For the guy who has everything, here’s something you won’t find in even the most awesome man cave: A personal IMAX theater system. Assuming you have the resources—it’s a $2 million installation, minimum—and the space (all screens will be at least 20 feet wide), then IMAX (IMAX) has a product to sell that promises to make a current home theater projector look about as jaw-dropping as your Grandma’s 1989 Trinitron.
The company expects to install one of its first home systems later this year in a new 11,000-square foot Miami Beach house being built by Ahmad Lee Khamsi, a South American cable television executive. Other buyers have requested anonymity. “We saw a big gaping hole in the opportunity to provide a superlative experience in the home,” says Brian Bonnick, IMAX’s chief technology officer, arguing that most current home theater installers, even at the highest end of the market, must resort to “taking a lot of expensive parts and plugging them together. There’s really nobody out there providing a fully integrated solution.”
That’s where IMAX sees a niche market: film fans who can easily drop $2 million and tend to skip their local cineplex. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and actors Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger are rumored to be considering the new IMAX system.
The equipment is similar to the two-projector system IMAX has installed in 606 commercial theaters in 53 countries. It’s 3D-capable and projects the image onto a curved screen that typically stands floor to ceiling. A multi-channel sound system places speakers around the room and microphones continuously monitor their output to provide instant tweaks, keeping the sound mix optimized. Technicians in IMAX’s operations center monitor each theater’s performance around the clock and can make roughly 90 percent of necessary adjustments remotely, Bonnick said.
“Everyone’s experienced it,” IMAX says in a promotional video for the new product. “Few will own it.” “Few” is by design, with only 10 to 15 home systems expected to be sold each year, given the size of the market. Even among the obscenely wealthy, a $2 million system to watch sports, news, and DVDs is not a likely expenditure, IMAX Chief Executive Officer Rich Gelfond says. North America is the initial market, but IMAX plans to sell the home system worldwide next year. The IMAX system may also incorporate “day of release” capability from Prima Cinema, the Carlsbad, Calif., startup that delivers first-run Hollywood movies directly to private screening rooms for $500 each.
The brand extension of IMAX into the home theater arena is also the first step in research and development efforts to see where else the company’s technology can work. Gelfond cites computer displays and other personal devices as areas of interest. Forget about an IMAX television, even if it were to cost as much as a house. “We’ll never put the IMAX name on something unless it’s up to IMAX standards,” says Gelfond, a former investment banker who bought the company with a partner in 1994. “Can we evolve the technology in a more affordable context? I think eventually, we will.”