back to article Dolby Atmos is coming home and it sounds amazing

Can Dolby Atmos save the beleaguered home cinema business? With sales of AV receivers tanking, makers of multichannel home theatre receivers are banking on the latest in surround sound technology to rekindle interest. Pioneer LaserDisc advertisement Remember the days when two speakers would keep movie buffs happy in the home …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gonna have to give a pass on this at least for now. No doubt the special reflective speakers will cost a load of shiny, not to mention the new receiver that will probably cost a mint.

    But it does pique my curiosity as to how this new audio stuff will translate to more portable areas.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Dont' marketing people check their names?

      Oric Atmos - decent computer released too late to save a company that was already too late to the market.

      Certainly not a name to recycle

      1. dogged

        Re: Dont' marketing people check their names?

        Comment posted in response to first comment purely for visibility == downvote.

    2. JeffyPoooh

      Have we achieved 'Crossover' yet?

      Where the Multichannel Audio data rate (Mbps) actually, literally, exceeds the Video data rate (Mbps).

    3. NoneSuch Silver badge

      Whatever the system.

      I'll want to turn it up and the wife will want me to turn it down.

      1. DF118

        @NoneSuch Re: Whatever the system.

        I count myself lucky to have somehow miraculously ended up with an SO whose first question about any film is: "Does it have lasers and aliens? If not, I'm not watching it." and who was the first to venture the notion that we maybe need a bigger sub for movies. And no, she's not a dude.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: @NoneSuch Whatever the system.

          "....And no, she's not a dude."

          Well not since the op anyway...

      2. dogged

        Re: Whatever the system.

        It's the exact reverse of the central heating!

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As our ears are basically 2 small holes, why can't all this snake oil be emulated by 2 speakers to the left and right of us and suitable processing?

      1. Charles 9

        Despite them being two small holes, there's actually quite a bit of acoustics that goes into your ear. Consider the vibration of your skull as well as the reflections of sound waves down the ear canal. Ever considered how we're able to aurally perceive that something is behind us rather than in front of us, given the two sources can be an equal distance to the ears? Plus, as the article notes, we can also figure out if the sound is above us.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Despite them being two small holes"

          Yes, fully aware of all that, but at the end of the day it's sounds waves going into a small hole. All of the things you mention should be able to be emulated from single left and right sources.

        2. JDX Gold badge

          re:we're able to aurally perceive that something is behind us rather than in front

          Can we actually do this given no other contextual information?

      2. jib

        It Can

        It can,

        but I guess most people don't wand to have to wear headphones when they are watching their home theatre.

        The Binaural barber shop demo makes my neck tickle when he is using the clippers, weird.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      3D for your ears

      because 3D for your eyes is such a roaring success right now.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Er ...

    one of the problems with large-area surround sound (e.g. a cinema) is that there is a helluva a differential between the extremes of the listener envelope ... maybe tens of metres.

    Cinema sounds is fundamentally a different challenge to home audio.

  3. Elmer Phud


    I'm going to have to pass on this one as well.

    Where would I put the crap that lives on top of the speakers?

    1. DiViDeD

      Re: Pass

      "Where would I put the crap that lives on top of the speakers?"

      Oh I am so glad I'm not the only one. My woman sees a horizontal surface and immediately thinks "Hmm, I know what would look nice on there". Me being a bit of a vinyl junkie, this means I have to find a home for the lamp/ candle holder/ stuffed warthog she's decided to adorn my turntable with before I can use it. Same goes for me 'classic' (read: old) Naim CD32. Speakers are adorned with flowers, digital photo frames, amusing terracotta stuff - anything that will rattle nicely when they're running.

      Best so far was the active sub with the bowl of scented floating candles that exploded during a showing of 'The Dish' causing smoke fuelled electronic merriment for all. After that incident she vowed never to put anything on top of a device with a hinged lid or that plugged into something else.

      And true to her word, she didn't. At least, not for the 10 minutes it took her to find another bowl to put the floating candles into.

      I so hope she never starts reading the Reg.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Wonderful. Brilliant. Absolutely fabulous.

    So we've gone from mono, to 2.0, to 2.1, to 5.1, and now 10.1

    I'm glad that the six guys who get a hard-on for this kind of thing will be able to blow their wads (of money) on corresponding equipment.

    Meanwhile, could we finally get better stereo speakers on our bloody flatscreen HD TV sets ?

    Don't bother - I'll just keep the TV hooked up to my 2.0 stereo.

    And if you think I'm going to spend a car's worth of cash to hear Dances With Stars on 22.3 Atmos Ultima Freak sound, I've got a bridge to sell you.

    1. Don Dumb

      Re: Wonderful. Brilliant. Absolutely fabulous.

      @Pascal Monett - "So we've gone from mono, to 2.0, to 2.1, to 5.1, and now 10.1"

      Yeah, I read from the article that -

      "Most consumers want fewer speakers in their lounge, not more."

      And yet, the solution is - more speakers!

      I'd be more happy if the makers of AVRs fixed the faults in delivering current technologies rather than throwing more badges on the box.

      1. wankeler

        Re: Wonderful. Brilliant. Absolutely fabulous.

        Had decent 5.1 for a while.

        Front two - sure, great for stereo too.

        Centre - yup, and serious quality as most of the dialogue comes from there.

        Sub - sure, bit of LF great for action

        Rear 2 - wouldn't bother again. Hardly ever find material that makes effective use of them.

        1. DiViDeD

          Re: Wonderful. Brilliant. Absolutely fabulous.

          "Rear 2 - wouldn't bother again. Hardly ever find material that makes effective use of them"

          Might I respectfully guide you in the direction of Peter Gabriel's Secret World BD, with special attention to 'Shaking the Tree'?

          Actually, another one, which surprised me greatly, is Antiques Road Show, where you can often hear people having an unrelated discussion behind you.

          1. Cynic_999

            Re: Wonderful. Brilliant. Absolutely fabulous.

            Sure, I've experienced one or two movies that had brilliant surround sound, and for those I am pleased I installed 5.1 But they are very few and far between. Most BlueRay disks that boast surround sound use the rear two speakers for a minute or so during the opening titles (or even only for the menu background music) and you never hear a peep from them again.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Wonderful. Brilliant. Absolutely fabulous.

      I'll just keep the TV hooked up to my 2.0 stereo.

      I just use the speakers that are built into the TV. As far as I'm concerned, audio exists so my shows can have dialogue without subtitles. (Though I'm pretty happy with subtitles, too.) I wouldn't take one of these things for free - for me, it's not worth the time spent setting it up.

      My wife's deaf in one ear, so she has no interest in fancy audio either.

      (And as for the cinema experience - the last time I went to the cinema, the audio experience was LOUD LOUD LOUD idiot talking on cellphone LOUD LOUD. And that was for something mostly explosion-free. It's bad enough at home, trying to watch stuff where dialogue is mixed too low while SFX and BGM are too loud, but at least there I control the overall volume.)

      Kids, lawn, etc.

    3. asdf

      Re: Wonderful. Brilliant. Absolutely fabulous.

      why are my posts not showing up?

  5. Arnold Lieberman

    About time

    For some time I've thought it strange that we are forced to take the mix that a sound engineer deems appropriate. With the flexibility of file formats it should be possible to deliver sounds as discrete lumps, using as many voices as necessary and combined with metadata to describe where that sound emanates from.

    If you've got the master tapes then pretty much any recording could be re-encoded accordingly.

    Imagine listening to a pop group, but you'd rather Ringo sounded like he was playing in the toilet down the hall - entirely possible if each master mix channel was delivered separately. Want to auto-tune Paul's latest efforts? No problem. Fancy Debbie H on your lap? Sorry, I digress too much...

    As soon as XBMC can decode Atmos I'm in (as long as I can hide the extra speakers behind the sofa).

    1. myhandler

      Re: About time

      Re Arnold L's comment > For some time I've thought it strange that we are forced to take the mix that a sound engineer deems appropriate.

      You really think anyone apart from a music nerd is going to bother?

      I spend a lot of time messing around in audio mixing DAWs, as an amateur - to do it just for the hell of it will not catch on.

      1. Arnold Lieberman

        Re: About time

        Of course not!

        My missus is happy to watch just about anything with sound from the TV speakers but also enjoys the home cinema at full blast.

        My in-laws never clean their cars but like it when I do (as payment for borrowing them).

        My cat doesn't use quilted toilet paper.

        However, with this it is possible for manufacturers to set up presets that would work best for the device in question rather than one mix fits all. Just as dynamic range compression allows people to use "night time" mode without worrying about what it does to how it works, devices could remove individual singers from the mix or maybe someone learning an instrument could replace the bass player in their favourite group. Think of the benefits of listening to a 1D song without any of the singers, or instruments...

    2. Tom 35

      Re: About time

      "As soon as XBMC can decode Atmos I'm in (as long as I can hide the extra speakers behind the sofa)."

      I expect they will add some stupid DRM to make your life difficult.

  6. Charles Augustus Milverton

    Were any Ealing comedies, possibly the last decent films ever made, ever recorded with surround sound ? I don't think so. Back to mono !!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Were any Ealing comedies, possibly the last decent films ever made, ever recorded with surround sound? "

      In order to satisfy current tastes - old black and white films get processed to look as if they were originally shot in colour. No doubt sound will get reprocessed to multiple channels too - if it hasn't been done already.

      Just hope no one thinks that "IF..." should be in colour all the way through - although 7.1.4 sound might have a dramatic effect on the final scene.

      1. Tom 35

        Yes it's been done

        "No doubt sound will get reprocessed to multiple channels too - if it hasn't been done already."

        Yes it's been done. Yes it's been done to things that really don't need it. Like a DVD of old 40-50s cartoons with 5.1 sound.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm am a minimalist

    I only got a stereo system. But it's high end, Krell and Musical Fidelity and stuff.

  8. tangerine Sedge

    I dont want all this crap....

    Just allow me to turn up the volume of the dialogue without turning up the background music.

    1. Duffy Moon

      Re: I dont want all this crap....

      You can - dialogue is mostly in the centre channel so you can boost the level.

      I wonder if a lot of recent complaints about the incidental music drowning out the dialogue on TV shows are due to surround mixes being mixed down to stereo.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I dont want all this crap....

        I wonder if a lot of recent complaints about the incidental music drowning out the dialogue on TV shows are due to surround mixes being mixed down to stereo.

        They're due to idiot sound engineers and directors. The technical details don't matter.

    2. Cynic_999

      Re: I dont want all this crap....

      The centre speaker on a surround sound stream usually has dialogue only (or at least at a much increased level), and so if you can adjust the volume of your centre channel separately you will usually be able to achieve that.

    3. wdmot

      Re: I dont want all this crap....

      Not just the background music but all the stinkin' explosions and other loud noises in movies these days. I live in a flat and have neighbours of whom I'm respectful. Generally I have to turn on subtitles so that I can tell what's being said without the whole thing being too loud.

  9. James 51

    I bought a surround sound system for my 360. The wires round the room were fine but just turning it on made the floor in the room above vibrate keeping she who must get her sleep awake. Now, with a not so little one running around I'd need something wireless signals and preferably wireless charing as well that won't cost more than the car.

  10. Frankee Llonnygog

    This will be great for listening to classical music

    Particularly those performances where the cellist is perched on a step-ladder and the violinist hangs upside down from a trapeze

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This will be great for listening to classical music

      Choirs in cathedrals will generate quite a lot of reflections from the ceilings. Probably needs no more than about 50 chorister objects plus the organist. The Atmos effect could be quite realistic.

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Re: This will be great for listening to classical music

        So 50 mics & 50 recording channels just for the choristers, plus a few more for ambience. Alternatively, a single Ambisonic mic and four channels for recording

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This will be great for listening to classical music

      "Particularly those performances where the cellist is perched on a step-ladder and the violinist hangs upside down from a trapeze"

      I saw that film.

      Don't remember them having musical instruments though....

  11. chivo243 Silver badge

    Got a wad of cash

    check out Kalkmann Sound systems. If you have to ask, you can't afford it...

  12. JDX Gold badge

    Interesting but...

    I'd prefer a system which lets me hear the dialogue comfortably without being worried about the neighbours complaining every time some music or action sequence happens. Even with a sound-bar with "clear-vox" setting it's rather annoying. I actually prefer watching TV on the iPad with a set of headphones these days!

  13. Brenda McViking

    I've seen a couple of films with Atmos

    in the cinema, that is, and I must admit I was impressed - though there is a lot more that can be done from the filmakers side with setting up the soundstage - they'll learn though, in the same way they learnt that changing the focal point of the scenes too much in 3D gave everyone a massive headache.

    Though naturally, the ticket office more than made up for the positives by slapping a £10.50 charge for the privilege of seing the film whilst being able to hear overhead (and that was with student discount!)

    That's a ticket price increaseof 244% over 5 years, and people wonder why piracy is so rampant...

    1. Downside
      Thumb Up

      Re: I've seen a couple of films with Atmos

      Piracy is rampant because the world of full of ppl who will happily grab stuff for free if they can, even if it means watching a movie with the same quality as an inflight TV system

      Atom however, looks interesting. My Onkyo must be ooo 4 years old now, it wouldn't break me to replace it. But here's a thing.. the speakers I use are well over (and I mean WELL over) 20 years old. Missons and Solids. Who needs to replace speakers when you're happy with them? Adding a couple of Atmos speakers is only 130 a bit of wire. Bargain

      Bring on the movies and bring on the XBOX games supporting it.

      1. Wilseus

        Re: I've seen a couple of films with Atmos

        "My Onkyo must be ooo 4 years old now, it wouldn't break me to replace it. But here's a thing.. the speakers I use are well over (and I mean WELL over) 20 years old."

        Same here, except mine's a Yamaha. I'm not usually into these new gimmicks, 3D for example doesn't interest me at all, but I'm going to be watching Dolby Atmos with interest. It'll not be expensive, you'll be seeing it in entry level amps eventually.

  14. Brad Ackerman

    A Sontaran-developed sound system

    What could possibly go wrong with that? I hope someone has Prof. Quatermass on speed-dial.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well its good timing for 4k. Now a 4k blueray player + built in Atmos should be a sweet combination.

    This tech should be possible to add into a second high mount soundbar on shelf above the tv.

    Along with a wireless rear soundbar installed behind the rear sofa powered by a flat-flex cord running 4 speakers.

    Sonos will probably make something that ticks those boxes for me.

  16. John 104

    Don't fall for it

    In time, everyone will have an Atmos in their home. Then, one day all of the sets will turn on and start spewing white smoke, choking everyone to death. Yeah, good plan.

  17. Camilla Smythe

    Welcome to the Matmos

    Jane will come for you in full 3D sound via the orgasmotron. People with artex ceilings need not apply.

    For sale via e-bay. Nascent Alien. Life insurance not included. No returns. Starting bid 99p, no reserve. Free local collection. Carefully packaged in dog.

    Server not found 512K error.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    atmos shmatmos

    is it gonna play my mp3s in stereo? Probably not!

  19. psychonaut

    ive wondered why....

    so the problem is this:

    you dont know what the environment is that the actual sound stage is installed in. it could be a cinema, it could be a tiny front room. most of the people who buy this kit are going to have something smaller than a cinema, with maybe max 5 people sat next to each other. i grant you it will be different for a cinema, but hey, if i was worried about cinema sound i would actually go there. i dont want to go to a cinema for avariety of reasons, mainly to do with other people, overpriced food and for crying out loud, i bought a sound system at home for this very reason.

    for reproduction of the sound in any given environment, its going to depend on a few things.

    1) the original intended levels of left right, front back etc. none of which can be messed about with once its encoded.

    2) more importantly, the sonic environment in which the speakers sit.

    so why, why, doesnt the surround sound system have a mic or a number of mics (cheap ones) that can be put where you actually sit. then you can have the surround sound system play a known set of sounds through the speakers of the sound system as it is set up up in the target environment. it could then figure out automatically what the best balance is for your sonic environment where you actually sit with your actual kit. it would only have to do this when you originally set it up, or when you change your setup.

    im not pretending to have the skills to code this, but surely it would make for a better experience? why would you need active speakers or any of that nonsense? your kit does what it does. your walls and ceiling do what they do. you sit where you sit. by playing the known tones or sounds or whatever as a "sonic test card" it could figure it out and adjust to the best configuration.

    just a thought.

    1. stucs201

      Re: ive wondered why....

      Er, modern AV receivers DO come with a mic and a test tone to set-up relative levels and timings to adjust for the speaker-listener distance. At least my Yamaha RX-S600 did (which isn't exactly a specialized high-end system).

    2. Shell

      Re: ive wondered why....

      My 7 year old Sony 6:1 amp has exactly that. A mic with a 10m cable that you sit at your feet, and put the amp into setup mode. It then attempts to deafen you with white noise.

    3. fruitoftheloon

      Re: ive wondered why....


      My >5 yr old onkyo 7.1 receiver came with a calibration mic that you put on top of a camera tripod, then move around the room as per the on-screen instructions.

      It works very well indeed!

      1. psychonaut

        Re: ive wondered why....

        oh, thats me told then!!

        gues my second hand bargain off of ebay was too old for this...


        shit... i just downloaded the user manual for my receiver and it does it!! all the years ive had it and didnt know!! what a giant twat!

        1. Kriilin

          Re: ive wondered why....

          Look on the bright side: Calibrate your system and it will feel like you just upgraded without costing you a thing!

          1. psychonaut

            Re: ive wondered why....

            yup, fab!

            ive just got to get the mic now...someone in china has one apparantly....looks like i'll have to wait 3 weeks to find out!

            thanks for the heads up on this!!

      2. JeffyPoooh

        Re: ive wondered why....

        FotL: "...move around the room as per..."

        Old subwoofer positioning trick. Put the subwoofer where you'd like to sit, then wander around until you find a bass hotspot. Then swap.

    4. Cynic_999

      Re: ive wondered why....

      My surround system did not come with a mic or way to change the settings apart from usual user volume controls, but my PC sound card driver setup allowed me to plug in a microphone, place it at the listening position and input the relative distance of each speaker, after which the setup application played tones of various frequencies through each of my speakers in turn and set up the levels and frequency equalisation of the sound card's driver accordingly. It even reports if a speaker is wired with the wrong phase so you can swap the wires (or ask the application to swap the phase instead). I play almost all films & music via my PC, so it worked a treat.

  20. Vector

    " when rain falls, all your senses tell you you’re in for a soaking"

    Simmer down there, Skippy. Since this is an audio system, I believe that's just your ears (and possibly your butt) talking to you. Other senses need not apply.

  21. dan1980

    3D for the ears? Really?

    As a note to the author - if you mention that a technology has been described as "3D for your ears" and then go from there to talk about hopes that it will reinvigorate the A/V receiver/speaker market, perhaps it's worthwhile acknowledging just how successful '3D for your eyes' was in reinvigorating the flat-screen TV market . . .

    One of the issues is that the advent of cheap, 'good enough' home theatre equipment and the quality of DVDs meant that more people just stayed in to watch movies.

    In order to get more tickets sold for the cinema screenings, movie studios have backed technologies like super screens and 3D and ultra-mega surround. The idea, presumably, is that the cinema becomes an experience that can't be easily replicated in the home.

    But this is a bit of a problem for the home theatre market because - almost by design - it's difficult and/or expensive to replicate these things at home. With more of us living in apartments and plenty renting, setting up these systems can be more trouble that they're worth when you consider space and noise restrictions.

    Much of the quality that exists in higher-priced setups can only really be appreciated at decent volume and, in many cases, with a suitable room configuration and orientation. Talking about 'pin point' precision for gun fire is kid of moot if you have your speakers crammed at odd angles and distances due to a sub-optimal room. Likewise talk of 'superb dynamics' pre-supposes that one has the system up loud enough for the differences to be appreciated.

    In the end, the systems of a few years ago are still 'good enough' for the vast majority of users out there so I wouldn't expect this new technology - interesting though it seems on paper - to kick start any rush of people upgrading their receivers and speakers so they can hear more realistically-positioned rain.

    1. FutureShock999

      Re: 3D for the ears? Really?

      I think the benefit of Atmos is that it CAN be of use in smaller spaces, as it allows the processor to intelligently model the room and it's dimensions in computing the channel split assignments. I have heard very convincing 5.1 in smaller spaces, even on cheap Logitech 5.1 gaming sound systems (not as good as my lounge set-up that cost a mint, but pretty good for the space).

      I have recently bought a new Arcam, and am so happy with it that I cannot bring myself to replace it anytime soon - mainly because it's performance on music was critical in my decision to spend that much. I am fairly certain that until a musically oriented company like Arcam or Rotel brings out an Atmos-enabled receiver they will probably not be very good for dual-use movie/music set-ups (Denon / Marantz might be acceptable in their higher-end units, we will see).

  22. veti Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Focusing on the positive

    The good news here is, finally at least some of these idiots have given up on the idiotic quest to sell ever more pixels and stupider screen shapes.

    So maybe those of us who don't feel compelled to follow every fad, can see a bit of stability in our TVs for a decade or two, and upgrade in our own time rather than driven by the annoying incompatibility of this or that.

  23. RAMChYLD

    And I just bought a 5.1 soundbar :/

    With detachable wireless surround speakers and subwoofer :/

    But I don't have the space for an Atmos setup anyway, so all is well.

  24. jzlondon

    Films are telling a story. Past a certain point, the fidelity of reproduction is unimportant - it's the story that matters.

    1. dan1980



      Other times the story is not really the main point, however, and the action is more important. Anyone who watches Michael Bay films might suggest that the size of the explosions are more important (at least to the director) than the quality of the dialogue. Perhaps you consider those inferior movies but they don't half earn well at the box office!

      Of course sometimes stories can be told with the visuals or the sound as much as what is said or acted. A book must tell you that something creaked or that a gunshot was heard in the distance but a movie need only present the noise. The more descriptive that noise is, the better it tells the story, and the more you can tell a story by cinematography and sound design, the less explicit or expositional your characters have to be.

      But I do agree with the general point.

  25. Toltec

    She might not notice a few extra wires...

    I've already got a 7.1 set up and my Denon 3802 is 12+ years old, all I need to do is swap four speakers and add some extra cables. Perhaps if I offer to re-decorate the room at the same time?

    All I need to do now is fire up the ManMaths calculator.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But wait ... my speakers already point upward

  27. Marcus Aurelius
    Paris Hilton

    Must invest some more Monster Cable shares

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Video isn't surround, why audio?

    I had a 5.1 system years ago, and was very pleased with myself.

    After a while it occurred to me that surround sound did more to take me out of the viewing experience rather than immerse me in it. Every time sound came out of the rear speakers I would think, "hey, neat, surround sound, I'm so immersed right now" which, if you think about it, is actually the opposite of being immersed.

    It really makes very little sense to be looking at a rectangle of video in front of you and to have sounds associated with that video coming at you from behind.

    I've since replaced my whole complicated, ugly 5.1 setup with a sound bar and couldn't be happier with the decision.

  29. 2Fat2Bald


    I have a vaulted ceiling in my lounge. Sorry, Sony.

    Not too fussed, TBH. Having stuff whirring overhead is okay. But i'll still be viewing the action through a relatively small window (the television). I'm not convinced this will add to the emersive effect significantly whilst that remains the case.

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