IMAX Movies Rely On Old-School PalmPilot Program

IMAX Movies Rely On Old-School PalmPilot Program

IMAX relies on a bit on vintage technology to make its larger-than-life movies happen.

Tech veterans got a serious dose of nostalgia while watching the official IMAX TikTok last week, where the company showed off the massive film reels that make up the new Christopher Nolan epic, “Oppenheimer.”

Though the engineering that went into the 600-pound, 11-mile movie print was impressive, people were more interested in the program glowing on an iPad mounted beside the 70 mm reels ― a digital emulator of a classic 2001 PalmPilot.

The sight of a PalmPilot likely triggered deep memories for those familiar with the handheld devices. A precursor to the smartphone, PalmPilots were a pocket-sized mini-computer with basic programs like a calendar, contact book and note pad.

Back in the day, IMAX pushed the limits of the technology when the company programmed its specialized “quick turn” reels on PalmPilots.

An IMAX spokesperson told Vice’s Motherboard that its engineers revisited the design before the release of “Oppenheimer” by manufacturing an emulator that “mimics the look and feel of a PalmPilot to keep it simple and familiar for IMAX film projectionists.”

It was unclear if the PalmPilot clone was created just to run “Oppenheimer” or if the technology had been lingering around IMAX for some time.

A 2003 photo of a PalmPilot, a precursor to the smartphone.
A 2003 photo of a PalmPilot, a precursor to the smartphone.

Reading Eagle via Getty Images

After the PalmPilot was phased out in the mid-2000s, it’s likely IMAX found a way to keep its old reel system by piggybacking the software onto a smartphone or tablet that mirrored the original tech instead of reengineering everything from the ground up.

“Oppenheimer” tells the tale of the most consequential engineering achievement of modern times: the invention of the atomic bomb.

The film opens in theaters Friday, with Cillian Murphy starring as scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer.

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