If you follow the home theater press, you may have started seeing the term Dolby Atmos crop up. After experiencing a couple of demonstrations of Dolby Atmos at the CEDIA show, I have to say, this is the best thing to happen to home theater since Miami Vice came out in stereo! (Yes, that one dates me!)
Dolby Atmos was first introduced in commercial cinemas in 2012 with the release of Brave. Since then, over 150 movies have been produced using Dolby Atmos.
So what is Atmos? Basically, it gives producers object based control of every sound on the audio track. They have a three dimensional space where they can choose to place each sound effect. Each individual sound contains metadata which tells the Atmos processor where the producer wanted that particular sound. As you might imagine, this requires considerable processing power to decode, and one reason why I am sure you’ll get what you pay for when Dolby Atmos receivers and preamps start hitting the market soon.
You’re probably familiar with the numerical designation used for many years in home theater to describe the number and types of speakers. 5.1 means five primary channels and one subwoofer. 7.1 means 7 primary channels (front left, front right, center, surround left, surround right, rear left, and rear right) and one subwoofer. Well, with Atmos, we get another number, which designates the number of overhead channels. A typical Atmos configuration will be 7.1.4, where we have the normal 7 channels plus a sub, with the addition of 4 ceiling speakers. For home use, Atmos can actually support 24.1.10, yes, 24 main level speakers, one LFE channel and 10 overhead speakers!!! I’ve not seen this many channels supported in any gear coming out yet, but boy, that sounds awesome!
The first demo I heard of Atmos was in the GoldenEar booth at CEDIA where the new Integra 80.6 processor was being used to run a 5.1.4 Atmos set up. The effects are just spectacular. The sense of immersion in the film is like nothing you have ever experienced! Next, JBL was doing an over the top demo using 24.8.10 which was the best home theater demo I have ever heard. They had to use a commercial theater Atmos processor and a commercial projector to pull this off, but wow!!!
By now you are probably wondering what it will take to get Atmos into your home theater? The good news is, for most systems your current speaker system will work fine. If your surrounds and rear speakers (if you have them), are mounted either on the floor or on the side walls, you will need to add 2 or (better yet) 4 in ceiling speakers. If you have a media room where effects speakers had to be placed in the ceiling, Atmos will not be an option as it requires side and rear speakers to NOT be in the ceiling. (This makes sense as if you are mapping in a 3 dimensional plane. If everything is in the ceiling, it is two dimensional.)
The recommended ceiling height is between 8 and 14 feet. As time passes we will also see floor standing Atmos speakers start to come on the market. These will have a driver at ear level and a higher speaker to reflect sound off the ceiling for cases where it is impractical to mount in-ceiling speakers.
You’ll also need to add an Atmos enabled home theater receiver or preamp/processor. Your existing Blu-ray player and HDMI cables (if they are 1.4 compatible) will work just fine.
Another other cool part is the fact that the Atmos decoder has what is called an “upmixer”. Once you tell your new AVR you have Atmos speakers, it will take earlier content and mix it to make use of your Atmos speakers.
Since this technology is such a new dimension in sound, I am sure we will see lots of classic movies remixed and reissued to take full advantage of Dolby Atmos.
Datasat (still my favorite toy) will release an Atmos update to their processors in early 2015. They plan to support up to 24 channels, so I am going to be running lots of new wires in my theater room!
Integra, our favorite receiver brand, will be shipping Dolby Atmos enabled receivers in late October 2014. They also have a new preamp processor coming out that will ship in November 2014. Read more on the upcoming 80.6 here.
Once we get these in, we will have an Atmos enabled theater room in each of our locations.
I am 100% sure that once you hear the sound of Atmos, you will want to add it to your theater.