China's DMAX aims to rival IMAX, but its picture quality has been questioned by local film fans. Photo: CFP
China's DMAX aims to rival IMAX, but its picture quality has been questioned by local film fans. Photos: CFP
Scores of fans have already flocked to cinemas to see blockbuster Titanic's 3D return voyage, but many have also got on board with the James Cameron epic since it dropped anchor on Sunday at DMAX, China's own version of IMAX. UME Shuangjing Cinema opened China's first DMAX cinema in August last year and tickets have been in hot demand since it began screening Titanic 3D. China is home to more than a dozen DMAX cinemas and offers cheaper tickets than IMAX, however not everyone is convinced Chinese big screen technology is better than its Canadian rival.
DMAX, or Digital Max, is the brainchild of the China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology and China Film Group Corporation. DMAX screens digital versions of traditional 35 millimeter films on its 20 x 12 meter screen, slightly smaller than IMAX's 22 x 16 meter screen. DMAX has the edge over IMAX when it comes to film compatibility, with its North American competitor only able to screen IMAX-format 70 millimeter films. UME Shuangjing claims DMAX offers films in better color by using the world's brightest projector. All these features provide Chinese audiences with "high quality, low cost" big screen movies, the cinema claims.
However, not everyone is impressed by China's domestic cinematic innovation. University student and avid cinemagoer Wang Fan, 23, says image resolution on DMAX screens falls short of IMAX's high standards. "I have watched many films both in DMAX and IMAX and found DMAX's still images are fine. However, its quality of moving pictures is often blurry, which rarely happens with IMAX films," said Wang.
Many people also question DMAX's claims as an "integrated system." A cinema industry insider who only gave his surname as Zhao explained that compared with IMAX, DMAX comes across as a hodgepodge of foreign cinematic technology rather than a viable Chinese alternative. "The projector and sound technology is from Belgian company Barco, the screen is from British company Harkness and the 3D technology is from Korean company Masterimage," Zhao said.
Yang Xuepei, director of the China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology and pioneer of DMAX, has shrugged off comparisons with IMAX, insisting that DMAX is an "experimental system" that is still being tested. Yang even has doubts about using a name that immediately draws comparisons with IMAX. "The name is just a marketing strategy for cinemas," said Yang. "We are trying to establish a system with Chinese intellectual property rights." Yang mentioned that many foreign countries have developed their own big screen systems, including Regal Cinemas' RPX system, AMC Cinemas' ETX system and Village Cinemas' VMAX system.
One of the reasons for launching DMAX was to provide a more affordable alternative to Chinese cinemagoers wanting to see movies on the big screen at a smaller cost. The cost of maintaining IMAX cinemas is extremely high, with its projector alone costing 10 million yuan ($1.58 million). Furthermore, a large portion of profits at the box office don't stay in China.
The average cost of a ticket to a DMAX movie is between 60 and 70 yuan, while IMAX films usually cost 150 yuan. The cheapest tickets to see Titanic 3D at DMAX are 63 yuan, giving it a distinct advantage in luring film fans on a budget.
Hu Jie, a university student and film fan, believes cinemagoers will ultimately decide who will win the battle at the big screen. "The emergence of DMAX gives people more options. Those who want high definition can go to IMAX, while DMAX offers an economical alternative for people like us students," Hu chuckled.