Dolby Atmos takes surround sound to the next level by delivering a true 3D audio experience. Consider it 4K for your ears. Available in soundbars, game consoles, TVs, as well as smaller devices like laptops, phones, and headphones, Dolby Atmos is becoming a must-have feature for serious movie fans.
But how does Dolby Atmos work? Where can you buy it? And what kind of content does this technology support? This FAQ is here to answer all your questions.
What is Dolby Atmos?
In short, Dolby Atmos is a proprietary audio format designed to bring the same immersive 360-degree sound found in a movie theater to your living room or mobile device. The format has been around since 2012 and first hit theaters with Disney’s Brave. The format gradually found its way into homes via custom installations and more recently has appeared on consumer audio products such as the best AV receivers and the best soundbars.
Dolby Atmos has introduced home theater fans to another dimension of surround sound by adding elements of height to the soundstage. This gives a much more realistic impression of overhead action effects, as well as subtle atmospheric and object-based location effects, transporting the listener into a sound bubble for a more realistic sense of acoustic space adapted to the on-screen environment.
How does it work?
Dolby Atmos is all about the details. To achieve this realistic sound, the technology uses a 9.1 bed channel (consisting of stationary sounds such as background noise and music), 128 tracks and up to 118 simultaneous sound objects to create an immersive soundstage.
A sound object can be anything from the sound of footsteps to the impact of a basketball, and has a specific position in a scene. With Atmos, content creators can place these sounds in a precise location and set each movement (think of someone running away from you down a hallway) in 3D space.
Once audio mixing is complete, Atmos can bring cinema-quality sound into your living room – provided you have Dolby Atmos-compatible devices, such as a stereo. Add a surround sound speaker package to one of our best soundbars or a home theater system with one of the best partner AV receivers.
Atmos-optimized technology analyzes all audio data and determines the optimal playback in real time based on the number of your speakers and their placement. This means when an airplane flies overhead in your favorite movie, it sounds like a real airplane moving overhead. The more speakers you have, the better the audio positioning as well as the detail and overall audio richness and depth.
How does Atmos compare to surround sound?
The biggest difference between Dolby Atmos and traditional surround sound is the use of channels. Audio over traditional surround sound is most commonly referred to as 5.1 (five speakers, one subwoofer) or 7.1 (seven speakers, one subwoofer) channels. In this type of configuration, you can hear a helicopter moving from right to left or vice versa, but the system cannot reproduce the sound of something flying overhead. This lack of location information can affect the overall immersion factor for surround sound.
Dolby Atmos maps the acoustic sound and space around objects to a location. That is, when a sound occurs in the upper-right corner of the room, the sound has better spatial accuracy rather than being locked into the right-hand speaker. And because Atmos-compatible speakers have built-in upward-firing drivers, you have the added benefit of height. This is achieved by bouncing the sound off the ceiling, as is the case with the latest Klipsch Reference and Reference Premiere speaker ranges. It won’t perform as well as a true height speaker, but it’s an effective alternative.
Dolby Atmos at home
Not everyone has the space to house multiple speakers scattered around the TV room, or the finances to squander those lavish and often upscale home theater speaker packages. Fortunately for the space-conscious among us, the format has been incorporated into several high-end soundbars more recently, including the Bose Smart Soundbar 900, Sonos Beam, Sonos Arc, and Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3.
Although still a significant financial outlay for the very best soundbars, these powered speaker systems achieve a one-stop surround sound experience without the need for additional speakers or components. Many soundbar models can also be paired with optional wireless rear speakers and subwoofers if you want to extend your home theater sound system beyond the under-TV bar speaker system.
Do I really need Dolby Atmos?
Right now, Dolby Atmos is more of a desire than a necessity. AV fans who already own 4K TVs or even 8K TVs should invest in Atmos-compatible home theater systems or soundbars. Everyone else can wait until the technology becomes mainstream and prices become more affordable. And also remember that this unit delivers better TV sound than many soundbars.
But if you want to feel like you’re the center of attention in your favorite action movie, or have a front row seat to your favorite artist’s concert that has been sold out for months, then it’s worth the investment. The easiest way is to stop by a major retail store and see if they have a Dolby Atmos home theater demo setup.
How easy is Dolby Atmos to set up?
It really depends on what you’re buying. If you’re looking to go all out and get a home theater system with ceiling-mounted height speakers, you might want to call in a professional to get everything up and running. Installing a soundbar is as simple as plugging it into the USB or optical port on the back of your TV.
Where can I find Dolby Atmos content?
Just as consumer products have often come out with features before a new format is available (think TV screens capable of handling 8K images while content availability remains scarce), Dolby Atmos support seems readily available, while content may be difficult to find and access.
You can currently experience Dolby Atmos on select Blu-rays and across a range of streaming platforms including Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max and Netflix. In some cases, you need to make sure you have the right subscription for a specific platform, e.g. B. A plan that supports UHD streaming, which in the case of Netflix increases the monthly subscription fee to $19.99.
We won’t list the availability of content for each of the streaming platforms here, but one of the best we’ve found for delivering Dolby Atmos content without having to pay an extra fee is Amazon Prime. You can easily find Dolby Atmos content on Prime by typing the term in the search bar to display all movies and TV series available in sound format in the free-to-play Prime tier. There’s also plenty of additional Dolby Atmos content to rent or buy if you feel like playing it out.
Apart from that, Dolby Atmos can also be found on a number of music streaming platforms including Apple Music, Tidal HiFi and Amazon Music. These all offer a selection of songs and a playlist in audio format, which can be played through a compatible soundbar or headphones.