Dolby Atmos Takes Center Stage

Left to right: AVS Forum’s Scott Wilkinson moderated a panel discussion with Greg Russell, re-recording mixer who worked on Transformers: Age of Extinction, Onkyo’s Paul Wasek, Jeff Cowan of Denon/Marantz, Pioneer’s Andrew Jones, Definitive Technology’s Joel Sietsema, and Dolby’s Brett Crockett.

At a pre-show press conference, Dolby rallied the AV/home entertainment industry around the new Dolby Atmos surround-sound platform, calling it the most significant advancement in home theater in 20 years.

The company announced that movies featuring Dolby Atmos soundtracks will be available this fall from Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and Vudu, the first streaming service to announce support for the new format. Paramount will release the blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction September 30 on Blu-ray, making it the first Atmos title available to consumers.

Dolby said manufacturer support continues to grow with about 20 brands now committed to deliver Atmos-enabled products, including Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Integra, Pioneer, and Yamaha on the electronics side and KEF, Atlantic Technology, Pioneer, Definitive Technology, Onkyo, and Triad on the speaker side.

Brett Crockett, Dolby’s senior director of research, presented an overview of Atmos, which debuted in theaters in 2012, before joining a panel discussion led by Scott Wilkinson, editor of AVS Forum.

Noting that hearing is believing, panelists stressed the importance of consumers getting out and experiencing Dolby Atmos surround sound, which will be demonstrated at select Magnolia Home Theater and Design Centers starting in October. Other retailers that will feature in-store demos this fall include hhgregg, Future Shop, and Best Buy Canada. Bjorn's in San Antonio, Texas and Crutchfield in Charlottesville, Virginia will be among the first independents to offer Atmos demos. As Pioneer’s Andrew Jones put it, “When you set up the system and hear the height speakers, it’s like flipping on the Magic Switch.”

Asked what’s the most important thing consumers need to know about Atmos, panelists noted that the technololgy is scalable, backward-compatible with standard surround sound and two-channel legacy content, can be built on existing surround systems, and does not require a new software format. Atmos is also flexible in terms of system configuration and relatively easy to install thanks to the advent of Atmos-enabled speakers and speaker modules that can be added to existing speakers to convey height-channel information in place of installing speakers in the ceiling; the add-on modules use angled speakers to bounce sound off the ceiling.

Crockett reminded the audience that every Atmos processor has an upmixer for legacy content. “I love listening to stereo music in this format over an Atmos system,” he said. “It’s like the movies—there’s a shower of sound that is just beautiful. We’ve also listened to old Blu-rays upmixed to Atmos and you’d swear it was an Atmos movie.”

Greg Russell, re-recording mixer who worked on Transformers: Age of Extinction said creating the Atmos soundtrack was “the most fun I’ve had mixing a movie in a long time.” He admitted being skeptical at first but said he was “astonished” with the final result and how well it translated in a home environment. “The resolution of panning specific sounds throughout a room and the clarity and definition of that detail is really superior.

“For years I’ve mixed scenes where things are above you but I’ve always had to put them around you,” Russell continued. “Now I can accurately locate specific sounds above you, which is much more natural. It’s a powerful tool.”

Asked about speaker placement considerations for overhead speakers, Crockett pointed to a new Speaker Placement Guide that details how and where to locate speakers for the best experience but added, “If you can’t meet the exact requirements, it might be good enough.” The system is pretty forgiving. He also noted that monopole speakers are preferred over bipoles for Atmos height channels. “We recommend a speaker configuration that will recreate a stereo pan accurately.”

WFO-to-the-end's picture

where can I find out if my local cinema is using atmos. There should be a guide listing movies and theaters using atmos. Somebody e-mail me if you know a website.

esappy's picture