An Unexpected Choice – IMAX, AVX, HFR, 3D And ATMOS…Where To Experience The Hobbit?

So, you plan on seeing The Hobbit over the coming holidays, eh?

Eager? Excited? Enthusiastic?  All of these things and more? Well, the long awaited release date is finally here, so get your ticket and get in line like the rest of us!

The only question that remains unanswered is: which line will you be in?

That’s right. Beginning Friday, December 14, you’ll be able to experience The Hobbit in a plethora of theatres that house an enormous difference in cinematic technology – both is sight and in sound. Did you know that this film is the first to be released in as many as seven different formats? HFR 3D, IMAX 3D, standard 2D Ultra AVX theatres…the list goes on. But the newest and <a-hem> most precious of the non-visual technologies The Hobbit employs has got to be Dolby’s recently developed ATMOS surround sound experience.

Find out what it is and where you can experience it after the jump!

The-Hobbit-poster-2There are really only a handful of mainstream filmmakers that have the interest, artistic clout and, lets face it, box office draw, to adopt new technologies into their creations, pushing the boundaries of the cinematic art form. The names Christopher Nolan, James Cameron and Peter Jackson, the director of The Hobbit, immediately come to mind.

We’ve all heard the news that The Hobbit was filmed in 3D in the high frame rate (HFR) of 48 frames per second – double the frame rate of your usual films. This will give the impression of true-to-life movement to the characters and objects on the screen as well as a clarity of vision. Action scenes, of which The Hobbit is replete, should be particularly compelling with little to no motion blur. This is new, cutting-edge digital technology – but not every theatre has the means to present it. For that reason, the film is also available in the regular 24 frames per second option. The staff at any good theatre should be able to describe the difference to you.

Of course, you’ll also be able to view The Hobbit in everyone’s favourite IMAX theatre in 3D. The greater size and resolution of IMAX film, when compared to regular film, will make the landscapes, vistas and special effects inherent in the world of Middle Earth something to truly behold. It will instantly be a more immersive viewing experience than watching the film in your normal-sized theatre – not that you won’t enjoy it there. IMAX will also be more expensive, with an adult ticket usually costing somewhere near $18. If you’re a cinephile, the money will be well spent.

What I’m now looking forward to most, however, is the aural experience of The Hobbit, another evolution of cinematic technology that this film represents.

Peter Jackson, along with his entourage of sound designers and engineers, took advantage of the new Dolby ATMOS 64-channel sound technology and built the soundscapes of The Hobbit around it. In broad strokes, we’re used to and accustomed with, Dolby Surround 5.1 and 7.1 sound and their corresponding channels: front, left, right, back left, back right speakers.

Dolby ATMOS redesigns and redefines the entire surround sound aural experience with a pan-through array of speakers. Basically, each speaker can project independent sound showcasing an almost life-like imitation of the way we hear real sound. Imagine a helicopter flying around a movie-star protagonist. With Dolby ATMOS, a film director can create the same sound that the movie protagonist is hearing for the viewing audience by using the set of speakers in front, beside right, behind right, behind left, and beside left, to give the impression of the helicopter flying around the audience.  Instead of the helicopter sound running subsequently in each quadrants’ set of speakers (or channels), it actually runs seamlessly though each individual speaker mounted along the walls, creating a sense of motion.

But that’s not all.

Dolby ATMOS-equipped theatres also have a series of speakers set above the audience. That helicopter can now sound as if it were flying over you, the audience member. Now, imagine if that helicopter were Smaug the Dragon, breathing fire down on the audience!

We’re one step closer to my ultimate dream here, people: the invention of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s famed holodeck!

Unfortunately, back in reality, there aren’t many Dolby ATMOS-equipped theatres just yet. And finding them in an IMAX theatre is a really tough ask. I’ve come across reports that state that setting up a single theatre with the ATMOS technology costs upwards of $50,000. No wonder ticket prices will be a little higher in these cases. Lucky for us, the good people at (a fantastic site for all things Tolkein) have been compiling a list of theatres around the world featuring the ATMOS technology. Along with other info (such as HFR locations) you can find that list here – but it might be best to download their PDF for easy reading.

Personally, I’m catching a Friday evening screening of The Hobbit in an HFR 3D Ultra AVX theatre furnished with the ATMOS surround sound system at the only location where it’s available in the Greater Toronto Area: SilverCity Yonge-Eglinton Cinemas. They’re one of only 80-100 theatres worldwide that are currently testing and/or utilizing the ATMOS technology.

Big thanks to my cousin John, the in-the-know guy for this sort of cinematic tech, for pointing out the ATMOS option. I’ll see the film again, later, in HFR IMAX 3D to get a better feel for the visuals.  It’ll be great to compare the two experiences. Some lucky ducks in parts of the United States can actually get HFR IMAX 3D with ATMOS! Prepare to have your minds blown, people!

So, the question remains: When will you be seeing The Hobbit? And what line up will you be standing in?

15 Replies to “An Unexpected Choice – IMAX, AVX, HFR, 3D And ATMOS…Where To Experience The Hobbit?”

  1. JP, thank you so much for this informative update!!There is a movie theatre on the list that has Imax #D Atmos within an hour ride that we can go see the Hobbit movie

  2. There is no such thing as an IMAX theater with Atmos. IMAX uses its own proprietary sound format. They do not use the standard Dolby Digital or DTS audio. As a part of their DMR process, they completely remix the soundtrack to suite their unique audio setup.

    1. Hey Jeff, thanks for reading and extra thanks for commenting.

      Yep, indeed you are right. If anything, I probably mis-read the list of various types of theatre offerings published by in the link embedded within my article. As you’ve stated, IMAX does use its own proprietary sound format – no wonder finding an IMAX theatre with ATMOS is such a tough ask! Where were you last December when I endlessly wandered the streets of Toronto looking for such a thing?!? 😉

      Anyway, thanks for the clarity. Interestingly, it looks like IMAX certainly has its eye on the ATMOS offering. They see it as great technology, but also as a missed opportunity, restricted by the varying physical dimensions and hardware of different theatres. IMAX theatres are a complete solution – from tech to logistics to design. It’s probably just a matter of time before we see them upgrading their theatres!

      Exciting times for cinema lovers (and film directors)!

      See you at Hobbit 2! HFR 3D, IMAX 3D or Ultra AVX ATMOS?

      1. An IMAX theater with an Atmos setup and the IMAX attention to detail as far as layout, speaker selection and amplification would be incredible! I would be shocked to see it though since IMAX likes everything to be proprietary. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from developing there own system that does essentially the same thing.

        As far as Hobbit, I saw it first in IMAX Digital HFR 3D and was blown away. I saw it second in Atmos but at the standard 24fps. The sound was great, but I missed the HFR. I hope HFR catches on. It just gives you so much more moving detail. I just saw Iron Man 3 in Atmos and wasn’t overly impressed. I think it really relies on how much effort the mixers put in to the Atmos mix.

    2. Yeah, I’d agree with your assessment. I bet they do come up with an upgraded and proprietary solution – it would change the scope of movie viewing entirely!

      I saw Hobbit, like you in Ultra AVX ATMOS 3D at 24fps at the only theatre in the Greater Toronto Area to have it presented this way – a sort of trial run for Cineplex Odeon. It was supposed to be the higher rate, but they were having trouble with the digital feed on opening weekend (it was freezing up in spots) and so we got the 24fps. Big disappointment, but they gave us free movie vouchers on the way out. 🙂

      The ATMOS, when it worked, was absolutely incredible! So immersive! A real watershed moment for me in terms of really diving deep into the world of the movie. But you’re right, its usefulness is entirely dependant upon the director and sound designers of the film.

      Never did get around to seeing it it high rate 3D, unfortunately. This December for sure!

  3. After reading your comments it sounds like watching it in HFR is better than the ATMOS sound difference.

    I’m curious if you guys know where best to sit in a IMAX 3D High Frame Rate Theater? I’m thinking of checking it out at Empress Walk in Toronto and want to pick the right seats 🙂

    I noticed this list on thestar for the top theaters/seats in Toronto but it doesnt include this theater.

    1. Hi Aaron, thanks for stopping by the site and commenting as well – much appreciated!

      I’ve seen Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug twice now, once in Ultra AVX ATMOS 3D at 24 FPS and the second time in Ultra AVX 3D HFR. It was the first time I’d seen anything in HFR and let me tell you it was a completely different experience than seeing the same film in regular 24 FPS.

      For whatever reason, I wasn’t as enamoured with this film in ATMOS like I was the first Hobbit film. That experience was transcendent for me. I don’t know if the sound engineers just didn’t tweak the film as much as they did the first Hobbit movie or what – but the ATMOS effect just wasn’t there for me. I felt a little let down because i’m a big supporter of it.

      Viewing HFR was quite enjoyable, however. It’s noticeably different and may take some getting used to. It feels as if you’re actually on set with the actors, which adds to the movie-going experience but also takes a bit away from movie-magic. In some ways, you kinda feel that the sets shouldn’t look like you’re wandering around a Middle-Earth theme park, but you kind of get the sense that you are.

      Anyway, the HFR made for a really smooth film-viewing experience. The 3D was great – much better (and brighter) than at 24 FPS. This is especially true in some of the more quicker action sequences like the river ride scene.

      I’d recommend seeing the film in HFR. At the very least, it’s an interesting experience.

      In regards to IMAX, i love sitting centre (of course) in the top third of the auditorium.

      Let me know what you think when you see the film – and what tech you see it in!

      Thanks again for reading!

      1. Interesting, The HFR is it the same effect of the 240 hz refresh rate LED TV’s where it looks like its shot on a 90’s sony handy cam. Is it that type of effect your talking about?

        Anyways I’m going to check it out tomorrow and Ill report back.

        Have a good week

      2. Yeah, that’s the general consensus.

        It kinda has that BBC-made feel to it although I wouldn’t really liken it to handy cam tech. It definitely has it’s own feel going on – not to everyone’s liking, it seems.

        I’m of two minds: immersive because I feel “on-set” with the actors, but also that it has the effect of taking me out of the film as we seem to lose some sort of hollywood movie-making “magic”.

        Tell me what you think!

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