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Difference Between IMAX 3D and Digital 3D

cinema-theater-pdIMAX 3D vs. Digital 3D

With the on-going deployment of 3D movie theaters all over the world, and the increasing number of titles being released for 3D theaters, most people still do not know that there are two major technologies for 3D. There is the very popular IM AX 3D and Digital 3D, that includes RealD and Dolby 3D, among others. The difference between the two types that is easiest to spot, even for the uninformed, is the discrepancy in screen size. IMAX 3D screens are huge, and much bigger compared to the screens used for Digital 3D.

When it comes down to the basics, IMAX movies are on an analog film, while Digital 3D movies are already in a digital format. The equipment is quite different for both, and you can easily compare them to the difference between a film camera and a digital camera. Digital 3D makes it easier and cheaper to distribute movies, as the digital information can be quickly transmitted or transported in more traditional media; unlike film, which can only be transported via courier, and is relatively bulkier.

There is also a difference between the two when it comes to polarization. IMAX uses linear polarization, while Digital 3D uses circular polarization. With linear polarization, you need to keep your head aligned vertically, as tilting too much can cause distortions in the 3D image. This is not a problem with circular polarization, which is why it is preferred by a lot more people.

As IMAX 3D has been around for much longer compared to Digital 3D, it is the more popular between the two. Most users who go to a 3D movie theater are more likely to be walking into an IMAX movie theater, rather than a Digital 3D movie theater, as there are a greater number of IMAX movie theaters in more countries around the world.

Although IMAX has come up with a digital version as an answer to the number of digital formats that are emerging, the use of IMAX 3D still commonly refers to the analog IMAX movie theaters.


1. IMAX 3D movie screens are much bigger compared to Digital 3D movie screens.

2. IMAX 3D movies still use analog film, while Digital 3D movies are in digital format.

3. IMAX 3D uses linear polarization, while Digital 3D uses circular polarization.

4. IMAX 3D is more popular, and is available in a greater number of places compared to Digital 3D.

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  1. As an experienced IMAX 3D’er, I’m compelled to correct several inaccuracies in this post.
    While the distinction between film and digital forms of presentation has veracity in terms of screen size, it should be noted that the original IMAX screens installed between 1975 and 2008 were all film based. According to the LF Examiner database, there are approximately 304 of them worldwide, 201 of them capable of exhibiting 3D films. These screens are bigger, as that was the original IMAX differentiator and selling point. A 1570 film frame is 10 times the size of a 35mm film frame, and it has a squarer shape. (4:3 ration)

    Starting in 2008, IMAX has installed primarily digital screens — approximately 159 — which are all smaller screens with a letterbox/rectangular screen shape, like their digital competitors. Digital projection, IMAX or any other digital system projects a 1:85 to 1 image onto screens of the same aspect ratio, which is the ratio used by the theatrical film industry. The film based IMAX theaters have screens sized at 1:33 to 1, and because theatrical films are shot in the 1:85 to 1 ratio, they are projected onto the screen with black at the top and bottom. The IMAX film screens are much larger than the digital screens, and the film-based projector projects a larger image without significant loss of resolution due to the IMAX DMR processing.

    As far as screen count goes, RealD has by far and away the largest share of the 3D market at this point in time. Dolby has been actively selling, especially in Europe, and both Cinemark and AMC have announced that they intend to handle their own future conversions to 3D with systems developed internally. IMAX possesses the known brand name, but its digital theaters are nowhere near the same size as the original film based auditoriums, though the quality of the presentations remains high.

  2. Hey!
    Thanks for sharing such a information, i was looking for it from a long time….not clear about the basic difference between these two. If u could tell me about RealD and Dolby 3D….I’ll be great full to u.

  3. Great info, but regardless of technology difference, is there a more visual difference. For instance avatar was a great imax movie to watch, would picture have been the same on Dolby digital?

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