Will 4DX Get You Back into the Theater?

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Will 4DX Get You Back into the Theater?

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4dx1.jpgWhen was the last time you heard someone say, "That movie smelled great"? It's probably a phrase that's never been uttered, but soon that may change.

Looking back through motion-picture history, one trend continues to this day: movie theaters trying to outdo home televisions. First, the theaters went widescreen to give theatergoers a bigger picture. Eventually, so did television. Then came 3D movies, and again television soon followed. Next came surround sound, and before long that was available at home, too.

The fact is that movie theaters have been trying to stay one step ahead of the home viewing experience for decades. Why else would we pay $6 for a soda and sit through 20 minutes of commercials to watch a movie that will be on Netflix in three months? As home theaters have closed the gap with movie theaters, most home theater owners I know rarely go to the actual movie theater anymore. The movie industry knows this and now has a new trick up its sleeve, something you won't find in any home theater (yet). It's called 4DX.

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What Is 4DX?
First off, here's what 4DX isn't. It is not D-Box, which is a (poorly named) company that has been outfitting theaters (and homes) with motion-controlled seating that syncs with the film onscreen. This technology has not taken the world by storm. For starters, it really only works for action-heavy movies. In addition, there aren't many D-Box-equipped theaters around because the initial cost to build them is much higher than a normal theater. And perhaps most damning, few people outside the industry have heard of it or know what it is.

As an evolution of the "motion seating" concept, 4DX doesn't add just one new aspect to the film-watching experience; it adds eight. It is not simply a seating system but a theater-wide experience that aims to envelop the audience in a way that's only been dabbled with in the past. Think William Castle's The Tingler with buzzing seats or Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 4D with Smell-O-Vision scratch-and-sniff sheets.

Since home theater manufacturers are getting quicker on the draw when it comes to evening the odds with movie theaters (witness curved TVs and Dolby Atmos for the home), it seems the folks at 4DX really want to throw down the gauntlet and create something that needs to be experienced, not just seen and heard, in a movie theater.

What Does 4DX Do?
image1.jpgThe first and most obvious thing that 4DX offers is motion-controlled seating. A car swerves onscreen, and your chair tilts to the side. A building blows up, and your chair rumbles. It's a decent concept. The drawback thus far has been that, unlike similar "rides" at theme parks like Universal Studios, films aren't made specifically for motion-controlled seating, so all the motion effects are added afterwards and converted into a "motion code" waveform that the seats can respond to. While the motion control might be great for the aerial sequences in Top Gun, what about the other 90 percent of the movie where people just stand around and talk?

That's where 4DX ups the ante.

In a 4DX-equipped theater, you don't just get tilting seats. You also get wind effects, bubbles, lightning effects, fog, scents (similar to what Disneyland currently uses), vibration, air blasts, and water mists.

That's a lot of new technology to jam into a theater. With the possible exception of bubbles, I could see all of the effects being put to good use. Imagine feeling the wind pick up as a tornado approached in Twister. Or feeling the spray of the ocean in Point Break. The smell of the field of flowers in The Sound of Music. The rumble of a crumbling building in pretty much any Michael Bay movie. Really, the possibilities are endless.

Again, though, the films are retrofitted for the 4DX system by their own engineers. Don't think that Peter Jackson sat down and worked out all the wind and scent effects for his latest Hobbit film, because it wasn't him at all. Some people might think that may compromise the director's vision. Worse yet, what if the effect doesn't feel quite right or is too "on the nose"? Imagine smelling roses when Kane says, "Rosebud," or getting a mist of water when someone sneezes.

To find out who's behind 4DX and more about the 4DX experience click on to Page 2 . . .

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