June 08, 2011

AMC's ETX - An Enhanced Theatrical Experience, or an Excuse to Charge Extra?

When you go to see a movie at a multiplex, you usually don't know how it's going to play out in front of you. You don't know whether you'll end up in the smallest room or if you'll be in the biggest auditorium with a giant screen, leather seats, and a booming sound system.

Thankfully, Movietickets.com and Fandango have a bit more information now than they did in the past. 35mm or digital? Stadium seating? The listings are now starting to identify stuff like this. But other than those few clues, you don't know what room you'll be in and you don't know how it's going to turn out. Unless, of course, your local multiplex has an IMAX screen and you're willing to pony up a few extra dollars to make sure you're seeing it in the best way possible. IMAX ensured a superior experience that was worth the surcharge.

But as IMAX became widely known as the superior theatrical experience, the company lowered its standards and began to lend its well-established brand name to any theater with a fairly big screen and the ability to bring its screen, seating, sound system and projection booth up to IMAX specifications - and most importantly, enough money to pay for the license to use the prestigiuos IMAX brand name. Many filmgoers caught on. It's pretty well-known in New York City that the only true IMAX screen here is at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, and recently retrofitted screens at the AMC Loews 34th Street 14 and the AMC Empire 25 are often (and justly) referred to as faux IMAX. They're simply not up to snuff.

But not everyone caught on. The aforementioned Empire and 34th Street IMAX screens are packed in the weekends, with plenty of movie enthusiasts happy to pay extra for a better audio/visual experience. This probably led to AMC thinking We can do that ourselves! So in 2009, AMC launched ETX, which now can be found at 14 of its theaters. One of them being the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square, where they charge $17 - a surcharge of $4 per regular ticket. Erica and I went to check it out recently to view Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 3D. Here's our take.


Let's start with what AMC promises with their ETX - Enhanced Theatrical Experience.
  • Wall to Wall 20% Bigger Screen
  • Breathtaking Sound
  • Digital Projection
That's it?? Seriously, AMC... just 3 bullet points to justify this four dollar surcharge? And all three are really vague. Like, what does 'breathtaking' mean?

I'll start with that - the breathtaking sound. I don't know what kind of sound system the Empire's ETX auditorium is equipped with, and even if I did, it would mean nothing to me. While there are few things worse than seeing a film with a broken sound system, I'm generally not one to complain about sound at the movies. It's usually fine, and I'm also not one of those people who needs to feel the walls shake and the floor vibrate when there's an explosion. I'm there to watch a movie, not to get a cheap foot massage, and frankly I find it to be more of a distraction than anything else. There are no specifics about the 'breathtaking' sound on the AMC website, but a press release mentioned that ETX-equipped theaters have 'twice as many audio channels compared to typical auditoriums.' Other promotional materials have mentioned '11,000 watts.' For an auditorium of this size, 11,000 is not a remarkable number.

As for Digital Projection, is that really something special at the movies today? AMC has been very vigilant in their transition from 35mm to digital. I checked the movie listings for most of the AMC theaters in the New York City area, and had to go all the way to the AMC Loews Fresh Meadows in Fresh Meadows, NY, to find an AMC multiplex that wasn't all-digital. Which could just be an error on the site, for all I know.

The film we went to see was in 3D. I was hoping that the Enhanced Theatrical Experience would mean that it was projected a bit brighter than usual to overcompensate for the fact that we're essentially wearing sunglasses. Sadly, the 3D darkness in AMC's ETX was no different than I've experienced in other rooms, although Pirates of the Caribbean is a pretty dark film to begin with. Overall, the digital presentation was fine, but nothing to write home about and no better or worse than I've seen on the 24 other screens at the Empire.

Finally, we get to the screen size. It's supposed to be 20% bigger. Bigger than what? The average screen? If that's the case, 20% is a really insignificant number, as I can't imagine the average movie theater screen to be that big. I have seen films in Theater 6 before the ETX conversion and after, and I didn't notice a difference. This is one of the bigger auditoriums at the Empire, but I'm pretty sure that there are a few other screens there - aside from the IMAX screen - that are just as big.

Another complaint I must note is that the top right corner of the 20% bigger screen has an embarrassing obstruction. I don't know exactly what it is, but it looks like part of the movie screen is folded over. It's one of those things that you don't always notice right off the bat, but when you do, it's really distracting. I've encountered this at a handful of movie theaters - and it's pretty bad on one of the other screens at the Empire - but to see this on a premium screen is not acceptable.

Other than that, the screen is fine, and so is the seating. Personally, I'd rather sit in Theater 7, equipped with all-leather seats (and no premium). But I shouldn't complain. The AMC Empire has excellent, very comfortable seats in all 25 auditoriums, many of them with stadium seating.

In summary, ETX is not worth the surcharge. When it comes down to it, ETX is a knock-off. It isn't even to faux IMAX what faux IMAX is to IMAX. My advice: Unless you're going to see a movie that you've really been looking forward to and you want to make sure that you see it on a good screen and you don't mind paying more, avoid it.

Coming soon: We'll cross the street to the Regal E-Walk to try out the Regal Premium Experience. It'll probably be a copy/paste job.

6 comments:

  1. Horrible Review. ETX was a better viewing experience than IMAX. Do not judge the Digital projection on a 3D movie. Try a 2D. This article was barely worth the read.

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    1. We went back and saw a 2D movie, you can read our follow-up here: http://www.notworthadmission.com/2012/05/cabin-in-woods-amc-empire-25-etx.html
      Our impression of ETX coming out of that screening was even worse - picture quality didn't particularly impress, sound marred by rumbling vents or ceiling panels, and seats with obstructed views.

      I don't know where you saw an ETX presentation and what IMAX screen you're comparing it to, but overall AMC's ETX specs are too vague and IMAX screens vary like night-and-day. Plus, it shouldn't matter whether it was 3D or 2D if someone's paying more for a so-called premium presentation.

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    2. I can't believe this review I want to feel the shake of an explosion and the seats are so nice. This person obviously isn't seeing catching fire in ETX on Friday. Don't believe his review ETX is amazing

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  2. With so many "value-added" options piggy-backing films these days, it's pertinent to determine which merit the premium ticket price. Here, the Seattle ETX theater in digital 3D costs 25% more per ticket. If that premium amounted to a better viewing experience, wouldn’t ETX focus on popular, fan-based action movies like The Avengers? Instead, ETX is showing a cartoon, Madagascar 3. This suggests to me they're targeting the high-volume popcorn crowd for a few more easy dollars, versus moviegoers who look for a better viewing experience. As you suggest, a 20% larger screen doesn’t amount to a technical improvement; the projector is simply set further back to accommodate more seating.

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    1. Good point. No disrespect to DreamWorks Animation, but the Madagascar films are popular for their humor rather than any particular visual aspect. A Pixar film, on the other hand, would be perfect to showcase in ETX, as would DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon, so as not to completely dismiss them.
      That said, looking at the Seattle AMC with an ETX screen - they do have an IMAX screen too, which is showing Prometheus 3D, and they are using their ETX screen to show Prometheus at night as well. Avengers has been out for a while, so from a financial stand-point I can see that it makes sense to put Madagascar there to have as many seats available. But you're right, there's something about it that seems kind of wrong. What's even more disturbing is that (on the first Monday of release), this particular Seattle AMC theater (AMC Loews Alderwood Mall 16) has 18 Madagascar screenings. Of them, a whopping 11 are in 2D - which might be to accommodate the type of demand for this type of movie in this area, and the number of 3D auditoriums available could be a factor. The remaining 7 showings are in 3D. Nothing wrong with that ratio, until you consider that 4 of those 7 3D showings are ETX. There are only 3 regular RealD 3D shows today. Nobody's being forced to buy an ETX ticket, but the theater makes it slightly more difficult for anyone wanting to see Madagascar 3 in 3D there to do so without paying the ETX surcharge.

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  3. I'm getting weary of all these gimmicks to get you pay more money. I much prefer to watch films on a regular screen with regular sound in regular resolution. This way, I can focus on the movie and not get distracted by needless, flashy garbage.

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