Dolby AtmosWe recently had the pleasure of attending Dolby's European headquarters in London in conjunction with Onkyo to experience the new Dolby Atmos surround system.
Dolby Atmos is the latest surround sound format from Dolby Labs and is now no longer channel based ( ie.5.1 or 7.1 soundtrack) but instead object based. Each part of the soundtrack like vocals, music or helicopters! (Objects) are now assigned a specific point in the listening environment using x,y,z style co-ordinates over time rather than the method of mixing between 5 or 7 channels on the soundtrack as we have had up to now.
The benefit of this approach is that it is fully scalable from a home setup to a 1700 seat auditorium where the Atmos playback device creates the number of output channels depending on what configuration of speakers are present. Obviously the more speakers you have in any given environment will generate more accurate positioning by the processor. The other big change is with the addition of overhead speakers to create height and a complete "Pan Through Array" as they call it.
This video from Dolby Labs explains in detail how it works and has a potted history of the progression of surround sound from Dolby.
Domestically there will be most likely three ways of achieving good solid overhead effects;.
Coventional ceiling speakers.
New front/Rear L/R speakers with upward firing drivers .
Add on upward firing speaker modules for existing setups .
The real surprise for me was how good the addition of upward firing speakers was compared to dedicated overhead speakers making installation much easier for the average room!.
Have a look at this video from Onkyo that approaches Atmos from more of a domestic perspective and details potential speaker layouts.
In terms of performance the cinema setup we were shown was simply astounding with incredible steering precision with vocals able to eminate from any single speaker in the room ( Which from memory was something like 5 across the screen, 6 down each side right up to the front wall,similar at the back, 4 overhead and 4 bass bins, 2 front,2 back) and the overhead array really did make you feel part of the action.
The home theatre version again was impressive , a more immersive experience than normal which seemed to make the rather small room it was demonstrated in feel larger than it was with a wide soundstage well beyond the room boundaries in all directions!
More good news is that there will be no special discs to buy! The Atmos equipped discs when released will playback as standard 5.1/7.1 on existing setups and Atmos equipped amplifiers will be able to process existing 5.1/7.1 soundtracks into your Atmos array - Simples as they say.
You are told not to wish your life away but here I am just itching for August & September to arrive so we can show the world what this system can do in our demonstration rooms!!!