Odeon BFI London IMAX Cinema

1 Charlie Chaplin Walk,
London, SE1 8XR

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Odeon BFI London IMAX Cinema

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Operated by the British Film Institute, the BFI London IMAX Cinema is housed in an unusual circular building which is glazed on the exterior. It is located in the centre of a busy traffic round-a-bout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames, and access is gained by under the road passages. The BFI London IMAX Cinema boasts it has the ‘largest screen in the UK…the height of 5 double-decker buses’. It opened on 1st May 1999.

IMAX and 3D IMAX format films play in repertory programming and the cinema also features an increasing number of presentations of the latest releases, which are shown on the giant IMAX screen (but not in the IMAX format).

From 19th July 2012 the Odeon Theatres chain began a 5-year fixed time concession to operate the cinema. It has now been equipped with an IMAX 3D digital projector and a new 20 metres tall x 26 metres wide IMAX digital screen, the largest screen in Great Britain. 70mm film IMAX projectors have been retained for occasional use.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

Cinedelphia
Cinedelphia on April 16, 2016 at 8:37 pm

Was visiting London this past week and had the opportunity to see Batman V Superman at the BFI IMAX. Great experience all around. Was pleasantly surprised to find the film being shown on 70mm IMAX film. This is a fabulous IMAX venue with a 20mx26m screen. Better yet, when I asked the theater manager a few questions about the presentation he invited me to visit the projection booth and spend a few moments with the projectionist. The projectionist was incredibly generous answering my questions and explaining the equipment which is very impressive to say the least. He was also quite interested that I was old enough to have experienced real Cinerama, 70mm, and Ultra Panavision. Just a real treat.

CF100
CF100 on July 26, 2017 at 8:08 pm

British Gypsum case study on the BFI IMAX:

http://www.british-gypsum.com/case-studies/sports-and-leisure/bfi-imax-cinema

Notably: “Some 2,000 square metres of Glasroc F MULTIBOARD was also used for the interior curved walls, which were designed around a giant curved screen, at 21m high, taller than four double-decker buses.”

Glasroc F is “Non-combustible glass-reinforced gypsum plasterboard”—IOW, high-performance—and expensive—stuff!

LARGE_screen_format
LARGE_screen_format on June 3, 2018 at 10:03 am

Have visited this cinema a number of times over the years since 2009, the most recent movie that I watched was Avengers: Infinity War in IMAX 3D during its opening week.

Had been looking forward to this movie probably more than any other after reading some years ago that it would be the first feature-length movie ever to be entirely filmed using IMAX cameras.

Boy, did I leave disappointed! Not with the movie itself (enjoyed it, both times that I watched it during its first week of release) but with the video and audio quality. Sure, it was great seeing Thanos larger than life on such a huge screen but the colours seemed so muted to me. There was no pop even to the brightest scenes. And as for the surround sound, there was just one scene where I noticed the faintest of activity in the left side channel speakers. Complete lack of any thump to the LFE channel.

There is also nothing ‘premier’ about the Premier seats except the price. Legroom is almost non-existent if you’re anything but a short person.

Will not be returning here to watch Avengers 4 but shall instead go to Cineworld Empire, Leicester Square where everything except the slightly smaller screen is better. The IMAX with Laser projection system which delivers a far superior image to that of BFI IMAX. The sound system also sounded superior on each occasion that I have watched a movie there. There are more seats (727 – the most of any IMAX screen in the UK) and all are luxury leather stadium style seats which means you can sit in comfort anywhere you wish.

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on June 4, 2018 at 6:44 am

Sadly the Cineworld Leicester Square IMAX suffers from poor legroom thanks to installing chunky modern seats on the old 1960s stepping. Regarding screen sizes, due to the aspect ratio the picture for most digitally projected films will be larger in Leicester Square. The main reason to come to the BFI IMAX is to see IMAX 70mm presentations.

LARGE_screen_format
LARGE_screen_format on June 4, 2018 at 11:51 am

Prior to Avengers: Infinity War, of the movies I have watched at BFI IMAX the only one that contained scenes actually filmed with IMAX cameras was The Dark Knight Rises. The other movies had been converted for IMAX presentations.

Does anyone know details on which IMAX sound system they currently have installed at this cinema and how does it compare with the newer one installed at Cineworld ‘Empire’ Leicester Square? Are there any other standout IMAX screens in the UK with amazing sound systems?

CF100
CF100 on June 4, 2018 at 2:26 pm

LARGE_screen_format: Regarding the “washed out” colour you might wish to take a look at, for whatever it’s worth, a video commentary on the colour grading style used with Marvel Studios' films.

IMAX adjust the colour for their IMAX versions of films, and this would be different for the version supplied to conventional (Xenon lamp) IMAX Digital and IMAX with Laser venues.

I’ve certainly seen excellent images from Xenon lamp light source IMAX Digital projectors.

Regarding the sound systems:

  • For 15/70 at the BFI: The 6 track “Sonics” system for 15/70 with the PCM data losslessly stored on CD-ROMs and sync’d to the film on playback. (N.B. IMAX never use a separate LFE channel, 6 = left, centre, right, left surround, right surround and then the additional upper centre or so-called “Voice of God” channel—which I don’t think is used much, if at all, these days, certainly not for feature films?)

  • For digital at either location: 6 track lossless digital. Additionally, as of the laser projector installation, the Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square supports IMAX’s 12 track system with two of the extra channels assigned as left/right side and the other four for overheads.

  • AFAIK the BFI uses the older generation IMAX/Sonics speakers; see:

London BFI IMAX Screen Replacement video (Direct link to the time in the video when the old screen had been removed.)

There is a mess of additional speakers which I assume are, along with the rear array that’s installed, for non-IMAX presentations. The left/centre/right IMAX speakers can be seen with the upper centre “Voice of God”—the left speaker has someone standing next to it wearing a “hi-vis” jacket. If that’s not clear: Photo of a rather battered example of one.

Not sure why there are two sets of these non-IMAX speakers; maybe they old set were left behind the screen after an upgrade in 2010?

Also not entirely clear on the subwoofers for IMAX presentations, e.g. there’s just not enough resolution in that video to identify the 4 units (2 drivers in each) at the bottom of the screen.

  • You can see the screen speakers in:

Installation of the Empire Leicester Square IMAX Video (Direct link to start of relevant section.)

Incidentally, notice that the Leicester Square IMAX does include a “Voice of God” speaker, whilst many new IMAX Digital installations don’t.

The main screen speakers are the newer IMAX “Kanga” speakers for larger IMAX auditoria: high resolution photo.

Subwoofers with 12" high excursion drivers are at the bottom of that photo; a number of these can be seen being installed in the video.

  • Both the BFI and the Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square IMAX have 19" rackmount units for IMAX’s NEXOS Audyssey-based EQ system installed, but I’m not sure if this is used for digital presentations only at the BFI.

  • The Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square has 6 additional smaller speakers on the sidewalls and ceilings, again installed concurrently with the IMAX with Laser projection system, for the IMAX 12 channel system.

  • Acoustics: The Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square doesn’t have absolute isolation from the Superscreen (there’s a limit to what multiple layers of plasterboard and mineral wool can do—the screens are back to back!)—but then again you will rarely hear any leakage from the Superscreen (happens with peak LFE use) in the average IMAX “blockbuster” title as it’ll be masked by the film’s own audio.

The Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square does suffer acoustically from not being a purpose-built IMAX venue.

Compared to the old Empire 1, in which the slap echo issue could be a real problem for dialogue intelligibility, it’s much improved but it’s still a wide auditorium.

On the other hand the width might improve matters as instead of having the sidewalls square to the screen edges, causing earlier lateral reflections, there’s more space.

As for 15/70 projection, it seems like a retrograde step for a film shot digitally, with very heavy CGI use, and edited and finished digitally also.

Christopher Nolan apparently used an all-optical process with no digital finishing for “Dunkirk,” although in my view it looks inconsistent, grainy and less than sharp compared to current generation high-end digital material.

Speaking of “Dunkirk,” the full 1.43:1 frame wasn’t shown at the Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square, but most IMAX content is now 1.9:1 maximum height anyway.

As for the screen widths, the auditoriums are around the same depth, the BFI being about a row deeper IIRC; I’ve seen 26.5m as well as 26m quoted as the screen width at the BFI whilst Empire Cinemas stated the Leicester Square IMAX screen width as 26.5m. Whether or not it’s 0.5m wider I think is a fairly moot point though as the screens are both very wide and both auditoria place the audience in the “correct” location relative to the screen per IMAX specifications.

I think that’s enough of a “brain dump” for one day, over and out for now… :–)

LARGE_screen_format
LARGE_screen_format on June 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm

Thanks so much CF100 for the detailed reply and comparison of projection and sound systems at BFI IMAX and Cineworld ‘Empire’ Leicester Square.

On top of the fact that most Marvel movies seem to have been colour regraded to look flat, perhaps the lower resolution of 3D at BFI IMAX without an IMAX with Laser system contributed to the picture looking so dull?

Have watched that BritishFilmInstitute youtube video before. There’s a brief glimpse of a row of rocker-style switches labelled audio channels 1 to 6 followed by a switch for Sub 1&2 and then another for Sub 3&4. Surely they are for subwoofers (LFE channel)? They state the new (current) BFI IMAX screen weighed 800kg yet the Empire, Leicester Square IMAX screen only weighed 215kg. That’s some difference considering the screen widths are almost identical and the BFI screen is only approximately 5m taller than the Leicester Square one.

In a few months (Aug 2018?) a brand new 9-screen (40,000 sq ft and 1,500 seats) Cineworld cinema is opening in Watford which will include an IMAX high definition screen seating 450. Plan to check that out as soon as it opens. It’s not far from Cineworld (previously an Empire Cinema) in Hemel Hempstead which is the IMAX cinema that I have visited the most over the past couple of years.

CF100
CF100 on June 5, 2018 at 5:35 pm

Thanks so much CF100 for the detailed reply and comparison of projection and sound systems at BFI IMAX and Cineworld ‘Empire’ Leicester Square.

You’re welcome. :–)

On top of the fact that most Marvel movies seem to have been colour regraded to look flat, perhaps the lower resolution of 3D at BFI IMAX without an IMAX with Laser system contributed to the picture looking so dull?

Resolution shouldn’t affect that. OTOH e.g. better contrast does yield improved perceived resolution.

The (Xenon lamp) IMAX Digital projectors used at the BFI might be previous generation; whilst IMAX just brand all the projectors as “IMAX Digital” the internals do change. Maybe the lamps are due for replacement soon? The use of polarisation for 3D doesn’t help either.

Have watched that BritishFilmInstitute youtube video before. There’s a brief glimpse of a row of rocker-style switches labelled audio channels 1 to 6 followed by a switch for Sub 1&2 and then another for Sub 3&4. Surely they are for subwoofers (LFE channel)?

I did visit the booth at the BFI IMAX a few years ago, I vaguely remember asking the projectionist about them but I’ve forgotten his response! Incidentally, the booth was absolutely spotless.

They state the new (current) BFI IMAX screen weighed 800kg yet the Empire, Leicester Square IMAX screen only weighed 215kg. That’s some difference considering the screen widths are almost identical and the BFI screen is only approximately 5m taller than the Leicester Square one.

I see the 800kg figure on the BFI site; where did you get the figure for the Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square?

The BFI screen was coated in situ with silver paint for 3D, the Leicester Square one wasn’t as the laser projection system doesn’t use polarisation for 3D.

In a few months (Aug 2018?) a brand new 9-screen (40,000 sq ft and 1,500 seats) Cineworld cinema is opening in Watford which will include an IMAX high definition screen seating 450. Plan to check that out as soon as it opens. It’s not far from Cineworld (previously an Empire Cinema) in Hemel Hempstead which is the IMAX cinema that I have visited the most over the past couple of years.

Thank you for the info, I wasn’t aware that the old Charter Place shopping centre next to intu Watford was finally being redone, it’s been floating around as a proposal for years.

Planning Application.

Looking at the “APPROVED PROPOSED CINEMA LEVEL 2 PLAN” document, Auditorium 1 is the largest; 433 seats. Screen width I’d estimate to be as much as 80ft.!

Wonder what will happen to the Vue Watford? The area might at risk of becoming overscreened albeit Auditoria 4-9 in the above linked plans aren’t very big.

LARGE_screen_format
LARGE_screen_format on June 6, 2018 at 2:15 am

The video you linked to above showing the installation of the IMAX projector at The Empire, Leicester Square mentions the screen weight of 215kg.

I had hoped that the new IMAX screen in Watford would be a decent size seen as it’s being installed in a newly built cinema rather than a retrofit. IMAX with Laser and 12-channel sound system along with luxury seats would be icing on the cake. Fingers-crossed!

Have been to Vue, Watford a bunch of times in the past but not often since Empire Cinemas (later changed hands to Cineworld in 2016 as part of the deal which saw them take over The Empire, Leicester Square) took over the old Odeon in Hemel Hempstead. It’s been extended (now 17-screens including IMAX and SUPERSCREEN) and completely refurbished inside. The foyer area is massive and includes an impressive looking curved canopy with LED screens installed which advertise movies etc. They’ve also opened a Starbucks inside. There’s a large Pizza Express directly next door. Large free car park down the side. There’s a few large business premises here which have been empty since they were built. Wonder what, if anything, is planned to open there?

Going back to Vue, Watford. They only have a couple of reasonably sized screens. Screen 8 which seats 288, screen 2 seats 250, and screen 1 seats 221. Majority of the movies I’ve watched there were on screen 8 otherwise I would go elsewhere. Think this was originally a 5-screen multiplex opened as a Warner Village back in the 90’s? I remember it was one of the few cinemas in the country at the time to be showing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in Dolby Digital EX which added an extra rear centre channel (6.1) so I decided to make that movie my first visit to this cinema. The customer service has left a lot to be desired at peak times. I would not be surprised in the least if attendance figures drop through the floor once the new Cineworld opens. Can’t see anything less than a complete refurbishment turning Vue, Watford into anything that will equal or better the Cineworld. Free parking will be one of the only advantages Vue have over Cineworld. Paying for parking when watching movies at the cinema is one thing I strongly dislike. It would usually prevent me from watching two or more movies in one visit especially during the day.

CF100
CF100 on June 6, 2018 at 4:00 pm

LARGE_screen_format:

The video you linked to above showing the installation of the IMAX projector at The Empire, Leicester Square mentions the screen weight of 215kg.

So it does. :–)

Just doing a quick Google search, Harkness (for instance) say their screens weigh 0.5kg/m2, so:

Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square IMAX – 26.5mx15.6m = 413.4 m2 – at 0.5kg/m2 around 200kg or so and therefore about the same as the weight quoted in the video.

The extra height of the BFI would add about another 50kg, so I suspect the 800kg figure is erroneous.

IMAX with Laser rollout has been very slow and it will be interesting to see if Watford gets it at opening.

Cineworld have just signed an agreement for a number of IMAX with Laser installations (for new and existing sites) and I expect that this mostly relates to the scaled down version that IMAX have said they will provide for smaller venues rather than the existing design for full size/classic “Grand Theatre” IMAXs. The Xenon-based IMAX Digital projectors will work fine with an 80ft. screen, though.

Not surprised by your comments on the Vue Watford! I suspect Vue won’t throw capex at it but if they do then perhaps luxury seating would be a good route for them to take.

I expect Cineworld Watford will cover a few hours of free parking, but not enough to cover seeing multiple features in one session—but perhaps you could leave the car park and reenter it to get another ticket for validation?!

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