Vikram Arumilli at IMAX talks about how NBA China and IMAX China collaborated to bring the 2024 NBA Finals live to IMAX-equipped locations, bringing fans up close to the action across Hong Kong and Taiwan.


From 6 to 17 June, when the Boston Celtics defeated the Dallas Mavericks four games to one, NBA China and IMAX China collaborated to bring the 2024 NBA Finals live to a series of IMAX-equipped locations across Hong Kong and Taiwan, aiming to give NBA fans a viewing experience that brought them up close to the action. 

This has been the first partnership between IMAX and the NBA and, most important, the first time IMAX China has delivered a live sports experience to audiences. Vikram Arumilli, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Streaming and Consumer Technology at IMAX, talked about the developments and events leading to this collaboration with NBA China. “China wanted to show NBA matches at their IMAX venues but, of course, a typical cinema will only have low bandwidth connectivity, and won’t have access to fibre optic delivery,” Vikram said.

Beyond Cinema

IMAX has developed an effective approach to live streaming content into IMAX cinemas while preserving the original video quality, without depending on dedicated high bandwidth private networks. Their first step is compression, achieved using a proprietary video compression standard that optimises several factors, and reduces bandwidth requirements by about 40%, according to IMAX. The use of IMAX’s StreamSmart On-Air processing further reduced the bitrate by more than 20% on average, again without compromising on quality.

“IMAX has been aiming to move beyond cinematic content and enhance the value and differentiation of what we bring old and new IMAX fans and our cinema partners,” said Vikram. “The seats quickly sold out at all the IMAX locations, which meant being prepared to deliver the content under very demanding network conditions. At some locations, the internet connection was 50 Mbps – a fraction of what most homes in the US and EU have.


“By combining our compression and optimisation techniques, IMAX can stream content at extremely low bandwidths, while maintaining a quality equivalent to a conventional, fully-managed, private IP network-based setup – resulting in a top viewing experience for the 2024 NBA Finals audiences.”

Intelligent Clean-up

StreamSmart On-Air removes unnecessary information, but not randomly. Its algorithms precisely determine how far bitrate can be reduced without compromising quality, identifying zones where quality loss is less noticeable to people. Because impairments are easily visible on a large IMAX screen. This insight creates an opportunity to decrease bits in a way that is indistinguishable and doesn’t distract the eye. Distributors can set out a workflow to compress, encode and deliver a master feed, including graphics.

StreamSmart On-Air uses VisionScience, a patented method of using AI to comprehensively map the physical human visual system to produce an extremely precise measure of perceptual quality, which its AI-based software applies to enhance video streams and files in real time. VisionScience was developed by SSIMWAVE, a company specialising in perceptual quality measurement and optimisation for broadcast and streaming applications, before IMAX bought the company in 2022.

As interest in video optimisation grows in response to consumer demand for higher resolutions and interactive experiences, filmmakers and producers want to make the best of the fidelity and quality of their work on any screen. IMAX's R&D and post-production teams have been working with SSIMWAVE's engineers on ways to deliver IMAX-quality video experiences across platforms and devices of any size.


Compacting Quality – Analysis and QC

The goal is to preserve video quality on live content, while further reducing file sizes on top of existing optimisation methods. StreamSmart On-Air reduces bitrate of live streams, saving 15% or more on the cost of CDN distribution with no distinguishable difference to the viewer experience. It can also be integrated into an existing encoding and packaging workflow to limit disruption to the distributor’s operations, and uses a simple manifest manipulation approach, making it codec, encoder and configuration agnostic.

Vikram also mentioned a further requirement at the cinemas – monitoring. “Live streaming means no margin for error,” he said. “IMAX’s StreamAware On-Air is real time monitoring software for live streams, combining analysis with QC. With software-based probes, IMAX China can use StreamAware for visibility into video quality and any issues across the whole delivery network, and to generate an accurate measure of quality from the start to the end of the workflow.”

Its tools monitor consistency and the quality of the viewer experience, and also return alerts on critical issues, based on business rules. Because monitoring can continue 24/7, identification and resolution of issues can be quite fast, sometimes before they affect viewers.

Diversifying IMAX

Ultimately, IMAX envisions a broader connected network of theatres capable of cinema quality video and audio at extremely low latency. In the context of sport, an organisation like NBA China could operate a network of decentralised arenas producing live interactions between content creators and fans.


Over the past year or two, IMAX has diversified its content portfolio across diverse events and experiences. For instance, IMAX has an ongoing partnership with the NHL to bring their major dates, including the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the 2022 NHL Global Series, to IMAX venues in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.

IMAX China contributed to the distribution of ‘Taylor Swift: The ERAS Tour’ movie around the country in December 2023. This was the first concert film to be shown in IMAX across mainland China, and proved to be such an attraction that IMAX ended up delivering close to half of the film's nationwide box office results.

IMAX is also preparing to present NBC Television Network's live coverage of the 2024 Paris Olympics Opening Ceremony on more than 150 IMAX screens in the US. Instead of watching an event held in a stadium, viewers will see a 6.5 kilometre flotilla of nearly 100 boats carrying thousands of athletes down the River Seine.