The first cinemas in Europe to use the new Imax digital projection system have opened in London: two Odeon multiplexes in Greenwich and Wimbledon feature in a partnership between the Odeon and UCI cinema chains and Imax.
The retrofitted auditoria at the two sites can now show Imax digital and digital 3D presentations. These are the first in a 200-location Imax digital roll-out, and Odeon is investing $2.2m (£1.5m) in the digital cinema technology.
The vote of confidence in the consumer potential for 3D will be tested over the next year with 14 films already scheduled. That number will increase over the next few years with key productions such as James Cameron's Avatar set to gauge the market appetite.
Odeon chief executive Rupert Gavin is convinced that some of the demand has already been proven close to the new sites. "The BFI Imax at Waterloo has shown there is a strong market for these presentations in London," he says.
The cinema chain will be selling tickets at around $17 (£11.50), slightly less than the equivalent prices locally (including other Imax screens).
For Gavin, the test of the digital strategy will also be its ability to compete with rivals: "Both the Imax digital auditoriums are in multiplexes that enjoy strong competition with other local cinema chains," he says. "Imax helps differentiate in a competitive marketplace."
The performance of Odeon's existing Imax screens has been encouraging for the chain. The Dark Knight's run has seen average screen recorded grosses of around $177,000 (£120,000). The Imax screen at the Odeon in Manchester took more than $530,000 (£360,000).
The success of converting existing facilities is crucial to Odeon's plans to retrofit many of the established auditoria across the chain.
Larry O'Reilly, executive vice-president for theatre development at Imax, says not all movie theatres would be suitable for hosting an Imax screen: "You need about a $20m (box-office revenue) catchment area to support an Imax screen."
Films on the Imax digital and digital 3D slate for summer 2009 include the Michael Bay-directed sequel Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (scheduled for a June 26 release in the UK), which will feature key action sequences shot with Imax cameras, and the latest instalment in the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (July 2009), which will include scenes in Imax 3D.
Imax also recently announced a five picture deal with Walt Disney Smpi, the first of which will be A Christmas Carol hitting cinemas in December 2009. Also on the slate is Cameron's Avatar scheduled for a December 18 release. The sci-fi epic is seen by industry analysts as a landmark release for 3D cinema.