beat cinema sound after you listen Dolby ATMOS. ATMOS requires 50 to 64 speakers all around you unlike IMAX, AURO or 7.1 and each speaker is capable of creating distinct sounds. ATMOS can only be enjoyed in big halls.

  5. Anonymous
    July 17, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    IMAX is a motion picture film format and a set of cinema projection standards created by the Canadian company IMAX Corporation and developed by Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor, Robert Kerr, and William C. Shaw.

    • Anonymous
      July 17, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      Watching a film here is a completely immersive experience and our programme ranges from the latest IMAX blockbusters to world-class alternative content and educational presentations.

    • Anonymous
      July 17, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      IMAX is the most widely used system for special-venue film presentations. As of Dec. 31, 2014, there were 934 IMAX theatres in 62 countries.

      • Anonymous
        September 29, 2015 at 1:17 pm

        It's cool

    • Anonymous
      September 29, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Enjoy the Ultimate Movie Experience with IMAX.

  6. Anonymous
    July 14, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I'd say, it's a worthwhile investment of one's time to install a few speakers in the ceiling. They're not overly expensive and if one doesn't feel comfortable with wire-concealment, then there are bluetooth speakers, but they can be a bit pricey, I think.

    I like the idea and explanation of the 'seat-shaker' - so easy to implement and would definitely add to the overall experience without overloading your (and your neighbours) ears ;-)


  7. Anonymous
    July 11, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    My question here is what the screen size/ratio would be needed to be considered IMAX. I have projected a 101" screen while sitting at approximately 6 feet. I have enough room with some rearranging to get a screen size of 120", although I doubt I will invest in doing this now I at least wanted to get an idea of the ratio etc.


    • Anonymous
      July 15, 2015 at 12:28 am

      IMAX-BLOG: IMAX 101: Theatre Geometry (Video)* says the screen should take up 70 horizontal degrees of vision.
      You can use the Screen Density Calculator : NVIDIA Automotive* to find your fov with your set up.

      *I don't think I can share links here, but you can google these and it should be the first result.

      • James Bruce
        July 15, 2015 at 7:14 am

        Only 70? Fascinating, I didn't know there was an actual specification for that. I'm certain mine is beyond that, at least when sitting close. Thanks for commenting!