HomeMusicWhat is Dolby Atmos?

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby’s surround sound technologies — the magic that brings movie and TV soundtracks to life through several strategically positioned speakers — have been around for a long time, but the company recently released Dolby Atmos, which is nothing short of a game-changer.

With this new technology, Dolby has ushered in a new era of home theatre audio that adapts to any environment with what they’ve dubbed “object-based audio.”

While Dolby Atmos packs a sonic punch and transforms any soundtrack into an experience, not all Atmos is created equal, so knowing the difference between technical specifications and marketing hype is crucial when shopping.

Here’s everything you need to know about Dolby Atmos, including what it is and isn’t, as well as how you can utilise it to upgrade your home theatre.

HOW DOES DOLBY ATMOS WORK?

While it’s easy to confuse Dolby Atmos with sound formats like Dolby Digital or Digital Theater Sound (DTS), the word really refers to an existing sound format that incorporates information about sound height. Let’s take a closer look at sound height, which is a relatively new notion.

A basic surround-sound system consists of either five or seven speakers and a subwoofer (which is why some surround sound is referred to as being 5.1 or 7.1).

Sound is designed to come through specific speakers in a normal soundtrack from a movie or TV show, so most conversation will be heard through the centre channel speaker, while sound effects will be heard more frequently through the rear or side speakers.

Keep in mind that a 5.1 or 7.1 configuration may accommodate multiple audio formats. For example, if you’re viewing TV on a cable box, the sound will most likely be in 5.1 Dolby Digital format, whereas if you’re watching a DVD, the sound will most likely be in 5.1 DTS format.

Dolby Atmos now adds “height data” to normal 5.1 and 7.1 soundtracks, usually through two or four additional speakers that are either ceiling mounted or angled on top of other speakers.

The speakers use height data to determine where sounds should be played in the room, rather than which speaker they should come from.

Each speaker in an Atmos system is aware of its distance from the listener, and sounds from the ceiling speakers work in tandem with the other speakers to create a tailored surround sound experience based on the acoustic qualities of your TV room.

The simple line is that, while ordinary 5.1 or 7.1 home theatres may produce excellent sound on their own, Atmos-enabled home theatres add a new layer of sound that will transport you to the theatre.

IS THERE A CATCH?

While Atmos height speakers may be installed in almost any home theatre, it’s important to note that not all Atmos content is created equal. There are two basic types of Dolby Atmos that need to be distinguished.

Some streaming content providers offer Dolby Atmos for streaming video on select titles. Netflix, for example, maintains a list of movies that support Dolby Atmos audio on supported devices, with new titles added on a regular basis.

Netflix, like many other streaming video providers, uses Dolby Digital Plus audio as its primary audio codec, which is an acceptable but not excellent format that has been compressed from the original to make streaming easier.

As a result, “streaming Atmos” delivers height data for a lossy format and will not be as spectacular as an Atmos audio from a Blu-ray copy of a film.

Some conventional Blu-ray movies and most 4K Blu-ray movies support Dolby Atmos for Blu-ray. Because there is no restriction imposed by an internet connection, it is easier to include higher quality core audio formats on physical discs than it is with streaming movies.

Most importantly, the core tracks on Blu-ray discs are normally in a lossless format, such as Dolby TrueHD, and so the height speakers give lossless audio as well. You’ll need to build your home theatre around a Blu-ray player if you want the highest sound quality possible.

While Dolby Atmos sounds better when utilised with lossless audio files than when used with streaming audio, both implementations sound fantastic and are worthwhile improvements, depending on your budget and listening situation.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO ENJOY DOLBY ATMOS

You’ll need three things to enjoy Dolby Atmos: a playback device, a set of speakers or a soundbar, and an AV receiver. (Of course, you’ll also need content with an Atmos soundtrack.) Think about the many types of technology you’ll need, or click ahead to “Our Picks” to find the finest available Atmos tech for your individual needs.

Playback Devices: When establishing an Atmos-enabled home theatre, the first thing you’ll need is a device that can playback Atmos content. Depending on the type of content you watch, you’ll need one of these.

A normal Blu-ray player or a 4K Blu-ray player are required to play Blu-ray movies with Dolby Atmos audio.

You’ll need a streaming box or gaming console that supports Dolby Atmos to watch streaming movies with Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

Speakers and amplifier: Once you’ve got the correct device for playing Dolby Atmos content, you’ll need speakers and amplification to complete your sound setup. When deciding whether or not to install Dolby Atmos in your home theatre, there are three key areas to consider.

The most popular way to create a Dolby Atmos system is using a multi-speaker arrangement and an audio-video receiver.

Before transmitting the audio signal to a set of surround sound speakers, they use an AV receiver to power and decode it (and Atmos height speakers).

They’re also the most expensive: a receiver, a powered subwoofer, and between nine and eleven individual speakers are required to create a full-fledged Atmos home theatre this way.

If a big, cumbersome surround sound setup isn’t your thing, soundbars with Dolby Atmos support are a decent alternative. Soundbars are great for circumstances when space and money are restricted, or simply if you prefer a minimalist approach.

Dolby Atmos soundbars have numerous speakers incorporated into the main unit that bounce sound off walls to produce a height speaker effect. And, while they sound great, they aren’t as powerful as a multi-speaker system, so audio quality suffers.

Headphones with Dolby Atmos support are meant to provide the object-based audio experience right to your ears. Hearing Dolby Atmos using headphones may be rather intense, as they provide a far more individualised experience than a standard Dolby Atmos setup. However, most Dolby Atmos headphones work best with Atmos-capable video game consoles, combining the excitement of gaming with the drama of a great soundtrack.

SaleBestseller No. 1
Sony STRDH790.CEK 7.2 Channel Dolby Atmos/DTS: X 4K HDR AV Receiver - Black
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Marantz NR1711 7.2 Channel AV-Receiver, HiFi System for Home Cinema Sound System, 6 HDMI Ports, 8K, Dolby Atmos & Vision, Google Assistant/Siri/Alexa Compatible, Music Streaming, HEOS Multiroom
  • THE MOST MUSICAL SOUND - Enjoy your favourite films with striking audio quality as this AV Receiver allows you to connect up to 7 speakers (90W/speaker) and is equipped with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X.
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Bestseller No. 3
Denon AVR-X1700H DAB 7.2 Channel AV Receiver, HiFi Amplifier with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, 6 HDMI Inputs and 1 Output, 8K HDMI, Bluetooth, WiFi, AirPlay 2, HEOS Multiroom, Alexa Compatible
  • ULTIMATE HOME CINEMA SYSTEM: With three 8K HDMI inputs (a total of 6 inputs, 1 output) this home cinema AV receiver supports 8K/60Hz and 4K/120Hz video passthrough with 40 GBit/s. It also offers 8K upscaling for an immersive experience.
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  • BALANCED SOUND: This 7-channel home cinema surround sound system amplifier delivers 145 watts per channel and can be paired with a wide range of speakers
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Denon AVR-S660H AV Receiver (Black) Works with Alexa
  • Ready for 8K – with three 8K HDMI inputs
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Onkyo HT-S3910(B) 5.1 Home Cinema System with AV Receiver and Speakers (155W/ch, 4K UltraHD Lead Through, Dolby Atmos, DTS: X-Playback, Bluetooth, Hi-Res Audio, Advanced Music Optimizer), Black
  • AV Receiver: 5.1-channel AV receiver HT-398 with 155 W per channel (6 Ohm, 1kHz, 10% THD, 1 channel-controlled), dimmable display on the front panel, FM/AM tuner with 40 presets and snooze function
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Bestseller No. 6
Yamaha MusicCast RN402D Network Receiver with Airplay, Bluetooth and DAB - Black
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Marantz NR1200 Stereo Receiver, HiFi Amplifer for Home Cinema, 5 HDMI Inputs & 1 Output, Bluetooth, WiFi, AirPlay 2, Google Assistant/Siri/Alexa Compatible, HEOS, Music Streaming - Black
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YAMAHA Elektronik Europa GmbH RS202DBL Stereo Receiver DAB Black
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SaleBestseller No. 10
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