We’ve been hearing a lot about Dolby Atmos of late, so I thought it was time to investigate this mysterious new format a little further. Will this be another failed home theatre marketing gimmick , think 3D, or will it genuinely improve the movie viewing experience with a more immersive sound field.
So what is Dolby Atmos?
Atmos is the latest surround encoding format from Dolby, it differs from current surround formats in that it is based not on traditional speaker channels but on “audio objects” which Dolby’s director of sound research, Brett Crockett, describes as, “Any sound heard in a movie scenea child yelling, a helicopter taking off, a car horn blaring. Filmmakers using Dolby Atmos can decide exactly where those sounds should originate and precisely where they move as the scene develops. The Dolby Atmos system has the intelligence to determine what speakers to use to precisely recreate movement in the way the filmmakers intend.”
How many speakers do I need?
Atmos at home will support as many as 34 speakers with up to 24 on the floor and 10 overhead. You can get the full experience with just seven speakers or get an even richer, more detailed sound by adding more speakers. As you add speakers, a Dolby Atmos-enabled receiver will automatically determine how to use them to create the most immersive audio experience.
Atmos adds a new dot subcategory to the traditional surround speaker configuration, to indicate how many in-ceiling Atmos height speakers are in the system. Manufacturers will be able to determine the configurations that a receiver/processor can support, and each Atmos speaker will count as a channel. For example, an 11-channel receiver would likely be capable of handling these designs:
7.1.4 A traditional 5-channel layout with additional surround back channel and 4 in-ceiling height speakers
7.1.4 A traditional 5-channel layout with additional front width channel and 4 in-ceiling height speakers
7.1.4 A traditional 5-channel layout with additional front height channel and 4 in-ceiling height speakers
9.1.2 A traditional 5-channel layout with a combination of either surround back, front width or front height and 2 in-ceiling height speakers
Where do I put the speakers?
Creating overhead sounds is a “key element” in Atmos’ ability to recreate a realistic sound environment, and placing speakers overhead in the ceiling makes the most sense to accomplish this. Crocket explains “For the best Dolby Atmos experience, we recommend four overhead speakers for most homes.” If overhead speakers are not an option then Dolby are partnering with a number of loudspeaker manufacturers to create new Atmos speaker modules that will allow you to recreate the overhead speaker effect from a traditional floorstanding speaker. These speaker modules will fire sound upward, where it will reflect off the ceiling to simulate an overhead effect.
Do I need to upgrade my equipment?
It is unlikely that your old receiver or processor could be firmware upgraded to support Atmos, so this will require a replacement. Existing Blu-ray players, however, should be able to pass the Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus bitstream that will include the Atmos information.
Is there source material available for playback?
Dolby introduced Atmos to the world in 2012 and so far roughly 70 films have been made using this new audio technology. They are working with studios and production houses to help create Atmos soundtracks for a range of movies and TV programming. Crockett claims that we will start to see Dolby Atmos titles on Blu-ray and streaming video services this fall. “We invented new scalable algorithms and extensions to Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus, which is used by leading streaming video providers,” .
So there you have it, Dolby Atmos is coming to a Home Theatre near you, whether you need it or not. We look forward to hearing how it enhances the movie watching experience, but remain a little cynical after previous attempts by marketing departments to sell us the next big thing. Hopefully our cynicism is misplaced. If you would like to know more please give us a call. Stay tuned.