IMAX Corp. and US exhibitor Regal Cinemas have signed the first North American order for the giant screen company's new digital projection technology. The joint-venture agreement will see five IMAX systems added to the Regal chain in the US, boosting Regal's IMAX circuit to 21 screens by the spring of 2009.

Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies will share the cost and profitability of the new cinemas. Two IMAX MPX systems are expected to be operational by the end of this year in Knoxville, Tennesee and Las Vegas, Nevada. The three others will be digital systems -- IMAX classifies the technology as being 'in the advanced stages of development' - and are expected to be online by late 2008 or early 2009.

The company's first digital sale, with China 's Wanda Cinema Line Corp., was announced last month. Wanda has ordered seven systems wth an option to upgrade three MPX cinemas to digital projection.

IMAX 's distribution slate includes Transformers, the summer's highest-grossing film, on Sept 21, Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf in IMAX 3D on Nov 16, and Francis Lawrence's I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, on Dec 14.