Dolby Atmos for Home Theater Now Available

By Matt Brennesholtz Don't Use
Dolby Atmos enabled integrated speakers include both traditional front-firing speakers and upward-firing speakers. Both sets of speakers have their own binding posts to connect to your AVR.
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Display Accessories – Last June after CE Week, I wrote an article on Dolby Atmos coming to home theater. While it was demonstrated at CE week, it was not actually available then. At the recent CEDIA Expo 2014, September 10 – 13 in Denver, Colorado, the availability of the Audio/Video Receivers (AVR) and speakers needed to play back Atmos-encoded sound and Blu-ray discs with Atmos-encoded content were announced.

Dolby Atmos enabled integrated speakers include both traditional front-firing speakers and upward-firing speakers. Both sets of speakers have their own binding posts to connect to your AVR.

Dolby Atmos was originally designed for use in both post-production and movie theaters. It is object-oriented 3D sound, with up to 128 simultaneous independent audio objects. These objects can move around in 3D space, independent of the location of the actual speakers. Think, for example, of the sound of an airplane overhead, moving from the back of the theater to the front over the heads of the audience. The sound person creating this for the movie could place the sound exactly where he wants it, regardless of considerations such as speaker placement. In the movie theater or the home, the Dolby Atmos AVR will then decode this 3D sound to match the locations of the physical speakers in the room.

One key to proper decoding of Dolby Atmos is to produce sound from above the audience. Typical 5.1 and 7.1 home theater installations do not have these overhead speakers. The obvious solution is to mount speakers on the ceiling, preferably four of them, two in front of the viewers and two in back. This isn’t practical for many people, so Dolby offers (through its partners) an alternative: dual purpose speakers, with one speaker sending the sound horizontally for ground-level sound and the second speaker in the same enclosure sending the sound up at an angle to reflect off of the ceiling and, acoustically, come from overhead. (I wonder what the upstairs neighbors in an apartment building think about this?)

Onkyo TX-NR3030 11.2 Channel AVR with Dolby Atmos and a MSRP of $2,399 Onkyo TX-NR3030 11.2 Channel AVR with Dolby Atmos and a MSRP of $2,399

Currently Atmos for the home supports 5.1.2, 7.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1.4, and 9.1.2 installations. The first two digits in these system designations are the normal surround sound speakers and sub-woofers. The third digit, added by Dolby, is the number of overhead speakers or floor level speakers firing up. Dolby Atmos AV receivers are available from Onkyo, Pioneer, Denon, Yamaha, Integra, Marantz and Sony. These are just the companies with links on the Dolby website. Numerous companies are also Dolby Atmos licensees and can be expected to have products in the future. In case you are intimidated by the complexity of a Dolby Atmos installation, Dolby has a downloadable installation guide to help you choose a system for your home theater.

“With Dolby Atmos, hearing is believing,” said Michael Crane, Senior Director of Merchandising for Magnolia Home Theater and Design Centers. “You have to experience it to understand how captivating it is. We’re looking forward to demonstrating the technology in hundreds of our Magnolia locations within Best Buy.”

The Magnolia demo rooms should be in operation in October. Also starting this fall, additional national and regional retailers including hhgregg, Future Shop, and Best Buy Canada will feature Dolby Atmos demonstrations in select locations, in addition to independent retailers such as Crutchfield and Bjorn’s. Beyond North America, consumers will be able to experience Dolby Atmos at leading home theater retailers such as Sevenoaks Sound & Vision (UK), AVAC Corporation (Japan), and BIC CAMERA INC. (Japan). More retail locations are expected globally as additional products are introduced into the market throughout the year.

In terms of content, Dolby has announced that Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers will release movies with Atmos-encoded sound on Blu-ray. No special Blu-ray player is needed – any player that fully conforms to the Blu-ray standard is usable in a Dolby Atmos home theater installation. Paramount has said Transformers: Age of Extinction will be its first Atmos release but Warner Brothers has not announced a specific title yet. Blu-ray discs with Atmos-encoded sound are also compatible with playback on conventional stereo and on 5.1- and 7.1-channel systems, in case you don’t have a Atmos AVR or speaker system (yet). –Matthew Brennesholtz