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Today’s Show:

4DX: The Savior of Cinema?

Movie theaters are faltering, at least in our opinion. The large format home theater has reached a price point where it is attainable for many of us. And TVs are so big, you can practically create a large format home theater with just an LCD TV. No need for a projector or a screen or the hassle of running wires to the back of the room. And if anyone can have a huge home theater, what’s the allure of the traditional movie theater?

We’ve talked for a long time about the cinema owners and operators needing to modernize. They can no longer rely on being the only game in town. To date, the biggest moves in making the old school cinema house more attractive have come at the concession stand. Full restuarants with in theater service, full bars with beer, wine and cocktails delivered to you while you watch. It totally transforms the experience and some of those theaters are doing really well.

Other theaters have renovated the room itself. They have larger, more plush seating that fully reclines, or small couches you can share with a date. The rooms themselves are more elegant, mores intimate than the giant sticky packed houses we’ve been used to in the past. Some even allow you to reserve your seat in advance so you don’t have to worry about getting bad seats. This helps, but even so, most of us would still prefer our couch at home.

4DX To the Rescue

But what if the cinema owners could differentiate on technology again. They used to be the only game in town for big screens, surround sound, booming subwoofers. But now we all have those. Then they were the only option for watching movies in 3D. Then that technology made its way home, where we all hate it just as much as we did in the theaters. The next big thing very well may be what South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX is calling 4DX technology.

If you’ve been to a 4D movie experience at a theme park, odds are you’re familiar with the concept. 4DX is more than just picture and sound. It combines 3D video and multi-channel surround sound with moving seats, wind, mist, and event scents and smells, al synchronized to the movie, to provide a totally immersive experience. Your chair moves in sync with the movie, wind blows when you’re moving or something flies past you on screen, It all works in harmony to bring you into the movie going experience.

A theater can be built or retrofitted with special equipment to support 4DX features, which include:

  • Seat Motion (tilt left, tilt right, tilt forward, tilt backward, raise up, drop down)
  • Vibration
  • Leg Tickler
  • Back Poker
  • Face Air Jets
  • Left and Right Neck Air Jets
  • Water Spray
  • Wind
  • Lightning
  • Fog
  • Scents (from a collection of 1000 scents)
  • Bubbles
  • Rainstorm
  • Snowstorm
  • Heated Air

Due to the complexity of the equipment needed to provide this total body experience, theaters must be specially built or retrofitted to accommodate it. In many cases, the work is so drastic theaters can’t even be retrofitted but need to be totally stripped down and rebuilt. And it isn’t cheap. In 2011, the cineplex company Cinépolis invested $25 million and partnered with CJ Group to open up to 11 4DX theaters. That’s roughly $2.3 million per room, and there’s no telling how much the partnership offset the total cost.

For starters, every seat has to move, and they all move independently. So you have the seats and the actuators to buy and install, and the wiring to the control unit to make sure they move on time. Then there are the fans and misters, some have these built into the seatbacks, so that’s already included, unless you’re in the front row. Then there are the scent bubble machines. And of course the controlling units to make sure all of these items fire at just the right time to draw you into the movie. It’s complex and complicated.

Getting 4DX at Home

So what are the odds we’ll ever get anything like 4DX in the home? That’s a tough one. Looking at the surface, it’s probably a long shot. But there are so many technologies in the home today that we never could have fathomed would be there had we took a guess 10 years ago, so if history has taught us anything, it’s that someone will find a way to make it happen. Entrepreneurs listen up. We’re looking for you to show up on Shark Tank with an idea, or set of ideas, for getting 4DX into the home.

There are multiple challenges in making this a reality. First are the chairs. Sure there are things like D-Box controlled seats available now, but the 4DX seats take it to the next level. And you have to have one for anyone that may come over to watch a movie. Its almost like the 3D glasses dilemma, but instead of a couple hundred dollars for a few extra pairs of glasses, you’re talking about tens of thousands to add additional seating. Braden’s family alone would need 7 chairs – not even sure 7 of them would fit in the theater room.

Next you’d need devices for the wind and mist and maybe even the smells.  You might be able to get away with one scent delivery unit to fill the whole room with an odor, but who knows if that would even work. And unless you want to soak the whole theater, you’ll need individual misters to hit each person or a small group of viewers. Same thing for the fans to control wind. Not a trivial install to say the least.

A reason to go out to the Movies?

So let’s assume we’re at least a good 5 to 10 years away from anything like 4DX appearing in our homes – at least at a price that would make it attainable for most of us, is the experience compelling enough to pull you out of your home theater and into a cineplex? For kids of course, they’ll love it. But they go to the movies anyways. For horror movies it could be great – get sprayed by mist when blood splatters off the screen. But for most movies it just feels too gimmicky. Like it would be fun for the first half of the movie, then you’d just want it to stop so you could watch in peace. Can you imagine a two hour long Star Tours at Disneyland?

Try it out

If you want to give it a shot for yourself, there are options out there for you. Maybe nothing close by, but if you happen to be travelling somewhere with a 4DX cinema, it might be worth checking out. According to Wikipedia, as of November 2014, the 4DX technology is currently active in 28 countries: South Korea, Venezuela, China, Cambodia, Israel, Thailand, Russia, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Hungary, Japan, Poland, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Taiwan, Chile, UAE, Croatia, Ukraine, India, Indonesia, United Kingdom and the Philippines, with new theaters being prepared in the United States, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Jordan, Bahamas, and Costa Rica.

There is actually now one 4DX theater in the US. It is at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium 14 in Downtown Los Angeles – the first of many planned locations according to Regal. It is located at 800 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, California.

Download Episode #691

Posted by The HT Guys, June 11, 2015 11:17 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.