Why Imax ‘Oppenheimer’ 70mm Print Uses 2002 PalmPilot Device Emulator

Hey, if it ain’t broke — don’t fix it.

Imax developed control software that emulates a two-decade-old PalmPilot PDA for the release of Christopher Nolan’s three-hour “Oppenheimer” epic. The 70mm Imax print of “Oppenheimer” comprises a whopping 11 miles of film stock weighing about 600 pounds, and required the company to build extensions to accommodate the larger size of the film platters. That’s because Imax’s existing platters could only hold enough film for a 150-minute runtime.

Imax’s PalmPilot software runs the projection systems’ Quick Turn Reel Unit, which manages the operation and transition between multiple reels.

Why is Imax using 21-year-old technology originally created by a long-defunct manufacturer, anyway? In a statement to Vice’s Motherboard, an Imax rep said, “The original Quick Turn Reel Units operated on PalmPilots. In advance of the release of ‘Oppenheimer,’ Imax Engineering designed and manufactured an emulator that mimics the look and feel of a PalmPilot to keep it simple and familiar for Imax film projectionists.”

Imax’s emulation software for the PalmPilot m130, which first shipped in 2002, appears to be running on a 10.1-inch Windows tablet, according to the Verge’s deep dive on the topic.

Nolan has said that the “best possible experience” for viewing “Oppenheimer” is the Imax 70mm film format. But only 25 theaters across North America support the format, including AMC Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, the AMC Lincoln Square in New York, the Cinemark Dallas, the Regal King of Prussia near Philadelphia and the AutoNation Imax in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“Oppenheimer” opens wide on Friday, July 21. The film follows theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer as he leads the U.S. government’s Manhattan Project and creates the atom bomb to end World War II. Cillian Murphy stars as Oppenheimer alongside Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh and more.

Imax’s use of the PalmPilot device caught the internet’s attention in a TikTok that the company posted last week, showing the emulator in the foreground of the video showing off the extended film platter created for “Oppenheimer”:

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