What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos logo 2000px

Dolby Atmos is a next-generation audio format that delivers moving and immersive audio: “sound that can be precisely placed and moved anywhere in three-dimensional space, including overhead.” The audio format premiered in June 2012 with the theatrical release of the animated film Brave.

In home theater applications, Atmos is integrated as a spatially-coded substream added to Dolby TrueHD or Dolby Digital Plus audio formats. This is different than how Atmos is used in theaters because of the limits on bandwidth and overall processing demand. Atmos is backward compatible and will revert to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Dolby Digital Plus, or lesser formats on home theater/audio systems that don’t support it.

Other qualities of the format include:

  • Sound that is not constrained to channels and so can move all around you
  • A new overhead dimension that creates a full audio atmosphere and realistically depicts objects moving overhead
  • Everything from dialogue, quiet, and loud action scenes have clarity, richness, detail, and depth in sound quality

Dolby Atmos is featured on hundreds of Blu-ray Discs and 4k Blu-ray Discs including Terminator Genisys, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Unbroken, and Game of Thrones episodes to name a few (see a full list of 4k Blu-ray titles). Atmos is also offered with digital movies and series from streaming providers such as Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Disney+, Max, Netflix, and Vudu.

How To Get Dolby Atmos

To hear Dolby Atmos you need to have an audio system that supports it. This means your speaker system, soundbar, and/or AV receiver can all deliver Atmos. The product box and manual for your device should have the Dolby Atmos logo on it. Note: Most TVs do not have speaker systems that support Dolby Atmos audio although a few select do (see models on Amazon).

If setting up a true home theater system with multiple speakers it’s probably a good idea to start with a receiver that supports object-based audio. Good examples of receivers that support Atmos and DTS-X are the Marantz SR5015, Onkyo TX-SR494, and Pioneer VSX-534, all of which also support Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG HDR formats.

Then, if you don’t already have speakers decide on how many you will be setting up and what brand fits your style. Home theater systems typically have at least 5 channels, meaning five speakers, which is represented as 5.1 (the .1 is an optional subwoofer). More speakers can be added to create 7-channel, 9-channel, or even 11-channel layouts.

You can purchase a multi-speaker surround system package like the Klipsch Home Theater 5.2 bundle that includes a Denon receiver. Or, build your system piece-by-piece by adding speakers along the road (see home theater speakers on Amazon).

Soundbars like the Sony HT-A7000 7.1.2 and the Samsung HW-Q990B/ZA 9.1.2 are fairly easy to set up and feature 7.1.2 and 9.1.2 audio channels. More compact systems such as the single-piece Bose Smart Soundbar 900 and 4-piece Vizio M-Series Elevate 5.1.2 support multi-channel audio but don’t have the same immersive effect as distributed speakers (although the Vizio M-Series does provide height speakers).

How Is Atmos Identified?

In speaker configurations, Dolby Atmos can be identified by the number following a subwoofer. For example, in 5.1.2 the numbers represent discreet speaker channels. A typical setup would be one center speaker, two front speakers (L/R), and two rear speakers (L/R). The 1 represents one subwoofer. And, the 2 represents two height speakers (L/R) which are usually in the ceiling but can also be placed high on a wall (or in soundbars the two height speakers may be angled toward the ceiling to bounce off a ceiling.

Dolby Atmos Speaker Configurations

  • A typical 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 system uses two ceiling speakers or two Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers or modules.
  • A typical 5.1.4 or 7.1.4 system uses four ceiling speakers or four Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers or modules.
  • A typical 9.1.2 system adds a pair of front-wide speakers to a 7.1.2 layout.

Read the latest news about Dolby Atmos and the High Dynamic Range format Dolby Vision.

Also Read

What is 5.1 Audio?
What is 7.1 Audio?
What is DTS:X audio?


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