Showcase XPlus: The Format War Continues
As video-on-demand and advances in home entertainment signal a real generational shift, cinema is fighting back – as it did in the 1950s, after the birth of television – with changes to its format. During the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of 3D, Imax and non-film cinema such as opera.
Last week, I was invited to a launch for the latest addition to the format war: Showcase Cinema’s XPlus concept. This is, like IMAX, a ‘large format’ offering wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screen size and improvements to 3D viewing. Yet, unlike so many of the other innovations, XPlus is primarly heard and not seen, thanks to Dolby Atmos – a bone-rattingly dense soundscape comprising 69 speakers around and above the auditorium.
The launch film, the excellent Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, was no doubt chosen for its aural virtues rather than the visual elements. After all, this is a film with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, meaning that we didn’t get the full benefit of the wall-hogging, Cinemascope-shaped screen. To be honest, as ‘large’ formats go this is dwarfed by IMAX.
However, the sound really impressed. Dawn features near-permanent rainfall, audibly emanating from the ceiling speakers, and plenty of scenes of humans surrounded by chattering apes, which gave the many side- and back-speakers scope to be heard. Every time I’ve experienced IMAX, the cinema has emphasised sound volume, but I much prefer the subtlety achieved here.
What really enabled me to ignore the hyperbole of the press release was – MILD SPOILER COMING UP – a scene where Gary Oldman’s character hears the telltale ping of an iPad charging up behind him. I’m so used to hearing phone noise in cinemas that, for a moment, I was genuinely fooled – the sound was absolutely clear and it came from over my left shoulder. Impressive.
It’s hard to tell how XPlus will compete in an already crowded marketplace, but it’s certainly worth giving it a go – but a lot will depend on choosing films where audio will be a strong part of the aesthetic experience.