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Which is Best for a Movie Going Experience? Comparing DLP vs. IMAX

written by: Sheila Robinson•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/12/2011

DLP and IMAX are technologies used for movie theater style projection. Both are an improvement from the standard film format in size, sharpness, and color. Here we’ll look at what they are about and the technology that they use.

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    What is DLP?

    Digital image Digital Light Processing (DLP) is the technology used for digital movie projection and some rear projection televisions.The quality of imagery it produces is superior to standard and IMAX films. However, due to its digital nature, standard films that are shown with a DLP projector may lose some of their viewing quality as opposed to their digital non-film versions. As of December 2008, DLP projectors began to replace IMAX and standard film projectors as the format used in thousands of movie theaters

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    How DLP Works

    Technology is based on an optical semi-conductor chip called the Ddigital Micro-mirror Ddevice (DMD). The chip is a precise light switch that enables light to be modulated digitally within rectangular microscopic mirrors. These mirrors produce images by tilting at different angles to reflect (or avoid light) to create different shades of gray (about 1,024 shades possible). Next, the gray images need to be transformed into color by adding a color wheel (light filter) between the light source and the DND mirror panel. As the color wheel spins it causes the primary RGB (red, green, blue) colors to reflect onto the micro-mirror. The on and off states of the micro-mirror then coordinate with the color light and can create up to sixteen million different colors that can be projected onto a screen.

    Movie theaters that use DLP have a three-chip projector system. White light is projected through a prism for the color wheel. Each chip is then dedicated to one of the three primary RGB colors. The result is highly vibrant display and contrast that has true color fidelity.

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    What is IMAX?

    IMAX theater IMAX (Image Maximum) was the original format that allowed movies to be projected on a much larger screen than the standard theater. Average IMAX theater screens are about fifty-two by seventy-two feet with the largest one at ninety-eight feet high. It uses a large 70 mm film instead of the standard 35 mm for all its projections.

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    How IMAX Works

    IMAX film cannot use a standard movie projector. To accommodate the heavy, 70 mm sized film, it uses a special IMAX projector that weighs about two tons. Because of the film’s weight, the film is moved through the projector in a horizontal fashion using a “rolling loop" device that pushes the film directly against the projector lens with compressed air. A 15,000 watt bulb then emits light through the film and displays the large screen images.

    For sound, IMAX films do not use an embedded soundtrack. Instead, sound is separate and is synchronized with the projector with a six track digital source that plays off of a computer hard drive and is then distributed directly to amplifiers set up in the movie theater.

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    The Movie Goers Experience

    When you compare DLP vs. IMAX which is best? While the IMAX format produces an amazing massive viewing experience for movie goers, it is limited by using film. DLP technology is more versatile, can work without the use of film and produces a brighter, sharper and colorful image for the viewer.