So the LieMax theaters now auto-recal themselves now? I heard this was being talked about, but I didn't know it had been implemented already. I believe LieMax essentially uses the same technology as Audyssey MultEQ XT32. I can't speak for XT32, but my experiences with the XT product have been mixed.
This is very interesting to me, because I find many movies just sound too loud at levels that are "supposed" to be reasonable. One possibility I argued for in a previous post is that many directors purposely have their films mixed at lower levels under the (likely correct) assumption that most theaters will be playing back at below the proper reference level for the space. It's also possible that this is done for some Blu-ray releases for similar reasons. Unfortunately, there's no way to know when that's the case unless someone from the sound team actually says as much on a forum somewhere.
Another factor which may play a part is how soundtracks translate between rooms. There are a lot of reasons why soundtracks don't translate very gracefully having a lot to do with psyhoacoustics and differences in loudness perception for sounds of varying duration. Roughly speaking, smaller rooms have lower reverb time and contribute less room reverb to the overall sound so that transients will actually measure louder for such a system calibrated to the same steady state pink noise SPL as another in a much larger room.In recent publications, Dolby and others have argued for adjusting the playback level in the mixing room according to its size to improve translation. Whereas 85 dBC is recommended for typical theaters, residential-sized spaces should probably aim for closer to 79-82 dB or less. I believe 76 dBC is now recommended for near-field monitoring and less still for headphone listening. The need this kind of correction is well documented in a variety of other places including by mixers on the Gearslutz forum who are frequently disappointed by how puny their mix that they prepared in a bedroom at 85 dBC sounds on the big screen at the film festival calibrated at the same 85 dBC.
The trouble with room size and translation is that they don't correlate exactly, and furthermore, playback level is probably not the only thing that needs to be adjusted to get things right. The frequency response target curve likely also needs to be adapted to the decay characteristics of the room. In the past, I've argued that a theatrical mix should be the "standard" that we all calibrate our systems to reproduce, but I now understand better that in practice this will be difficult for us to achieve. Both playback level and frequency response target curve can only be adjusted to *compromise* for the psychoacoustic differences. In a small room, the ratio of SPL for transients to SPL for sustained sounds will still be higher than in the larger reverberant spaces, so the best one can do often to reproduce a dub-stage-mixed track in a small room leaves one with transients that bite a little too much and sustained sounds that are still a bit weak. Therefore, there is a big benefit to home listeners when a theatrical mix is re-done with a more intimate monitoring setup than the dub stage. Unfortunately however, I have strong reason to believe that bass levels will need to only drop by about half as much as the mid/high playback levels to retain the tonal balance; hence, by following the usual monitoring levels recommendations a home "remix" may gain clipping due to the effective loss of headroom for bass.
Getting back to LieMax and their auto-calibration. The 85 dBC standard has been around for a long time, and in that time, I believe newly constructed theaters have tended to have less live acoustics than the theaters they replaced. As a consequence, these theaters may also reproduce tracks too loudly when playing them back at reference level. Hence, there's ample reason for the theater operator to turn things down a bit, and ideally boost the bass up a bit to restore the tonal balance. Until Audyssey or whoever can better model loudness in-room and make "0" on the dial actually sound like reference, we're likely to still have the problem of levels being off. While likely more rare these days, I reckon there are theaters at the other extreme for which even 85 dBC isn't enough.
For what it's worth, I am now running with a fair amount of room treatment, and I'm no longer using a significant high frequency roll-off. The treatments (particularly the diffusers) cleaned up my upper-mids and high dramatically, so they sound much more clear and less harsh, and the balance without the HF roll-off sounds better. My recent analysis suggests that I am actually listening near-field in so far as my ratio of transient to sustained SPL is concerned, particularly from 400 Hz or so on up. Below that with bass trapping, I'm still probably pretty close to near-field. That means I should in theory listen at "-9" from reference. In reality, I bump my bass response, starting around 250 Hz and ending about 5 dB up at 20 Hz to keep the bass response balanced. So with mids/highs at "-9" from reference, I'm actually at "-4" from reference in the bass. With this calibration and my room sounding amazingly good, I'm still surprised by how much my playback levels vary from film to film. If I treat "0" as 76 dBC instead of 85 dBC for mids and highs (about average for me), then my playback level, chosen based on subjective dialog level, varies about -9/+4 dB! By the way, it is well documented that if you put relatively naive listeners in control of a nice system in a proper room and tell them to set the level of dialog to where they can hear it the best, most will set it within about 2 dB of one another. We don't need objective measurements to tell us that relative film loudness is all over the map and that there's a lot more to it than just room size and translation issues.