This year, we’ve seen: a lot of new AV goodies, many with the sole purpose of adding: 3D-style: sound into your home theater setup. This has been the year of Dolby Atmos.
Dolby Atmos is an “object-based” audio format. So instead of assigning audio to specific channels (left, right, etc.) in your: system, Dolby Atmos actually attaches sound to objects on-screen. This truly puts you in the middle of the action, because it can deliver sound from every angle, including above.
We’ve talked about the technology at length, but how many of you have actually made the leap? Recently, I did—and it’s awesome. However, like every new technology, there are ups and downs. Let’s take a peek at the pros and cons of Dolby Atmos.
1. There are affordable equipment options. To experience Dolby Atmos, you will need a new receiver (see “The Cons” below). Of course, there are plenty of models out there that costs hundreds and even thousands of dollars. This year, we saw more receiver options with Dolby Atmos than ever before—and a few them are actually affordable. See our article on “3 Dolby Atmos Receivers for Under $500” for a few inexpensive options.
2. There’s content. Last fall, Dolby Atmos was still sort of new for home use. By the end of 2014, there were only a handful of Blu-ray releases that supported the technology, and the “best” selections were Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Expendables 3.
Currently, there are 24 Blu-rays available with a Dolby Atmos track, and some of them are really good. Some are brand new releases and some are re-releases. There are blockbusters, indie flicks, and even one TV show. (Oh, Game of Thrones sounds so good!) More are on the way, too.
3. Some of your equipment will work with Dolby Atmos. The bare minimum for Dolby Atmos is a 5.1.2 system. This means you have five speakers around the room, one subwoofer, and two height speakers. If you currently have a 7.1 system, you can just take two of those surround speakers and mount them to the ceiling. Of course, you could add two (or four!) more. Dolby recommends at least four height speakers for the best result, and any speakers will do.
Even better, you won’t need a special Blu-ray player, since all current players support Dolby Atmos. Also worth noting is that all of your HDMI cables will work with Dolby Atmos as well.
4. It’s awesome. Before making the leap to Dolby Atmos, I wondered what the big deal was. I mean, can’t you just attach speakers to the ceiling and get the same effect? Um, no. Sure, you can have sound raining down from above, but how it’s encoded really creates a different experience. Instead of those helicopters shaking every speaker, you can actually hear (and feel) it go from one end of the room to the other. It’s absolutely the most realistic sound experience to date.
1. Today’s home theater equipment doesn’t support all of those speakers—yet. According to Brett Crockett, Dolby’s senior director of sound research, “If you have the space and budget, you can build a Dolby Atmos system with as many as 24 speakers on the floor and 10 overhead speakers.” However, today’s home theater equipment is sort of limiting.
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Sure, you could opt for the Trinnov Altitude32 preamplifier—if you have a ton of money. (It: starts at $17,000.) This product: has gotten some phenomenal reviews, which shouldn’t be too surprising, seeing how it can: decode up to 32 discrete channels of Dolby Atmos. However, most AVRs max out at a 7.1.4 or 9.1.2 configuration—and that’s a good AVR, with the addition of an external 2-channel amplifier. (Integra’s DTR-70.6 is one of the rare models available now that can do 7.1.4 or 9.1.2 out of the box.) Just know that not all receivers will support the add-on, so read the fine print.
2. There could be more content. Yes, there are 24 Blu-rays out with Dolby Atmos. Another eight or so are on the way. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s not really a big enough step, when you consider how many Blu-rays get released each week. If you’re looking to invest in Dolby Atmos, you probably want more. If you’ve already made the leap, you definitely want more. It’s downright addictive!
3. You’ll need to upgrade. There’s really no way around it. To experience Dolby Atmos, you’ll need an Atmos-capable receiver. A small handful of receivers can get Atmos through a software upgrade, but if you didn’t buy in the last year, you probably don’t have one of them. (Even if you did, the number of AVRs eligible for that upgrade is limited.)
You’re also going to need height speakers. You can mount existing speakers on the ceiling, but if you want to add more speakers, you’ll need to buy those—and put them on the ceiling. If mounting is not an option, you’ll need to buy Atmos-capable speakers, which can “fake” the experience by reflecting the sound off the ceiling.
So What’s the Verdict?
It’s hard to drop money on new technology, especially when you don’t know where that technology is going. With manufacturers and content providers slowly adopting Dolby Atmos, it’s understandable why you’d hesitate to make that leap. The bottom line is: Dolby Atmos is pretty awesome. If you can afford the upgrade, it’s one that’s worth checking out. And if you’re in the market for a new receiver, it’s a no-brainer. Go for the Atmos!