Dolby has been a name that is pretty much synonymous with quality among home theater enthusiasts over the years. Dolby Atmos promises to be a technology that will define the 4K experience for many.
This is the name of the newest surround sound technology that Dolby Laboratories has created for use in cinemas and home theaters. It was announced by the company in April 2012, and released in June of that year.
These last couple of years, however, have seen quite a few consumer implementations of this audio technology, and many a TV and AV receivers now offers support for Dolby Atmos.
Obviously, there is no shortage of some really good surround sound system. Even now Dolby Atmos has a competitor or two vying for your attention. The most prominent of these is the DTS:X technology, which is also a three-dimensional solution that offers a more realistic, more natural, and more true-to-life sound than its predecessor.
Dolby Laboratories has worked on this next big innovation in speaker technology for years, and now the technology is ready for primetime with the consumers.
So, what is Dolby Atmos?
In the simplest of terms, this is a new audio format that allows you to hear sound in a 360° bubble. This it accomplishes by its object-oriented audio engineering, along with up or down firing speakers. The combination of these two has changed the way sound is distributed, whether in a room, or a theater.
The fine folks over at Onkyo have created this introduction to Dolby Atmos video that does a great job explaining how this new technology functions:
The Dolby Atmos immersion comes from its three-dimensional effect, which produces a bubble of sound by bouncing beams of audio off your ceiling and then to your ears. As you can imagine, you will need a fairly flat ceiling for this if you want to set it up in your home theater.
Atmos at home
Experiencing the immersion of Dolby Atmos at home is now easier than ever. Much like traditional sound systems, you will need an AV receiver and speakers certified for this new technology. You have the choice of either upwards-firing speakers, or even in-ceiling ones for the experience.
Almost all major manufacturers have Dolby Atmos certified speakers, including the big ones like Pioneer, Yamaha, and Onkyo.
A Dolby Atmos system usually starts with a center and two stereo speakers, along with a subwoofer and a rear speaker. Beyond these is where the magic happens, as the unique difference with Dolby Atmos is sound from above. Drivers facing upwards reflect sound from your ceiling to create an unbelievable sound dispersion that has to be experienced to be believed.
Since object-based audio is the foundation of Dolby Atmos, and each sound in a scene has distinct information available to it where it should be placed in the speaker configuration, the Atmos technology expands upon the current 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound speaker setups. We now have speaker configurations like 5.1.2 and 7.1.4 that use extra speakers for height placement in a speaker setup.
Dolby Atmos is not just limited to cinemas and home theaters, however.
What is billed as the most significant development in cinema audio since surround sound, has also found its way on tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, though the experience is nearly not as immersive as with a soundbar and a surround sound system.
Dolby Atmos content
Naturally, any entertainment technology is only as good as the content that is available for it. The good news is that there is an increasing amount of content now within reach of home theater and multimedia enthusiasts, that is mastered in Dolby Atmos.
Hundreds of Ultra HD Bluray discs are up for grabs, as all major Hollywood studios have now accepted this audio format. As for cinemas, some 3,000 screens worldwide now offer support for Dolby Atmos, and you can find the full list of these movie theaters here on the official Dolby website.
Moving beyond discs and theaters, you have Netflix offering streaming content encoded in the Dolby Atmos format on its app, which is so far only supported by the 2017 LG TV range, and Microsoft Xbox family of consoles — namely Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X.
As for TV content, you can mostly find sports broadcasts right now in this new format.
And finally, there is an uptick in support for gaming too, with Star Wars Battlefront and Overwatch being the two most prominent titles that offers the Dolby Atmos experience.