With the launch of tvOS 12, Dolby Atmos surround sound format support finally comes to Apple TV 4K. Apple’s streaming solution, released last year with Dolby Vision HDR video format support right out of the box, but in a hectic array of streaming devices, set-top devices, and competing formats, it can not claim praise rights as a solution for customers who are looking for a way to enjoy their favorite movies and TV shows with an absolute cutting edge in your home presentation. As of today, this has changed.
While Atmos support is a welcome addition to Apple TV, it may still be difficult for some customers to understand why they need to care about any given surround sound option in the first place. In the case of Dolby Atmos, which debuted for the first time in theaters in 2012, this is even more true than usual. The format only began to enter the home entertainment space four years ago, and consumers may not have had the opportunity to experience it for themselves. But the number of ways Atmos can be tested at home is growing rapidly, and adding of the format to Apple TV will increase this momentum, and at the same time, the entertainment industry will focus more on Atmos as its final choice format. Why does this matter? Let’s get to it
WHAT IS DOLBY ATMOS?
Like most Dolby technologies, Atmos started working in cinemas. Historically, the surround sound in the cinema used a fixed number of audio channels. For example, 5.1 systems use left, right and center channels along the front of the theater, as well as two rear surround channels and a low-frequency effects channel (“.1” in 5.1). New formats, such as Dolby Surround 7.1, which the company made its debut with Toy Story 3, add additional channels for the left and right audience. There are more than enough to cover the listeners in audio, but they lack a certain precision: no matter how many speakers in the theater, sound designers and mixers can only use a certain number of preset channels.
On the other hand, Dolby Atmos completely eliminates the concept of fixed channels. Instead, it is built around the concept of sound “objects”. Each sound is a discrete object that mixers and sound engineers can place anywhere in the theater, including above an audience, through ceiling-mounted speakers.
Later, when the film is screened, Atmos then displays this combination with the speakers in this room to recreate the original intentions of the film-makers. This allows you to achieve a certain accuracy and creative flexibility, which was previously impossible. The system is also designed to be much more scalable in different theater sizes. In the 7.1 mix, the Directors are only working with seven major channels of audio. However, Atmos can support up to 64 discrete speakers in the theater, each of which can serve as its unique place for sound.
The result is a sonic experience that actually delivers on the heavily hyped term “immersive.” Rain can sound like it’s falling off overhead. When a car approaches the camera, the sound can actually match that movement from the front of the theater to the back. And a larger soundstage allows sound engineers to create richer, denser, more naturalistic environments than ever before.
THE SOUND GETS REAL EMOTIONAL BECAUSE YOU HANDLE THE CHARACTERS AND YOU MOVE WITH THEM:
“Dolby Atmos and these exciting sound systems work brilliantly when you can move things around the room and you can really hear them,” says supervising sound editor Glenn Freemantle about his Oscar-winning work in Gravity. “And also, Atmos creates this smooth transition around [the theater] and from above. For example, when George is coming and he’s looking at the stars. He looks at the Ground, and the voice is crunchy, and they twist right and come back on the other side. But it is seamless. So the sound becomes really emotional because you connect with the characters and you move with them.”
Since the release of the format, Atmos theatrical releases have steadily become more common, especially in films with a large budget, where the creators hope for a bright theatrical experience. Such blockbusters as “The Avengers”: “Endless war”, “Star wars: the last Jedi” and “Blade Runner 2049”, used format, but “Atmos” was also used on small films such as The Boy and 10 Cloverfield Lane, as technology became increasingly ubiquitous. Its rapid growth was especially successful cooperation Dolby Cinema theater AMC. As a result, theaters combine Atmos with Dolby Vision HDR laser projection for one of the best movies available.
THE ATMOS ECOSYSTEM PLAY
Dolby Atmos started out as a cinematic innovation, but like other surround sound formats, it also moved to home as well. At the premium end of the spectrum full-fledged multi-channel home theater installations, complete with ceiling-mounted speakers. But such systems are expensive and inaccessible to most consumers, so Dolby has also worked with equipment manufacturers to introduce alternatives to the market.
Standalone speakers and some soundbar packages from companies like Vizio and Samsung are trying to mimic the full Atmos experience with pre-shooting speakers: basically, speakers that bounce off the ceiling to create the illusion of sound pouring from above. The results may vary depending on the geography of the room used, but it is a viable workaround for those who want to get out of current surround sound systems. Some TVs from manufacturers like LG also offer a “virtualized” version of Atmos, using their own internal speakers, although at this point you are undoubtedly quite far from the basic concept.
Dolby tried to make sure that there are as many hardware options as possible to allow clients to use Atmos. But the speakers don’t matter if consumers don’t have a device that can actually spit out Atmos audio in the first place — that’s where tvOS 12 comes in.
Although Blu-rays was the logical destination for Dolby Atmos releases, streaming services are becoming increasingly aggressive followers of the format. Netflix and Vudu offer some content in the format, and Amazon Prime recently jumped into Atmos fray with Tom Clancy’s new Jack Ryan series. But the streaming service can be as good as the device it runs on, and like most entertainment venues, efforts to optimize audio depending on the situation of mixing and matching between services, devices, and content capabilities.
Roku Ultra supports Atmos and the high dynamic range HDR10 format, but not Dolby Vision HDR. Same is with Amazon Fire TV and Nvidia Shield. Chromecast Ultra supports all three formats but requires users to cast to the device rather than work on their own. With tvOS 12, however, Apple TV 4K will become an Uber device many home theater enthusiasts have been waiting for: supports Dolby Atmos Dolby vision, and HDR10 with a host of services from the gate, including iTunes, Netflix, and voodoo.
Now, this is a standalone streaming box that could, according to the chief editor of the Verge Nilay Patel, “to illuminate all of the lights” on premium AVR. And with Apple regularly updating previous iTunes purchases with the latest, highest resolution option possible, It’s a device that will give many customers a collection of Atmos-enabled movies if they just install a software update.
THE ATMOS ECOSYSTEM PLAY:
Most of the Atmos material comes from theatrical releases that have been mixed in a format, and the final mixes made for cinemas are mostly transmitted for home use.
” The difference between a theatrical atmosphere and a home entertainment atmos is just a resolution. “
King has a diverse career in film and television. Working on everything from Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” film to TV shows such as Altered Carbon and his Emmy-nominated work on Westworld. “Theater Atmos is more scalable, that is, a theater, depending on the budget they have to set up Atmos, they will install more speakers in the cloud space and around the room.”Atmos home installations, on the other hand, simply use four ceiling speakers configured as a traditional 5.1 or 7.1 setup. “The resolution isn’t as much as theatrical, but the print masters we create for Atmos theater [releases] make downmix for home entertainment.”
Many TV viewers will probably be just fine with watching traditional stereo sound. But as with a lot of format adoption, momentum is half the battle. As of today, Dolby Atmos is one step closer to hitting stride for mainstream consumers.