CE Pro talked with Craig Eggers, Director, Content Creation and Playback, Home Theater, Dolby Laboratories, to learn more about Dolby Atmos.
Q. Can you explain the origins of Dolby Atmos?
A. Dolby Atmos was developed as a rethinking of the cinematic experience. Before, we thought of channels and aggregating that sound into channels. It became apparent that positioning sound into channels was confining. This took us to object-based audio; in an Atmos-based environment, it is not mixed to channels, the sounds are independent objects in space defined by metadata.
We also created new content creation tools. [Mixing engineers] with a joystick type of device can move sounds, and they can define those sounds with metadata to accurately place them. We worked hard with the Hollywood content community for these tools. The first Atmos movie was Brave, which debuted two years ago in June.
Q. Is the consumer version of Atmos any different than the commercial version?
A. In the cinema, there will be larger screens and many more speakers, but in the home we can create an Atmos experience with as little as seven speakers and as many as 34. That would consist of 24-listener level and 10 overhead speakers. You have to tell the A/V receiver how many speakers you have, where they are located and what type — are they small, do they need bass management? What type of elevation speakers — are they overhead or Dolby modules or speakers? Then, in combination with a feedback loop of EQ, all that info is taken by the rendering system and adapted and scaled specific to that room/home.
Q. What does it take for dealers to set up an Atmos-compliant home theater?
A. Entry-level Atmos would be a traditional 5.1 at listener level and two overhead speakers (5.1.2) taken to the next level, 5.1.4 with four enabled speakers or four overhead speakers. You will see larger configurations too, but you will see a lot of 5.1.2 or 7.1.4 in these initial systems. Installers will need an A/V receiver or preamplifier/processor that is Atmos enabled. Dealers will have to install Dolby Atmos speakers and/or modules, and the ceiling needs to be reflective. If installers are using in-ceiling speakers they should be full range and capable of the same power capabilities as the main speakers. The in-ceiling speakers also need wide dispersion capabilities.
Q. Why does Dolby think consumers will embrace systems that require a larger investment in hardware and maybe more importantly, more space within the home?
A. Installer reaction to Atmos has been incredible. Installers say they can go into clients’ homes with some modules and transform their experience, and yes, it will involve new hardware, and choices of what type of speakers you bring into the home.
The experience you get from Atmos is stunning — as stunning as the first time you heard surround years ago. It is a technology that needs to be experienced. We as an industry have lost the art of the demo. We need to get back to that, whether it’s high-resolution audio, surround sound or Dolby Atmos. You aren’t going to sell Atmos if the receiver sits on a shelf … Dolby Atmos is a technology that needs to be experienced. Given the state of the business, people have said Atmos is the shot in the arm to help sales.
We’ve come up with a solution that allows us to use the same 5.1 or 7.1 layout and add this experience. We believe this experience will ultimately be transferable to systems smaller than traditional home theater systems.
Q. How is Dolby supporting dealers?
A. At CEDIA we released a 34-page guide on how to install Atmos. We have a web address to a Box account that has a wealth of resources — white papers, install guides, graphics, advertising artwork and training. We created a lot of information to help teach the technology, including a demo disc. We are also creating awareness and a support base with enthusiasts.