What is Dolby Atmos and How Does It Work?
Not too long ago, you could only experience the premium sound of Dolby Atmos® in movie theaters. Now, it’s more common than ever to see speakers, receivers, and other home audio equipment sporting the iconic Dolby Atmos logo. Even streaming services and video games are offering Dolby Atmos content to satisfy home theater junkies.
Despite all this buzz, you may still have many questions. What is Dolby Atmos? Is Dolby Atmos worth it? Why should I care? How is this different from regular surround sound?
What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos® is the first truly audible advancement in surround sound home theater systems. Through incredible advancements in acoustic technology and sound editing software development, Dolby has created a completely immersive, 360° audio experience that’s widely used by Hollywood’s top movie studios. Dolby Atmos delivers a captivating, object-based sound that places and moves audio anywhere in the room to bring entertainment alive all around the audience.
With Dolby Atmos, sound comes alive from all directions, including overhead, to fill a home theater with astonishing clarity, detail, and depth.
The unique Dolby Atmos sound is achieved by adding overhead and/or elevation channel speakers to your setup. This additional audio source creates an actual three-dimensional hemisphere of sound for the listener. Sound editors can now pinpoint a single sound and move it around, above, and through the listener.
Dolby Digital vs. Dolby Atmos
Dolby Digital is considered the traditional standard for cinema, broadcast, and home theater surround sound. Specifically, it’s Dolby’s proprietary audio compression technology that helps reproduce the original sound source (e.g., a movie’s soundtrack) and deliver it to your home theater in the highest quality possible.
Traditional surround sound formats like Dolby Digital are delivered through a 5.1 channel setup. The “5” includes the left front, right front, center, left surround, and right surround speakers, while the “point 1” refers to the subwoofer. When a sound designer creates a movie soundtrack, he or she can assign different sounds to specific speakers. The center channel is designed for dialogue. Dramatic music swells and similar sound effects are usually assigned to the front left and right channels. Sweeping effects and ambient noises are typically mixed into the left and right surround channels. All the low-frequency effects (LFEs) are sent to the subwoofer.
Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, is the next evolution of Dolby Digital. The general concept behind Dolby Atmos is that sounds are encoded as “objects.” Instead of sending an audio track to a specific channel, sound designers can assign an audio track to a location in the theater or room, including overhead. For example, filmmakers can have the sound of a helicopter pan smoothly across the rear wall, as opposed to panning from the left surround speaker to the right surround speaker. Dolby Atmos is a win-win for both filmmakers and viewers. Sound designers have great flexibility with the audio, while you get to enjoy a more immersive experience in the theater and at home.
How does Dolby Atmos work at home?
The most state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos theaters can accommodate up to 400 speakers. Let’s be real, though. Unless you have all the money in the world, it’s impossible to place that many speakers in your home. Fortunately, there are simpler solutions.
To create a Dolby Atmos experience at home, you’ll need the following pieces of equipment:
Make sure your AV receiver offers Dolby Atmos. This type of receiver recognizes the sound that would typically be sent to the surround speakers and sends some of that sound to the Dolby Atmos elevation speakers. A receiver is the brains behind your home theater system, so it’s important to find one that can efficiently power all your speakers and decode a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Check the Dolby website to see all the receivers compatible with Dolby Atmos.
Proper Dolby Atmos Speaker Placement
Now that you know the tools involved, here’s how to set up your Dolby Atmos experience at home.
Dolby Atmos starts with the same basic setup as your traditional surround sound system. You’re simply adding at least two overhead/elevation speakers. This configuration will become a 5.1.2 system if you have a standard surround sound setup. These speakers can either be Atmos modules that sit on top of your existing left and right channel speakers, like the R-41SA. They can also be special left and right speakers that include both standard front-firing and top-firing drivers, such as the R-625FA. Alternatively, you can install a pair of in-ceiling speakers that fire downward and use your existing normal left and right speakers. The CDT-5650-C II and CDT-5800-C II in-ceiling speakers are two particularly great speakers for Dolby Atmos because of their Controlled Dispersion Technology® because you can control the direction of the sound to the listener.
Between the Dolby Atmos in-ceiling speakers and elevation speakers, Klipsch has many speaker options for you to enjoy Dolby Atmos, even if you don’t have a dedicated, sound-treated theater room. If you’re looking to use the integrated or elevation speakers, a horizontal ceiling made from an acoustically reflective material, such as drywall or plaster, is an ideal setup. If you have a two-story or vaulted/cathedral ceilings, you can still enjoy the same amazing Dolby Atmos experience. If you have a non-reflective ceiling, you must install in-ceiling speakers.
Watching Dolby Atmos Movies at Home
Getting Dolby Atmos equipment is only half the battle. A pure Dolby Atmos experience is only possible when the source material is encoded in Dolby Atmos technology. If you’re looking at a Blu-Ray, it should be clearly labeled with the Dolby Atmos logo on the disc packaging. With a pure Dolby Atmos mix, you hear sound precisely as the sound designer intended it. Check out our picks for the best-sounding movies to introduce you to Dolby Atmos.
What happens if you watch movies without Dolby Atmos? The Dolby Atmos software in compatible A/V receivers and processors will up-mix non-Atmos material to utilize the elevation channels in your Atmos system. Of course, this function can be turned off at any time if you’d prefer a more traditional listening experience.
But, who would want something like that?
Get your Dolby Atmos system today and immerse yourself in an incredible home theater experience.