Short Guide to Dolby Atmos at Home

Short Guide to Dolby Atmos at Home

What is Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos, until a few years ago, was known for being one of the most recognised technologies in cinemas. It was the only place you could experience that genuinely magnificent sound, the type of sound that vibrates through your very being and fully immerses you in a movie. But Dolby’s Atmos iconic surround sound technology has quickly transitioned to home cinema and can now be enjoyed by everyone, at home.

In Dolby’s own words, Atmos is: “…the most significant development in cinema audio since surround sound.” And the company is not wrong.

Originally developed in 2012, Atmos is a surround sound technology with channels that send sound from overhead. This surpasses the current 5.1 and 7.1 set-ups and allows sound to really come alive, enveloping you in a ‘dome of sound’ and giving you a magnificent 3D audio experience.

This immersive, 360-degree audio experience has been made possible through incredible advancements in acoustic technology and developments in sound editing software, producing ‘object-based’ sound that places and moves audio around to bring the sound alive from every direction, including from above. This is a mighty achievement and allows for outstanding clarity, depth and detail, not to mention a remarkable experience for you, the audience.

How does Dolby Atmos Work?

The more traditional surround sound formats such as Dolby Digital deliver sound through a 5.1 or a 7.1 channel set-up. The ‘5′ set-up consists of a left front, right front and centre speaker plus left and right surround sound speakers, and the ‘point 1’ refers to the subwoofer. The ‘7’ set-up is the same except for two extra speakers, usually positioned behind you. When a soundtrack is produced, different sounds are assigned to different speakers, creating the ‘surround sound’ effect. Typically, the centre channel is used for dialogue, dramatic music and sounds are to the front left and right channels and the ambient sounds are usually mixed between the left and right surround channels. All the low frequency effects are sent to the subwoofer. 

Does this all sound familiar? Of course it does, and this set-up does indeed make for stunning surround sound, but Dolby Atmos goes further with an even greater sound achieved by the addition of overhead or elevated speakers to your set-up.

Because sounds are encoded as ‘objects’, rather than sending an audio track to a specific channel, for example, a front left or front right speaker, sound designers can assign an audio track to a specific location. This includes assigning a sound to ‘overhead.’ This gives sound designers huge flexibility with the audio, and by adding another audio source, the sound becomes three dimensional, totally immersing and surrounding you with the highest audio quality possible. 

How to Set up Dolby Atmos at Home

It’s unlikely that you will have the space to accommodate in your home, the same number of speakers most cinemas use for their Dolby Atmos sound! This is typically up to 400 speakers in the most modern of venues. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create a similarly immersive experience with the correct equipment.

As with your traditional surround sound system, the basic set-up for Dolby Atmos is your starting point. From there you can add at least two overhead/elevation speakers making the system a 5.1.2 system.

Crucially, you will need a Dolby Atmos receiver to recognise the sound sent to your surround speakers. To this end, you must ensure your AV receiver offers Dolby Atmos. The receiver is a critical part of your home entertainment system. Hence, you must have a receiver that can efficiently power your speakers and decode a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

To efficiently bring Dolby Atmos cinema sound into your home, just add two or four ceiling speakers to your system. A second option is to install add-on speaker modules on top of your existing bookshelf or floor standing speakers. Alternatively, consider the purchase of a purpose-built Atmos Speaker System.

When a Dolby Atmos system is installed, each speaker has its own discrete feed, enabling new front, surround and ceiling-mounted height channels. The room thereby is calibrated, which allows sound mixers to precisely ‘place’ sounds and voices at exact points in the sound field rather than just to specific channels.

This entertainment system set-up, when used to play a pure Dolby Atmos mix, allows you to hear the sound as it was always intended, so your source material must be encoded in Dolby Atmos technology. You are then guaranteed the best, most immersive sound and a truly unforgettable listening experience at home.

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