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Dolby Atmos Blu-rays, OTT Services Expected Soon

12 Aug, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey

BURBANK, Calif. — Brett Crockett, senior director of sound research at Dolby Labs, talks about Dolby Atmos a lot like a father would talk about a favorite child.

And why shouldn’t he? It’s his baby, and after years of work, Dolby Atmos is making him proud. More than 100 Hollywood films have been given the Atmos treatment, and later this year the sound innovation will come to the living room.

“They’ve told us bringing Dolby Atmos to the home is the most [important] thing to happen to home theater in 20 years,” Crockett said of the reactions from those who’ve seen Dolby Atmos at work in a living room.

The surround-sound technology — first used in theaters with Disney’s Brave in 2012 — allows content creators to place and move sounds almost anywhere, including overhead, with the technology automatically adapting the sound to the number and placement of speakers.

For home entertainment speaker systems, the technology moves away from the concept of channel-based audio, or simply moving a sound from one speaker to the next. Instead, Dolby Atmos works off the concept of sound objects, allowing filmmakers to isolate individual sounds, and with the combination of speakers, relay them in a three-dimensional space.

“We’ve been dancing around the idea, but now it’s finally time,” Crockett said. “Audiences tell us they’re overwhelmed by the realism.”

While there’s no need for consumers to replace their current speakers to accommodate a Dolby Atmos track on Blu-ray or a streaming service, the overhead sound component is crucial to the experience, and while installing speakers in the ceiling would be ideal, Crockett knows that “A lot of people won’t do that because it’s not worth the effort.” Hence, a new speaker design, one that combines a unique design and special signal processing to send sound not only forward, but also up, reflecting sound off the ceiling. “It works very effectively,” Crockett added.

Consumer electronics companies are also readying add-on speaker modules equipped with Dolby Atmos, which can be placed on or near existing speakers. In total, for Dolby Atmos-enabled content to work most effectively in the home, the company recommends at least four speakers that have the technology, two in the front, two as surround sound (to the rear, preferably).

In addition to partnering with major studios to add Dolby Atmos to Blu-rays, Dolby is also working with game and music companies and broadcasters to bring other Atmos-enabled content to the living room. For Blu-ray, no firmware update is required and the discs will be backward-compatible with existing players.

Consumer electronics companies who’ve announced Dolby Atmos AV receivers or processors include Denon, Integra, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Steinway Lyngdorf and Yamaha. Definitive Technology has announced a line of Dolby Atmos enabled-speaker modules and Pioneer has announced it will produce Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers.

The studios have yet to release any Blu-ray Disc titles that include Dolby Atmos, though Dolby predicts the first Dolby Atmos titles on Blu-ray to arrive this fall.

Craig Eggers, director of content creation and playback for home entertainment for Dolby Labs, said adding Atmos to discs shouldn’t take up too much space. However, “There is some overhead, depending on the complexity of the mix itself,” he added.

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