What is Cinemark XD? Is It Worth it or Does It Suck?

What is Cinemark XD

Cinemark XD is a premium film experience offered by the Cinemark theater chain and a direct competitor to IMAX. The XD stands for “Xtreme Digital” and its main features are: giant screen (“wall to wall and floor to ceiling”), very comfortable and adjustable seats, 11.1 sound systems and super sharp image quality with 35 trillion colors, at the cost of a few extra dollars.

Is Cinemark XD worth the extra money?

On paper Cinemark XD offers tempting features, the question is just how good these features are individually, and how much they improve your movie going experience.

Cinemark XD’s huge screen

The Good:

A Cinemark XD screen is huge and is marketed as being “wall to wall and floor to ceiling”

In terms of actual, hard numbers the screen is 70 feet tall with 133 feet wide, which is very close to a true IMAX screen which usually measures 144 feet wide with 75 feet tall.

In terms of image quality, Cinemark XD is much sharper and cleaner looking than the standard Cinemark screen because XD uses 4K projectors instead of the usual 2K for standard screens.

Finally, Cinemark also makes a big deal out of the fact that the projectors in XD can reproduce “35 trillion colors”. As a movie goer, I found colors to be great and had nothing to complain about.

However, if I had to do a side-by-side comparison between XD and standard movies, I would struggle to point out which screen had better color quality simply because the differences are incredibly small and practically imperceptible to the human eye.

So even though “35 trillion colors” sounds like a very big, impressive number, it won’t really make that much of a difference in viewing quality.

What will make a difference though is the increased resolution, from 2K to 4K. At least to me, that one stood out immediately (in a good way).

Everything happening on screen is clearer and better defined, but not so much that it ruins the suspension of disbelief.

The Not-So-Good:

Cinemark XD uses a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means movies filmed in a 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 ratio won’t properly fit the entire screen and will have the dreaded black bars at the top and bottom of the screen so they can fill in everything.

Of course, IMAX and other theater chains have these problems too, but the black bars on Cinemark XD are much more visible.

Part of the reason is that the screen seems to be brighter so the black bars don’t melt into the background.

Another explanation is that Cinemark doesn’t have a policy to crop films so they fill their screen’s aspect ratio.

Whatever the case, know that most movies on Cinemark XD will have black bars. Most of the times it will be at the top and bottom, and sometimes on the sides.

THX certification

A neat feature of all Cinemark XD theaters is that they have THX certification for audio-visual quality.

To obtain THX certification, a theater has to pass several quality tests to make sure viewers are getting the best possible film experience:

  • Correct projector settings, to prevent visual distortion or trapezoid effect.
  • Image calibration, meaning screen luminance, image contrast, color calibration and accuracy, and focus resolution are adjusted to meet a very high-quality threshold.
  • Sound design of the theater hall, meaning proper placement of speakers for immersive audio.
  • No background noise from outside the movie hall.

As for my personal experience I can say that whatever Cinemark had to do to pass THQ certifications certainly worked, since both the image and sound quality were excellent.

Sound quality is better than standard, but not IMAX quality

In terms of sound, Cinemark XD sounds good and is certainly better than the standard Cinemark film experience.

However, Cinemark XD isn’t quite as good as IMAX or Dolby Atmos.

The directional audio isn’t very precise since you can’t place where a sound is coming from. You just have the impression the sound is coming from everywhere.

Another problem, at least when comparing to true IMAX, is that the volume is a bit on the low side. It’s not quiet by any means, but the sound just doesn’t seem to have as much “oomph” and carrying power as IMAX or Dolby Cinema.

The low volume issue is compounded with the relatively high bass, which makes certain sounds muddy and not as clear.

The audio setup of Cinemark XD:

Cinemark XD has an 11.1 sound system. This means there are two rows of speakers along the side walls, 11 on each wall, with 5 “high” speakers and 6 “low” speakers.

On top of that are the two subwoofers (the .1 part in 11.1) located in front of the screen as well as one in the back. These give off the rumbly sound from the movie.

On a hardware level this sound setup sounds impressive, but it’s let down by the software sound mixing.

Initially this setup was powered by a technology called Auro 11.1 (competitor of Dolby 7.1), but very few films were made with this audio setup so it was eventually ditched by Cinemark.

Nowadays most Cinemark movie theaters have the sound mixed so it’s similar to Dolby’s 7.1 sound system, but not quite Dolby 7.1.

Overall, the audio is still good, it’s just that Cinemark bet on the wrong horse in terms of audio technology and now had to improvise something good-enough with the existing hardware they had.

Seats are excellent

The seats in Cinemark XD theaters are very comfortable, and come with the ability to be reclined and heated!

That being said, newer or refurbished Cinemark theaters all come with XD seats included, even for the more affordable standard theaters.

This means that if your favorite Cinemark is new or recently refurbished, chances are XD will have the same seats as the standard experience.

Finally, another advantage is that there are no bad seats in terms of placement.

Front row seats are sufficiently far apart from the screen so they don’t feel claustrophobic, and you can properly see everything without tilting or moving the head from side to side.

Similarly, back row seats are close enough to the screen you don’t have to squint to see what’s going on or to spot tiny details.

Cinemark XD is consistent

When IMAX first came out it had some very strict requirements for a theater to be labeled as “IMAX”.

This included everything from screen size, what kind of projectors were used, frame rate etc.

Since then, IMAX has played fast and loose with the definition of IMAX, so much so that you now have the so-called LieMAX which basically crop out a large part of the image and have very few of the advantages of the true IMAX experience.

The whole point of the detour above is that you never know what kind of experience you’re getting when IMAX tickets.

Is it the real, quality IMAX or the fake one? Often times you have to call the theater or check the website to figure it out.

With Cinemark XD you don’t really have this problem since there are some clear and uniform standards for a theater to be labeled XD.

In other words, you don’t have to worry if you’re getting the “good” or the “bad” XD, since the XD experience is identical across all such theaters.

Conclusion, is Cinemark XD worth it?

Cinemark XD offers a lot of cool benefits for just an extra $2-4. The seats, extra size of the screen, improved sound quality all make it worth upgrading and improving your film experience.