Have you been to the movies lately? I think there might be more ways to watch movies than there are good movies to watch. But either way, this article will answer what is Dolby Cinema to see if it’s worth the cashola for your next date night. We’ll explain the digital formats commonly offered at theaters, including Dolby Cinema, so you can make a more informed decision the next time you rush to the theaters.

What is Dolby Cinema?

What format should you choose?

There are so many ways for a film to be projected on screen. Understanding why there are so many options can get a little confusing. So let’s start by breaking down the basic options you have before you buy your movie ticket. We’ll start with Standard format and make our way to Dolby and IMAX.  But first, an epic video from Dolby team.

The magic of Dolby Vision


When you see that the movie is playing in Standard or Digital, this is your typical experience. If you pay the minimum rate at the theatre, and just ask for the regular ticket, this is you. It’s loud and the picture is great, because it’s the movies! But when we compare Standard to the other formats, it falls way behind in terms of picture and sound quality. 


You also have 3D. This was fun when I was a kid and felt like I was in the movie. But as an adult,  I now find the projection a little jarring and not nearly as immersive as I once thought. Honestly, it usually looks a little cheesy and has occasionally ruined the experience for me. Also, I’d rather not have to wear glasses if there are options where the screen format and sound system can take care of it. And there are. 

Dolby Cinema

Dolby Digital Cinema made by Dolby can be viewed at AMC Theaters. Dolby has been around for years and the name has become nearly synonymous with incredible sound but Dolby Cinema started making its mark in the early 2000s. AMC and Dolby partnered up in April 2015. You can learn more about the history of Dolby below.

What is Dolby Cinema?

So what makes Dolby so great and also so expensive?

Dolby uses dual 4K laser projectors and produces 4x more resolution than the standard format. 

Just to clarify...dual means Dolby uses two projectors, each one at 4k resolution. And laser projection means that because neither conventional light bulbs or lamps are used in this technology, anything on the screen that is black will be projected black. In standard projection, because lamps are used, the blacks in the film will actually appear a dull gray. See this comparison below.

Standard vs dolby

Dolby gives us images that are sharper, crisper, and have 500 times the contrast ratio of a standard projector, and twice the brightness. It’s the best HDR available. What exactly does that mean? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range - and its range is truly incredible. It will give you the brightest highlights, and the darkest blacks. This gives a much more realistic effect than any other format, and is incredibly immersive. 3D glasses not required.

Dolby Atmos

Dolby isn’t just a frontrunner in picture quality, in fact, it’s primary advantage is its sound capabilities. This sound system is referred to as Dolby Atmos and takes surround sound to a different level.

All theaters in all formats use surround sound, so the audience can experience sound coming every which way. But Dolby Atmos makes this experience about a million times more immersive with speakers on the ceiling, and transducers producing bass effects below the viewers’ feet. As mentioned above, there are many combinations of screening formats, and Dolby also offers 3D, and it is a bit better than the basic 3D.

Explore this AMC theater below, and get a feel for Dolby Cinema.

Explore this AMC Dolby Cinema


IMAX is another incredibly immersive projection format because it involved a massive screen. In fact, 40% larger of a screen with an aspect ratio that’s taller than other theaters.

You can see more of the movie itself, rather than having to see those black bars above and below the frame.

Dolby has given filmmakers and creators more tools to tell their stories the way they originally intended. Shooting and projecting in IMAX has too. See how IMAX compares with Dolby Cinema for Avengers Endgame/Infinity War.

Dolby Cinema vs IMAX

There are really two types of IMAX. Make sure you’re aware that if you buy an IMAX ticket, it’s a true IMAX with laser technology. See, the newest IMAX theaters use dual 4K Laser projectors and also have an upgraded sound system, similar to Dolby. But some older theaters with IMAX, don’t have these upgrades. So you’re paying IMAX prices with a smaller screen, lower resolution, and a weaker sound system. Use this website to determine which IMAX theater is the real thing.

And also similar to Dolby, some theaters offer IMAX 3D. Make sure to check with the theater to find out. 

Also be mindful of something called RPX. The movie theatre company, Regal offers its own larger than life format experience with bigger screens, newer projectors, and you guessed it, a much better sound system. But all this means is that it’s better than standard, it’s not technically IMAX. 


Lots of things being sprayed at you, and all the senses are involved. Not really for me, and probably a distraction from the actual storyline, but I suppose, complete immersion nonetheless. 

There are several different combinations of these digital screening formats, and that’s just digital. Traditional film projection is offered at select theaters as well. Another post on that soon. 

Will you pay extra for Dolby Cinema?

Up Next

What is Aspect Ratio?

In film, it is critical to determine which aspect ratio you want to shoot in, depending on the context of the film, and what you want to show. Certain genres lend themselves to certain aspect ratios. Find out more in our next article!

Up Next: What's Aspect Ratio? →
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  • Alyssa Maio is a screenwriter from New Jersey, now living in Los Angeles. She works as a copywriter here at StudioBinder.

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