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There are two photos of the IMPACT screen on the Empire Leicester Square Facebook page.
The row A is about 0.45 screen width away, row M about 1.0. (Row AA and N are not used for IMAX presentations.) This gives minimum horizontal /vertical viewing angles of ~53/32deg, and maximum viewing angles of ~96/66 deg.
If you read http://www.lfexaminer.com/20090522a.htm, you’ll find then, that this, give or take, is exactly the recipe for a “classic” IMAX venue and a central seat is absolutely immersive and perfectly positioned.
IMAX releases are transitioning to 1.9:1, so the ratio would be the same even in 1.4:1 venues.
The fact that this has been achieved in a conversion of a conversion, the building dating from 1928, and the shoehorning in of such a large screen, is remarkable. There is an operating Casino below and it is not as if they can dig a large hole in the ground; the project was delayed by months due to structural difficulties.
Empire Cinemas should be applauded for doing their very best in preserving what they could of Screen 1 and commissioning what must have been an expensive and difficult project.
I sincerely hope that IMAX will do something to differentate such “premiere” venues, perhaps once the “laser” projection system is installed, as there are a number of other IMAX venues now in London suburbs with smaller screens (typically 50ft. wide.) (The BFI, on the other hand, hardly needs it as it is well established.)
A more useful note: I can confirm that there is some sound leakage from the IMPACT auditorium in the IMAX auditorium. However, it was only audible when there was no audio playing (after the main feature had ended) and it was a distant rumble, which must have been at peak levels. I have heard similar in VUE West End Screen 7, so I would guess “THX” requirements for inter-auditorium sound leakage would be met.
The critical feature of IMAX is not the aspect ratio, it’s the horizontal and vertical viewing angles. (Size as well, to a point—sitting up close to a 15" laptop screen isn’t the same.) The Empire’s screen roughly falls well within those requirements, the auditorium is about 1 screen width deep, and any central seat is certainly very immersive.
Also, the screen height is within the range of IMAX GT venues (albeit at the bottom end), and the width (87.5ft) is far greater than many, the smallest is 71ft wide.
As for the projection, the entire industry has transitioned to digital and IMAX isn’t immune to that transition; furthermore the use of film for shooting purposes is rapidly diminishing. IIRC they had a replacement digital projection system in development, but it didn’t work out and they ended up using DLP projectors. The other risk, of course, is that eventually the rest of the industry would have digital projectors capable superior quality to 15/70.
The DLP projectors do surprisingly well in the Empire, and are perfectly aligned, but of course we wait laser projection. The lack of masking isn’t an enormous problem as there’s not much light leakage, in 3D it’s almost black. (I did, however, find it to be a serious problem in the Empire’s IMPACT auditorium.)
The Empire (and Chinese) have been reconstructed for the laser system, DLP is only a stopgap. Even so, the picture and sound as it stands, as Dave Pring says, are both superb and the conversion is excellent.
So the real question, which awaits a definitive answer, is does the IMAX laser projection system match 15/70? If it does, then there’s nothing “Lie"MAX about the Empire. As for the resolution—the “real world” resolution of 15/70 as projected is not the same as the potential resolution.
If the IMAX laser projection is, as IMAX claim, superior to competing products, then surely Empire have actually done the right thing to ensure that their flagship auditorium is equipped with the very best?
There wouldn’t be so many “tentpole” IMAX releases now if they had not expanded via “scaled down” venues; the problem, I think, is taking it too far. Perhaps the laser projection system will give IMAX the chance to do some differentiation among between different venues, presumably they will want to shout from the rooftops about it.
There’s a number of newsreel footage (British Pathé) clips on YouTube which feature the foyer/lobby areas of the 1928 Empire. These two, though, are a bit different:
Views of the 1928 auditorium (skip to 2:50 on…) and stage
Foyer/lobby areas of the 1962 Empire, in 1964…
Very familiar, but some of the decor, fit-out and fixtures have changed considerably!
Sadly, we can’t pull out a magic genie from nowhere to grant our wishes, can we? It’s not that I (or presumably anyone else) don’t share your disappointment and sadness over this, but it’s happened… Love or loathe it, to say the least it’s a heck of a lot better than, for example, my old local inexpensively twinned Odeon, long closed now… looks very nice in photos taken back in 1930… but in my time an absolute flea-pit!
Of course it will never be the same and I would far preferred Empire 1 to have been kept, albeit with a bit of a makeover (new acoustic absorption on walls/ceiling, seating reupholstered, etc.)
I’m heartbroken but I also try to maintain a balanced perspective. So, what were the alternative options? Keeping Empire 1 wasn’t one of them as it’s a commercial operation. Strip out and conversion to another Casino floor? Another hotel? I can think of many worse outcomes than what’s happened and I’ve been expecting something to happen to Empire 1 for years.
Believe me and everyone else who are big fans of Empire 1, and were horrified when it was closed for subdivision, the IMAX auditorium is very impressive and comfortable, it is a great place to see a film, obviously not greater than the “cathedral” that was Empire 1 but still excellent, the online photos and videos don’t really do it justice.
Details of the planning permission are up on Westminster Council’s site via the above linked page. More than £5m of contributions, for Crossrail, “public realm,” affordable housing, etc. are required per the S106 agreement!
The cinema has hardly come down to a low level, Empire 1 was long overdue for an overhaul with sagging seats, tired looking tiles and serious problems with dialogue intelligibility due to the excessive reverb time/slap echo. The subdivision is regrettable indeed and it would have be nice to keep the THX baffle wall/JBL sound system, but by sheer chance, the old rear circle dating back to 1928 has made for an excellent IMAX auditorium. For the most part, it seems that Empire Cinemas have gone out of their way to preserve what they could of Screen 1 and have waited for a suitably grand scheme. There could have been really horrendous outcomes, such as the circle being subdivided down the middle!
IMHO it’s one of the best screens in the country. The IMAX projectors and DMR’d picture is an upgrade, the laser projector is on the horizon, and, yes, no Dolby Atmos but it does sound very good, we’ll just have to wait for IMAX to introduce their new sound system.
A quick look at Empire’s IMAX booking page shows that an evening screening of “Guardians of the Galaxy” has a high percentage of seats reserved in advance.
FanaticalAboutOdeon, thanks for the structural information, very interesting. Another other option I can think of is to use the rear circle as one auditorium, and the Royal Circle as the balcony along with the front stalls to form another, perhaps increasing the rake of the front stalls. As with the Empire IMAX this might yield difficult viewing angles from the side seats, but presumably e.g. columns could be used to support the dividing wall if required.
One would hope that if a completely new auditorium block was on the cards then the recent refurbishment of the Mezzanine/Studios would not have occurred, as it would have been better to concurrently replace it with less compromised auditoria!
If Odeon want to keep the stage, then one option I can think of is to eliminate the Royal Circle, so the front stalls would be extended back with a dividing wall at the front of the rear circle… although existing steelwork may well mean this is not be feasible!
FanaticalAboutOdeon, thanks for the long and fascinating post! Acceptance of sound leakage may be a generational thing, although I too would prefer zero, but also accept that even with good soundproofing, it can be inevitable. VUE West End Screen 4, for example, suffers from unacceptable sound leakage; having seen the original plans it seems that the basement cinemas (1-4) were designed as be two auditoria but were centrally divided.
It would be interesting to know what the “dense substance” was, I can only think of expanding foam.
The long-term viability of West End cinemas showing “blockbuster” product must surely be questionable. It is disappointing that your friend thought the picture/sound in the Impact screen was not up to par, as I had hoped that it would have improved by now (e.g. audio calibration/tuning.) That being the case, other than Dolby Atmos, it is hard to see how it is provides a different experience to the average so-called “large format” suburban multiplex, and tickets remain at West End prices. It is quite possible to visit the Impact screen without entering the long “Grand Foyer” which does provide that extra bit of class and expectation.
The Empire LS IMAX is of a high standard, but I do fear that the Odeon LS will end up with two medicore screens which just happen to keep some existing interior features.
That’s dissappointing to hear that there’s some sound leakage but not surprising. It would be interesting to know what kind of sound (low frequency?), and it I don’t think it’s a dealbreaker if it’s audible a small percentage of the time. After all, THX cinemas are allowed a certain amount of leakage from adjacent auditoria, and I’ve heard distant rumbles when in VUE West End Screen 7 (presumably from Screen 5 below.)
As I mentioned in a previous post here, I was told that the extra weight carried was 9 tonnes and structural reinforcements were required. Even if that’s not the case, the dividing walls, screens, etc. must weigh a fair bit! That said, I’d assume double wall construction has been used—I’d imagine IMAX have similar requirements as THX for sound leakage.
The lack of distance between the two screens could be another issue—unavoidable since the IMPACT auditorium extends back into what was the screen void of Empire 1, right up to the wall. I think the Odeon LS has more leeway in that respect (assuming the circle is converted into one auditorium and the front stalls into the screen void another.)
I would be interested to know if Empire have managed to improve the projection and sound in the IMPACT screen, which (unlike the IMAX screen) certainly wasn’t up to par on my visit.
Empire have finally posted some snapshots of both screens on their Facebook page.
IMAX have finally uploaded Part 2 of their Empire Leicester Square featurette—shows the projectors/screen speakers/screen being installed, and lots of views of the auditorium.
Plans for the conversion are to be found within a Licensing Application to Westminster Council
Looks like it’s possible that some of the tiled walls on the left side wall could be hidden away…
Rumour posted on a forum which states that the OLS is likely to be converted into two screens.
Photos of the 1928 Empire Leicester Square…
I prefer the 1962 interior but no doubt it was very ostentatious.
rasLXR, I completely agree with you as Empire 1 was one of the greatest cinemas ever built, but I also accept that Empire 1 was no longer viable and that the outcome could have been far worse.
Videos of the new auditorium (not mine!):
Behind screen/screen installation photos
Looking at the photos of the IMAX auditorium and comparing to Empire 1, it seems to me that the false walls/ceiling in the circle section were mostly not gutted out but retrofitted with acoustic material/black fabric covering. This wasn’t clear from the renderings Empire posted, in which they looked slightly different. The seating area there is slightly narrower, and an extra row has been added at the back.
The renderings bear the logo of UNICK Architects, who I assume were involved in this project.
Incidentally, according to my ticket, the Empire has regained a Screen 3—the IMAX screen.
rasLXR, many thanks for the replies! I assume that, for example, like THX certified screens, IMAX has standards for auditorium noise levels—I certainly couldn’t hear any HVAC noise or any sound leakage from the adjacent IMPACT auditorium (keeping in mind the screens are “back to back.”)
While the Leicester Square THX certified screens had excellent sound, I’ve been to some (e.g. the Hoyts Cinema at Bluewater, before it became a Showcase) that were unimpressive. No way of knowing if they were operating to spec on the day of visit though; I imagine that IMAX auditoria benefit immensely from the daily calibration/quality control of picture/sound. In the UK I’ve only visited the BFI IMAX and the PEPSI IMAX, and with all the “Lie-MAX” potshots out there, it would certainly be good to hear that the other new IMAX installations are of the same standard.
Photos of the IMAX Auditorium:
Green white? lighting; better capture of ceiling detail
Red lighting — opposite side wall
These were the best I could do with staff milling about. I also have photos showing green and blue lights, but of very poor quality.
Having visited the IMAX auditorium today to see “Edge of Tomorrow,” I can say that the Empire Leicester Square is back as the premier cinema in the West End!
It’s all there—the auditorium feels cavernous in height/width, colour-changing concealed lighting (which has now been added at the back of each row of seats), super air conditioning, and a sense of occasion and being transported out of the outside world.
I’ve not been to an IMAX digital screening previously, but the Empire’s installation seems to be top-notch.
The DLP projection is very good for what it is; it is well aligned and there was no barrel or “smiley face” distortion which plagues some screens. 3D images are however too dark, and the pixels clearly visible, particularly on text. The picture does not quite fill the screen yet, which is presumably sized for the coming laser projection; although there is no moving screen masking there is relatively little light leakage (although within the projected area black levels were a bit on the high side) and with the image darkened by 3D glasses it is hardly missed. The main feature was “letterboxed” although some of the adverts were not.
Presumably thanks to IMAX’s DMR process, the picture was exceptionally consistent from scene to scene in terms of colour, detail and a complete lack of grain/picture noise.
I can’t be sure, but the new concrete floor screed in front of the screen, which I saw during my brief visit a few weeks ago, didn’t yet seem to be covered.
The sound is also as you’d expect from the Empire, being very well tuned, excellent stereo imaging, effortlessly wide dynamic range and “tactile” sub-bass. I almost feel that ATMOS is unnecessary as IMAX’s two rear speakers do a very good job of front-back surround stereo imaging.(IMAX are working on a 9-channel system)
The interior fittings (quality wall coverings, seats, etc.) are mostly identical to the IMPACT auditorium, but the ceiling is also covered with what looks like fabric, presumably concealing acoustic treatment. The acoustics are very good, perhaps not quite dry but the terrible “slap echo” of Empire 1 has been tamed. Only subtle behind seating lighting in the apparently disused side seats (according to the booking page on Empire’s site) are on during the main feature. Unlike the IMPACT auditorium, my seat, although very comfortable, did not recline although I did not find this to be a problem in relation to viewing the screen.
Obviously, there are no tabs/curtains.
In my view, unlike the IMPACT auditorium, they really have got it right—accepting that it’s a automated digital cinema—this really is a flagship “West End” cinema with the attention to detail you’d expect!
The premier screens at the VUE (or rather Warner) West End were multiplex cinema interiors of the time (e.g. “SoundFold” pleated wall coverings), yet were still well designed auditoriums with extra finishing touches (proscenium, attractive curtains, etc.), not to mention the excellent acoustics and air conditioning.
Unfortunately the Empire IMPACT auditorium feels like it’s been jammed into remaining space (front stalls/screen) of Screen 1 and the screen is effectively framed by the sidewalls which is distracting, albeit it still retains some sense of spaciousness due to the high ceiling.
Given the extensiveness of the rebuild, it’s perplexing that it should miss the mark for the sake of a few relatively minor details. It’s a still a good place to see a film but given the ticket prices one should expect no compromise. :–(
Still, I am looking forward to the opening of the IMAX auditorium in a few days.