From imax to 4dx, to dolby cinema and cinemark xd, a trip to the movies offers a lot of confusing terminology without much explanation.
Since most of these premium options also come with a premium price tag, it’s important to assess whether the features are worth the extra expense.
Here, we’ll take a deep dive into Cinemark’s premium movie theater: Cinemark XD. we’ll analyze the video and audio qualities, and compare cinemark’s hype to the real thing to help you decide if it’s worth the premium.
cinemark started introducing the xd theater in 2009, so it’s not a new technology. however, updates have been released over the last decade.
cinemark xd is often compared to imax, which makes sense because the two theaters are similar in many ways. in fact, imax filed a lawsuit against cinemark years ago, claiming that cinemark xd had stolen imax trade secrets and that xd is essentially a copy of imax.
The lawsuit was dismissed after a settlement was reached, and imax and cinemark xd are now two of the most popular premium theaters in the us. uu.
XD Theaters have large screens that Cinemark advertises as “wall-to-wall” and “floor-to-ceiling.”
early xd theaters featured 7.1 surround sound, but most xd theaters upgraded to 11.1 surround sound enabled starting in 2022.
In the simplest terms, this is what sets a Cinemark XD theater apart from a standard movie theater: more comfortable reclining seats, a larger screen, and more powerful speakers.
the only drawback is that tickets are usually about $2.50 more than the same ticket at a standard cinemark theater.
a note on “premium theaters” in general
before we talk about xd theaters, imax, rpx, 4dx, d-box or dolby cinema, there is something you should know: the advertising tactics of “premium movie theaters” are essentially the Wild West.
Premium movie experiences are not like Nutrition Facts labels, which have a regulatory body that monitors and verifies their claims. instead, each theater chain can make any claim it wishes without fear of being discredited or refuted.
In general, theaters are factually correct in their claims. so when xd claims to support 11.1 surround sound, it is true that their sound system has 11 channels.
However, theaters also tend to be misleading in terms of whether or not their sophisticated technologies provide any benefit to viewers. For example, XD’s 11.1 surround-compatible speakers don’t really deliver the desired 11-channel experience unless you’re watching one of the very, very few movies that were mixed into Auro 11.1 (*more on that below). and regardless, the audio experience is still less than 7.1 dolby atmos.
imax has received some flak from purists for its “lie-max” theaters, which are basically a digital version of smaller-screen or lower-quality film instead of the 70mm film on giant screens that made the imax cinema in gold standard more than a decade ago. imax basically established itself as the best and then downgraded most of its theaters without telling anyone.
Beyond all of this, movie theaters are now using 2k projectors, 4k projectors, 70mm projectors, or dual projectors without explicitly telling viewers what technology they’re looking at.
All of this is to say that unless you really dive deep into the details of your nearby movie theater, you won’t know exactly what you’re seeing. some viewers even resort to calling the theater and asking for visual and audio details.
A better option is to open your eyes and ears and decide whether or not the audio and image meet your standards. if not, try another theater next time!
cinematic claims versus reality
Here, we’ll break down Cinemark’s claims and offer counterpoints to each. this way you can decide if it’s worth spending a couple more bucks.
“magnificent 70 foot wall to wall area”
Without a doubt, cinemark xd provides large screens compared to the average cinema. 4K projectors boost images, which Cinemark advertises as having 35 billion colors. I’m not sure about you, but my eyes have a hard time telling the difference between a projector with 35 billion colors and one with only 20 billion colors.
With 4k digital projectors, it’s definitely possible to have a 70+ foot screen without losing clarity. and I agree with cinemark’s claim here. the video quality is excellent, even if it’s not the best video quality in the industry.
“multichannel 11.1 surround sound system”
This is technically true, but with a caveat. xd theaters feature auro 11.1 sound systems, which is basically 5.1 surround sound with another level of 5 surround speakers and a top speaker. so even though there will be more channels for surround sound, this is not object-based audio like you would get with dolby atmos. in other words, auro 11.1 can’t “place” a particular sound with the same precision as dolby atmos.
The other key here is that very few movies are mixed in auro 11.1. instead, the dolby formats have become something of an industry standard. the number of movies being made with dolby atmos, dolby digital or dolby digital plus is far greater than the number being made on auro 11.1.
cinemark xd turns up the volume and adds more bass, so you continue to enjoy a great surround sound experience. but my conclusion here is that the 11.1ch surround sound system is more marketing hype than anything else.
“luxury reclining seats”
Any time we talk about movie theater seating, we should note that your experience may vary.
As far as I know, part of the cinemark xd experience is the premium seats. every time i’ve sat in a theater xd, there have been upgraded seats with recliners. in my experience they are very comfortable chairs that recline independently for the headrest and footrest.
so, while we can’t speak to every theater in the country, I’ll conclude that this appears to be accurate.
thank you certificate
While many of us focus on screen size and quality, it’s sound quality that really sets most modern movie theaters apart. Cinemark reps have even acknowledged that “although the pictures are pristine, it’s the sound that gets people most excited.”
thx certification is an insignia that “sets the standard for visual and audio fidelity in entertainment experiences.” so the fact that cinemark xd theaters are thx certified is actually a big deal. now how important it really is just depends on who you ask.
You can search for thx certified theaters in your area here, and in most areas you’ll find that thx certified theaters are quite rare. If you live in Los Angeles or New York, you’ll be able to find other theaters with the THX badge. But for most of us in midsize cities, the suburbs, or the Midwest, Cinemark XD theaters are often the only THX-certified theaters nearby.
therefore, we also qualify this statement as objectively true.
what do viewers say about the films xd?
here we try to answer the question: “are movie theaters worth it xd?”
The general consensus is that xd theaters are worth the additional $2.50 price of admission for action movies and those that feature significant special effects.
at a cinemark xd theater, you’re guaranteed to be watching on the biggest screen in the theater. plus, the theaters themselves are bigger.
also, there are no “bad seats”. instead, you can be sure that each seat is positioned with an acceptable viewing angle. the seats themselves are extremely comfortable and most or all xd theaters also have reclining seats.
cinemark xd also features one of its only options for a thx certified movie theater.
so, the pictures are good, the seats are comfortable, and the audio is good.
the pictures are no better than a real imax theater, but xd is still preferable to the “fake imax” or “imax experience” many theaters offer now.
and the audio is no better than a dolby theater, especially since most new movies are mixed in dolby instead of xd’s auro 11.1 sound.
So, is a movie by xd worth it?
For $2.50 more than a standard cinemark ticket, I think it’s worth it. for action movies, it’s absolutely worth the extra expense. is it an additional sale? yes, but one that is worthwhile and not terribly expensive.
- comfortable, reclining seats
- large and spacious cinema
- ideal viewing angles
- high quality audio
- $2.50 more than a standard ticket
In most cases, Cinemark XD theaters give you a superior viewing (and listening) experience compared to a standard theater. for an additional ~$2.50, the difference is well worth it if you’re watching an action movie or anything that relies heavily on special effects. for a comedy or chick flick, it might not be worth it.