What Is Dolby Atmos?

At Audio Advice, we have been helping people watch movies in the best possible surround format available since the introduction of surround sound in the early 1980’s — long before all these cool streaming services came along. We actually design, build & install home theater rooms for customers and their homes all across the nation. 

When Dolby Atmos came out in 2012, the commercial movie theaters were the first to create the experience of multi-dimensional sound that moves all around you — with strategically installed speakers placed all around the theater. In 2014 it entered the home market, and this year was the first time ever that the Olympic Games streamed live from Tokyo, Japan in Dolby Atmos & 4K HDR.So, Atmos appears to be the future of streaming.

Today, it seems like more movies & TV shows are coming out on subscription-based streaming services — so, as long as you have the right Atmos-enabled hardware, it is easier than ever for people to experience immersive audio at home!

Before we begin, we have another comparison & video on the Best Dolby Atmos Platforms with the most Atmos content and how to find them — but here, we are focusing on some of the best Atmos-enabled hardware options to help you get the true immersion of Dolby Atmos with streaming platforms and other sources. 

We will briefly cover what Dolby Atmos is, why we think this immersive format is the future of streaming, and then we will cover some of our favorite Audio & Video essentials that you can upgrade to, so you can take full advantage of this cool object-based audio format with streaming services and other sources too.

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What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is one of the most significant developments in surround sound tech over the past decade. As a new object-oriented audio format, Atmos gives movie directors, audio engineers, and now music artists (with Apple Music’s spatial audio) the ability to add a sense of “height” or “elevation” to their presentation of sound.  

Compared to traditional surround sound systems where you could have the left, right, center, side, and rear speakers all around you for two dimensions of surround — Dolby Atmos height speakers add overhead sound for a third dimension to your soundstage that is object-based. Before, they just had a balance to play with to position sound between the channels, but now there is a complete three-dimensional field that can place sound in an exact spot.  

Read How Surround Sound Evolved Into Dolby Atmos for more Atmos history. 

When you have a great movie, TV show, documentary, or soundtrack mixed in Dolby Atmos, it feels like we are right in the center of the action — and this draws us deeper into the storyline. 

For movies, the engineers can actually capture the full immersion of footsteps creeping up from behind you or the eerie sensation of whispers floating above your head to completely cover you in the soundscape the director intends.

Another great example is the sound of a helicopter flying over you. As the helicopter flies over, you will hear the helicopter’s blades above you, and when the helicopter lands, you will hear and feel the sound traveling back down to your seating position — with a true three-dimensional sense of presentation that is exactly the way it is in real life.

Dolby Atmos sound visual from TV

What Do I Need To Stream Dolby Atmos?

To experience the full extent of Dolby Atmos with your movies, you will need a hardware source that can decode the Dolby Atmos content. You will also need content that is encoded in this immersive format. And of course, you will also need either a home theater system capable of delivering Dolby Atmos or a Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar. We cover everything you will need to get end-to-end high-quality uncompressed Dolby Atmos streaming, below.

A Dolby Atmos Streaming Source

The cool thing is you don’t need to start your home theater system completely from scratch to get all the benefits of Dolby Atmos. You actually do not have to change that many components as you probably already own most of the key parts. You will need a streaming source compatible with Dolby Atmos — such as an Apple TV 4K, Roku Ultra, Nvidia Shield, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV device, or a 4K HDR Smart TV with Ultra HD. Some of the latest next-gen gaming consoles also do it — and that old trusty Bluray player you have lying around is still fully capable of playing back Dolby Atmos Bluray discs.

  1. Sony BRAVIA XR X95J 85" 4K LED TV, front view Sony BRAVIA XR X95J 85" 4K LED TV
    Special Price $3,498.00 Regular Price $4,498.00

Atmos-enabled A/V Receiver or Processor

From a hardware standpoint, the most important upgrade you may need to make to your setup is the home theater receiver or processor as you will need one that can deliver Dolby Atmos. 

There are a ton of legacy pre 4K systems still out there — so for many people, this will be the perfect timing for an upgrade. You can knock out two things at once by upgrading to 4K video switching while also adding Dolby Atmos decoding. 

Our guide to home theater receivers will help you explore what to look for.

Atmos Elevation Speakers

Dolby Atmos does use more speakers than a typical surround sound installation, which means you will also want to integrate some in-ceiling or Atmos elevation speakers into your system. If you already have some surround speakers in your ceiling, you might be able to repurpose them for Dolby Atmos speakers. Of course, you will also want to plan the layout of all of your speakers for the best sound, and our Home Theater Speaker Layout Options will guide you.

If you want to play around with some options, check out our free Home Theater Design Tool. You can also chat with us to explore all of your options. While not quite the same immersion as a full home theater installation with separate speakers all around the room, Atmos-enabled soundbars with the upward-firing speakers built-in & a wireless subwoofer is a fantastic way to experience Dolby Atmos in a living room or any bedroom.

We cover all of them & more in our Best Dolby Atmos Soundbars comparison.

How to Best Connect Your Components to Get Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is going to require HDMI cables, and in some cases, you will need to use an eARC connection with your HDMI cable.

Here are the three major ways you might have your system configured:

1. You have a Dolby Atmos capable home theater receiver or a Dolby Atmos soundbar with multiple input connections like a home theater receiver. In this case, simply use good quality HDMI cables to connect your components to your home theater receiver or soundbar, then run an HDMI cable to your TV to send the video over. A great example of a soundbar with this capability is the Klipsch Cinema 1200 Sound Bar. We like the fact it has input switching like a home theater receiver.

Klipsch Cinema 1200 Dolby Atmos sound bar with wireless sub sitting on an A/V console with a TV in a living room.

2. You might have a Dolby Atmos soundbar like the Sonos Arc, that only has one eARC HDMI connector.  With a system like this, you use your smart TV apps or connect a streaming box capable of Dolby Atmos to your TV.  This type of setup needs an eARC capable TV to get uncompressed Dolby Atmos sound to your soundbar. You can still use the regular HDMI ARC connection from your TV to the soundbar if your TV is older and does not have eARC, but this will be a compressed version of Dolby Atmos. For more on how this soundbar performs, check out our Sonos Arc Review.

sonos arc with sub and rears lifestyle image

3. Some people prefer to use their smart TV apps or may prefer to have their TV do all of the switchings of their video sources and have them connected to their TV. This is just like number 2 as you will need an eARC connection on your TV to send an uncompressed Dolby Atmos feed to your home theater receiver or soundbar. 

The bottom line is, if you have separate components, it is probably better to have the Dolby Atmos soundbar or Dolby Atmos home theater receiver do all of the switchings. This will keep you from needing to buy a brand new TV to get the latest eARC HDMI feature.

How Do I Find Dolby Atmos Content?

So, now that you have all the hardware in your setup figured out, all you have to do next is find Dolby Atmos content to watch! Well, as we discuss in our comparison of all the Best Dolby Atmos Platforms, that’s not always so easy. So, we gathered all of the Atmos platforms, including streaming services & BluRay Players, offering the largest catalogs of Dolby Atmos encoded content — and then we assigned our ratings to each one to offer you our final verdict. With our guide, you will unlock the magic of this immersive format no matter which service or platform you choose. Our companion video covers all of them, so go watch it right now to find out which ones made it onto our list!

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Have Fun!

That concludes our take on the most essential hardware upgrades for Dolby Atmos movies! 

At Audio Advice, we build, design, and install personal home cinemas in homes nationwide. As more movie streaming platforms start offering more content in Dolby Atmos, your Dolby Atmos home theater room or soundbar will be ready for the new standard of great audio — and this will increase the value of investing in an Atmos system — full room, if possible, and soundbar-based, if not.

If you have any questions on these platforms or how your home audio or home theater gear can be set up to take full advantage of all the cool 3D Atmos features coming to music streaming, just give us a call, chat with us on AudioAdvice.com, or stop into one of our award-winning showrooms.

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Home Theater Buying Guide

If you are in the market for a new home theater system or improving part (or all) of the one you already own, you’ve probably figured out that the options can be more confusing than advanced algebra! Explore our guide to understand the available options and how they might work or not work in your particular situation. If you need help customizing a solution for your space, reach out - we're happy to help!

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