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Updates About Dolby Atmos Home Implementation  Print E-mail
Home Theater News AV Receiver News
Written by Walter Mitty   
Wednesday, 09 July 2014

Last week we broke the news that Dolby Atmos is finally making its way into our homes, which was then followed by announcements from partners Onkyo and Pioneer about their first Atmos products. In the forums, we've been chatting about the possibilities, asking tons of questions, and I even reached out to my Dolby contacts. As a few other sites have already reported, Dolby wrote a follow-up blog to clear up some early misconceptions. Feel free to read the whole thing, but here are the highlights:

Atmos is scalable, focusing on individual objects rather than channels.

In cinemas, Atmos works in any configuration from 9.1 to 64.4, but is often somewhere in the middle. However, the home version is slightly different. For starters, Dolby is working to recalibrate the way we think of our home theatre setups.

For example, the minimum Atmos setup is described as "5.1.2", which translates into five standard surround sound speakers at ear level (left, center, right, surrround right, surround left), one subwoofer, and two height channels. In this configuration, you will need an AV reciever (or amplification) for seven channels plus a powered subwoofer. Depending on budget, Atmos in the home is capable of 24.1.10 (twenty-four surrounds, one sub, ten overhead), though at present, the most powerful Atmos AV Reciever will have 32-channels.

The key to all of this is that, as home theatre enthusiasts, we have to think in "channels" mainly for logical pruposes -- running wire, amplification, etc. -- but content producers won't be producing different mixes for the guy with "5.1.2" versus "24.1.10" because Atmos-enabled tracks adapt to your home theatre environement. Pretty impressive.

You will most likely need to purchase new gear, but maybe not.

The saddest part for any tech geek. Saving up. Droppping mad cash. And then you need to replace gear to get the newest evolution of a sound format. Damn it! 

Right now, we know Onkyo, Pioneer, Denon, and Marantz are going to produce Dolby Atmos capable AV Recievers. While Denon and Marantz have only listed model numbers, Pioneer and Onkyo have already started advertising and detailing their new products HERE and HERE (a lot of great information there, so definitely check those out).

So far, Pioneer is topping out at 9-channel AV Recievers capable of 5.1.4, 7.1.2, and 9.1 Atmos setups. Denon, Marantz, and Onkyo have also proposed 11-channel AV Recievers capable of up to 7.1.4 and 9.1.2 Atmos configurations. However, unless you own a Pioneer Elite SC-85, SC-87, or SC89, or an Onkyo TX-NR838, TX-NR737, TX-NR636, you will most likely need an new AVR to experience Atmos in the home.

Dolby Speaker Placement 7.1.4

What About Speakers? Here things get a little easier (potentially).

In an optimized setup, Dolby recommends four height channels -- front and back stereo pairs. However, one pair will suffice. For the most precise experience, you will want to install the height channels in your ceilding. The challenge, of course, will be installation costs and running wire. But the good news is you can use conventional ceiliing-mounted speakers.

If you don't want to, or cannot, install speakers in your ceiling, you have the option of purchasing Atmos-enabled speakers. Onkyo and Pioneer both announced front and surround speakers that feature traditional horizontally firing drivers as well as a vertical-firing driver designed to bounce the height channels off 8-14 foot, flat ceilings (taller ceilings and diagnol rooflines will cause problems). However, this method would require replacing two-to-four of your speakers, which isn't cheap, and what if you love the speakers you already own?

As a final option, Onkyo announced add-on speaker modules, which are essetially vertically-firing satellite speakers you set atop your current speakers. These come in pairs.

To recap, if you happen to own one of the firmware-upgradable AVRs, all you need to do to experience Atmos is to install two speakers in your ceiling, or purchase a couple add-on modules. Without the upgradable AVR, you're looking at the cost of a new Reciever plus at least two new speakers or add-on modules. If you're designing a new room, or have a bigger budget, the sky is really the limit. And, if you wait a year or two, I'm sure there will be plenty more options, but, while prices should drop over time, the challenge here is that extra amplified channels (done well) always always costs more. If you're cool with a seven-channel 5.1.2 setup, it should be a pretty affordable goal. For those seaking an eleven-channel 7.1.4 Atmos configuration, I'm not sure if a price drop is in the immediate future.

What About Dolby Atmos Content? 

Dolby Atmos will be an extension of Dolby TrueHD (via Blu-ray Disc) and Dolby Digital Plus (via Streaming). All current Blu-ray players, and HDMI cables, should be able to handle Atmos assuming you are outputing sound via bitstream.

No specific Atmos Blu-rays (or digital downloads) have been announced, but the obivous guess is to look at films releasing in Atmos this year that are mentioned in the Dolby press releases. 'Godzilla', 'Noah', 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'. Maybe even 'Edge of Tomorrow'. These titles are definitely coming to Blu-ray later this year, so why not? It all depends on which studios have deals to release Blu-rays in DTS-HD MA; I'm sure there are tons of negotations going on behind the scenes right now. Regardless, it's hard to tell just yet, but guess what, you don't technically even need Dolby Atmos Blu-rays to experience Atmos. 

Say what?

Unlike its theatrical cousin, which requires a specific mix, Dolby Atmos home cinema recievers will be able to adapt, or process, native stereo, 5.1 and 7.1 content -- ie, your existing Blu-rays and DVDs and even your cable/satelitte receivers -- into Atmos. Bascially, if you ever run ProLogic IIx to get a 7.1 mix out of stereo and 5.1 tracks, Atmos promises to do the same for overhead height channels. Basically, part of me is starting to wonder if Atmos (in the home) is a reconfigured version of ProLogic IIz, which added height-but-not-overhead channels.

 Source: High-Def Digest








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