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What is Dolby Atmos? Here’s Everything You Need to Know.

Immersive Sound Will Transform Your Home Theater

What is Dolby Atmos? Here’s Everything You Need to Know.

This blog has now been updated; you can view this updated post here.

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Multi-channel soundtracks for film have come a long, long way in the past 25 years.

In the 1980s, Dolby Laboratories developed the Dolby Surround sound format, and it began by taking stereo soundtracks and “matrixing” sound for dialog and effects to the center channel and surround speakers by some clever processing. It was followed by Dolby Pro Logic, which took that technology a step further, allowing the stereo left and right channels to have additional audio information that with the proper equipment could direct those specific sounds to center and rear speakers. 

Dolby Pro Logic was good for its time, and because most movies were still on VHS videotape, tape could only handle a certain amount of audio bandwidth.  Dolby Digital 5.1, also called AC-3, was the first digital surround format and birthed the modern era of digital audio in video soundtracks.  First used on Laserdiscs, a predecessor to the DVD that never quite went mainstream, Dolby Digital became the standard for DVD and also for high definition broadcast TV. 

Today, the original Dolby Digital has been thoroughly reworked and enhanced over time.  Each successive version – like Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD – has brought increases in audio quality and the precision of placing sounds in a sound field for more realistic and immersive entertainment.   The culmination of this development is Dolby Atmos. 

So at this point, you may have heard of Dolby Atmos (or not) and wonder what all the fuss is about.  You may be wondering why you’d want it for your home cinema in the Alpharetta area and what changes it might mean to your home theater layout

We thought the best way to do this would be to do a little FAQ (frequently asked questions).  Read on as we cover the basics of Dolby Atmos and to see if it’s right for your home theater.

SEE ALSO: Why Is Seating so Important to Any Home Theater Layout?

What Makes Dolby Atmos Different?

The main difference of Atmos is that it employs what Dolby calls object-based surround. It’s important to remember that surround formats are not just something that magically happens. The right consumer electronics, movies and other entertainment must be authored to take advantage of these technologies.  Some movies and shows take full advantage of surround and height effects, and some not as much.  What Atmos does is provide an unprecedented amount of flexibility for professional sound mixers to place sound in an almost three-dimensional field, with up to 128 discrete sound objects in a scene. That means that if a helicopter is whirring overhead, or bullets are coming from a specific corner, you will hear it and feel it as never before. The sense of height, direction, and movement of sound will be reproduced in an immersive way. 

What Do You Need to Have Dolby Atmos?

There are several reference layouts recommended for Dolby Atmos in the home. The typical home theater is a 5.1 or 7.1 channel layout. 5.1 is the basic setup for surround, meaning there are two main front speakers, a front center channel, and two rear surround channels.  The “.1” represents the subwoofer, and in larger theaters and media rooms it’s often desirable to have two subwoofers, which will be often denoted as “.2.”  7.1 adds additional surround channels on either side of the seating area.  Other surround formats before Atmos also had height channels which could be done with in-ceiling speakers. 

Dolby Atmos adds 2 to 4 speakers to the above configurations, designed to insert the height dimension into the sound.  If using the full four speakers, ideally you’d want them mounted in the ceiling, with 2 in the front of the seating area and two behind to get the most out of the 3D effect. 

You need to have the right number of speakers to get the full effect, whether you are doing a 5.1.2 or a 7.1.4 home theater layout for Atmos. You also need to have a receiver or surround sound processor that can decode Atmos. The good news is these latest Dolby Atmos receivers and processors also have all the latest features like 4K HDR video capability and the best room correction software, which will make your theater sound its best. 

You will also need a source component that can pass Dolby Atmos audio to your receiver or processor.  The latest UHD Blu-ray players are now compatible with Dolby Atmos, and some devices are getting software upgrades for that. Apple has announced Dolby Atmos capability is coming to the Apple TV with the next major software update. The higher-end models of other popular streaming devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV also support Dolby Atmos. 

What Can I Watch with Dolby Atmos Sound?

The list of movies being released or remixed with Dolby Atmos is growing every day. Titles like Blade Runner 2045 and The Commuter offer all the richness and immersion the format brings to a home theater. New titles are coming out with Atmos soundtracks on UHD Blu-ray every week. Streaming services like Vudu, Netflix, and Apple’s iTunes all have or will be offering titles with Atmos soundtracks. 

What Kind of Speakers Do I Need for Atmos?

While the speakers you may have in your current home theater will work, some ceiling-mounted models are optimized for Atmos height effects, like the CI Elite series from our partner Paradigm. Alternatively, if you are unable to install ceiling speakers in your theater or media room, other manufacturers produce Atmos specific models with up-firing drivers that bounce sounds off the ceiling to deliver the height effects. 


We know you likely have many more questions about Dolby Atmos and home theater layout that we didn’t cover here. Reach out to schedule a complimentary consultation or click the chat button below to immediately connect with us.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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