What Is Dolby Atmos? Why Does It Matter?
Dolby Atmos has forever changed the way we experience sound when listening to music or streaming content. But even though it has been around for 10 years, many aren’t sure what Dolby Atmos really is.
This article sheds light on Dolby Atmos and discusses its most notable features. We’ll also explain why this technology is so important and who benefits from it.
What Is Dolby Atmos?
- What Is Dolby Atmos?
- How Does It Work?
- Dolby Atmos at Home
- Dolby Atmos for Mobile Phones
- Dolby Atmos Content
- Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization
- Why Does Dolby Atmos Matter?
- Dolby Atmos and Virtual Reality
- What Are the Options for Dolby Atmos Speakers?
- Enjoy the Sound
According to Dolby, Atmos is “a fuller, multidimensional sound experience in your entertainment.” Dolby Atmos represents a revolutionary surround-sound technology based on the pre-existing 5.1 and 7.1 surround-sound setups.
But what makes Dolby Atmos so different? Unlike the traditional systems, Dolby Atmos does much more than just send audio at discrete levels to each speaker. This state-of-the-art technology can produce a whopping 118 simultaneous sound objects, giving the sound designer more flexibility with placing sounds and voices within a sound field. Rather than simply assigning them to specific channels, sound designers can manipulate the sound objects and move them around within a sound space. As a result, you’ll get an impressive 3D soundstage.
We know this may sound technical, so think of it this way: Dolby Atmos is like 4K for your ears. It allows you to experience and enjoy sound in a completely different way than you’re used to. Think of the 360-degree sound that you hear in a movie theater. Dolby Atmos gives you a more realistic impression of different effects and a better sense of acoustic space.
How Does It Work?
Dolby Atmos creates a breathtaking soundstage with a 9.1-bed channel, 128 tracks, and up to 188 sound objects. An object can be virtually anything: footsteps, bells, a ball bouncing, etc. Dolby Atmos allows sound designers to take these objects, place them in a specific position, and set movements in a 3D space.
Once the audio mixing is finished, you can enjoy theater-like sound quality in your living room (if you have the necessary equipment, of course). The more speakers you have, the better the richness, depth, and audio positioning.
Dolby Atmos automatically identifies how many speakers you have and determines the optimal playback in real-time to deliver the best results.
As mentioned, Dolby Atmos uses channels unlike other traditional systems like 5.1 (five speakers, one subwoofer) and 7.1 (seven speakers, one subwoofer). Thanks to these channels, Dolby Atmos adds a third, overhead dimension to sound. With these setups, you can hear a helicopter moving from side to side, but you can’t hear it flying above you. This missing locational information can affect the overall listening experience. Since most Dolby Atmos-compatible speakers have built-in upward-firing drivers, you’ll enjoy a much more immersive sound. These drivers bounce the sound off ceilings and towards your listening position to create the best effect. Also called speaker toppers, the drivers sit on your speakers and can be purchased separately or as a part of the package.
Dolby Atmos at Home
Around 400 speakers can be used in certain Dolby Atmos cinemas. Of course, most homeowners don’t have the space (or the desire) to have such a system in their house, not to mention the money. Fortunately, you can enjoy Dolby Atmos at home without spending thousands of dollars. You’ll just need an audio-visual receiver (AVR, which can identify your speakers’ number, type, and location). Then, an object audio renderer (OAR) scales every sound object and assigns it to a specific speaker.
Like we said earlier, the more speakers you have, the better the sound quality. While Dolby Atmos can work with virtually any speaker configuration, it’s important to remember that the maximum number of speakers for home theaters is 34.
Many people have good speaker setups that don’t support Dolby Atmos installed in their homes. Fortunately, you don’t have to get rid of your current setup to enjoy the exceptional sound. You can simply upgrade it with specific speaker modules that include upward-firing elements.
If you don’t have speakers at home and don’t want to drill holes in your walls to install them, you’ll be happy to know you can purchase a soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos. Such a soundbar can enhance the sound quality without the cost and hassle of a full installation. Most soundbars that support Atmos have integrated upward-firing drivers that disperse the sound and reflect it off the ceiling so that you can enjoy the overhead effect.
In the last few years, numerous manufacturers started making Atmos-enabled soundbars, and a wide range of models at varying prices helps everyone find the right one. Typically, the more you spend, the more features you’ll enjoy.
Nowadays, many TVs have internal speakers that support Dolby Atmos. Naturally, a TV won’t give you the same sound quality as a room full of speakers. That said, the general audio quality is still much better than a standard stereo signal.
Dolby Atmos for Mobile Phones
One of the best features of Dolby Atmos is its versatility. Dolby has worked with the world’s leading mobile phone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung to develop Dolby Atmos for mobile phones. You can enjoy the multi-speaker setting from your mobile device, thus enhancing your listening experience. Regardless of whether you’re using speakers or headphones, clearer sound, no speaker distortion, and even volume are only some of the benefits you’ll get with Dolby Atmos.
Dolby Atmos Content
Since launching in 2012, Dolby Atmos has become incredibly popular. Numerous movies and TV shows have been produced in Dolby Atmos. Streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max offer a wide range of Dolby Atmos content. Keep in mind that some platforms like Netflix may require a subscription plan that supports UHD streaming to play content in Dolby Atmos.
Amazon Prime is one of the platforms that doesn’t require an additional fee to play Dolby Atmos content. All you need to do is type “Dolby Atmos” in the search bar, and you’ll see a list of available TV shows and movies that support the technology.
When it comes to music platforms, you’ll be happy to know popular streaming platforms like Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal support Dolby Atmos. All three offer impressive music selections in this format, and users can play the songs through a soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos or headphones.
Remember that even if you have the best equipment, you need to find Dolby Atmos content. The equipment can’t magically improve the sound quality if the content itself doesn’t support Atmos.
Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization
Dolby is aware that not everyone can afford dedicated systems, speakers, or soundbars that support the technology. In an attempt to expand the technology’s reach, Dolby created a “simulator” that allows a virtual Atmos experience with hardware that doesn’t support Atmos. This simulator is called Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization.
This virtualization is based on Dolby’s thorough research and deep understanding of human audio perception and creates a sensation of overhead sounds using listener-level speakers.
How does this work? It applies height cue filters to specific overhead sound components in a mix. The filters represent the natural cues the human ear interprets as coming from above. In other words, this technology tricks our ears into hearing overhead sounds.
Simply put, Dolby Atmos Height Visualization mimics the Atmos height effects without the actual height or overhead speakers. While this is a convenient and cost-effective solution, the effects that Dolby Atmos Height Visualization provides are less subtle than what you would get with speakers.
Why Does Dolby Atmos Matter?
Many would say Dolby Atmos isn’t a big deal; improved sound quality usually isn’t a priority. However, many people change their minds after going to a movie theater that supports Dolby Atmos. Although it was introduced 10 years ago, this technology doesn’t cease to impress.
It has introduced two concepts to how we experience sound: audio objects and overhead speakers. These elements allow sound designers to treat every sound individually and place it anywhere in the 3D sound space instead of fitting it into a specific channel.
Since the sound comes from all directions, including overhead, people can enjoy breathtaking clarity, depth, richness, and detail. High-quality audio makes us feel as if we were in the middle of the action. It heightens our senses and intensifies our emotions. Dolby Atmos is especially important for movie theaters because it helps deliver the full effect of the entertainment.
Dolby Atmos and Virtual Reality
Since virtual reality technology has become hugely popular in the last few years, many can’t help but wonder whether Dolby Atmos is compatible. You’ll be happy to know Dolby has worked with several manufacturers that create VR experiences.
You can enjoy VR and Dolby Atmos on iOS, Android, Windows, OS X, and many others.
What Are the Options for Dolby Atmos Speakers?
When it comes to speakers, the market is filled with different options. Most modern speakers support Dolby Atmos and provide excellent sound quality. Here are the three most popular options.
Ceiling speakers, often called overhead speakers, are probably the best options for Dolby Atmos because they produce exceptional height effects. They are usually placed above the listener in a configuration of two or four. Ceiling speakers should be your choice if you want to make the most of Dolby Atmos and enjoy an immersive sound.
While ceiling speakers provide the best results in terms of sound quality, they have their flaws. For example, ceiling speakers have a complicated installation process. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, you’ll need to hire a professional, which can be quite expensive.
Height speakers are a popular choice for enjoying the Dolby Atmos technology. Although many confuse height speakers and ceiling speakers, these two terms differ. Height speakers are installed on walls near the ceiling, in configurations of two or four. If you want a two-speaker configuration, you’ll get only front heights, so you can add the two rear speakers at any time. Height speakers can also be mounted on the sides of your listening position.
These speakers are easier to install than ceiling speakers.
Up-firing speakers have the easiest setup process. They are simply placed on top of a bookshelf or floor-standing speakers. When situated correctly, these speakers project the sound to the ceiling, which then bounces back to the listener. If you want the best results, your ceiling height needs to be around eight to nine feet.
The simple installation process comes with a price; up-firing speakers offer the least optimal performance out of the three options.
How many speakers are necessary for Dolby Atmos?
Although this may come as a surprise, one speaker with up-firing drivers is enough for enjoying Dolby Atmos. Of course, the sound quality won’t be as good as a setup with more speakers. For optimal performance, Dolby recommends using at least four speakers.
When was Dolby Atmos first used?
Dolby Atmos was first used in a cinema in 2012 for a movie called “Brave.” In 2016, Dolby Atmos was first featured in home theater audio systems, and in 2017, the technology started appearing on mobile devices.
How easy is Dolby Atmos to set up?
Dolby Atmos can be both very easy and difficult to set up; it all depends on what you buy. For example, if you’re buying a mobile phone that supports Dolby Atmos, there isn’t anything required on your side to enable it because it’s already built-in. Likewise, if you want a Dolby Atmos soundbar, all you need to do is connect it to your TV to make it work. On the other hand, if you want a full system with ceiling-mounted height speakers, we recommend hiring a professional for the installation.
Should I upgrade to Dolby Atmos?
If you love having the latest technology and enjoy streaming movies and TV shows or listening to music, you should consider upgrading to Dolby Atmos. However, if you don’t really pay attention to sound quality, Dolby Atmos may be an unnecessary expense. In that case, it may be better to wait a few years until the technology becomes more widespread and the prices decrease.
Enjoy the Sound
Even though Dolby Atmos has been around for a while, many people aren’t familiar with it. This exceptional technology completely changes the way we hear sounds by allowing sound objects to move across a 3D sound space. If you want to discover a whole new world of sound and enhance your listening experience, you should get Dolby Atmos. With the right equipment and content, you can make a movie theater in your living room.