Dolby Atmos is ideal for anyone who likes to turn their living room into a cinema and is into 3D sound. But what is actually behind the audio technology and what hardware do I need for it? TECHNOLOGY BUTTON explains.
Many soundbar manufacturers are currently advertising Dolby Atmos and praising it as “the absolute cinema sound” with “real 3D sound”. How does the new technology work? The easiest way to explain audio technology is with an example: In a film, two protagonists are talking to each other while numerous other things are happening in the background, such as a car accident or a phone call. While we can visually distinguish these events largely apart, the associated noises merge with one another because they all have the same (loudspeaker) source.
Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, simulates a realistic soundscape by reproducing the sound in an object-related manner. So if something happens in the background in the film, that sound will also be played from that position. The sound can even be “thrown” onto the ceiling of the room – and gives the viewer the feeling that the helicopter would rattle directly over his head. The sound becomes a design element again and contributes to a more precise spatial representation of the scenery.
Which speakers do I need for Dolby Atmos?
You can get Dolby Atmos into the living room in two ways: with a combination of several speakers or with a soundbar. The first variant is more expensive and more complex, but offers a significantly more sound experience.
First of all, you need a compatible AC receiver (available from 300 euros and up), as well as several speakers. If you already have a sound system at home, e.g. a 5.1 system with five speakers and a subwoofer, the receiver automatically distributes the sound. In order to really cover the entire room with sound, you still need ceiling speakers or, alternatively, two front speakers that support the audio technology. These are not hanging from the ceiling, but are normal stand boxes with additional speakers on the top. You throw the sound up to the ceiling, from there it is reflected back to the audience. If you already have front speakers, you can also buy an attachment with speakers pointing upwards (from 100 euros upwards). How to turn a 5.1 system into a so-called 5.1. 2 system (five speakers, one subwoofer, two ceiling speakers). Of course, you can also upgrade larger speaker sets with Dolby Atmos, such as a 7.1 or 9.1 system.
Alternatively, there are sound bars that have integrated Dolby Atmos and are significantly cheaper (from 400 euros). However, caution is advised here: The speakers are all built into a narrow housing, so the sound can only have a limited spatial effect. In addition, it does not reach the intensity of boxes that are behind, above and next to the audience. More expensive models also have speakers on the top that radiate to the ceiling. Cheaper ones try to generate the 3D sound virtually. The sound got more depth through an artificial reverb effect. At the same time, however, the voices became more indistinct and faded a little into the background. Dolby Atmos is not the same as Dolby Atmos, the term is often used for marketing purposes and says little about the actual sound quality.
What movies and streaming services does Dolby Atmos offer?
It is not enough just to have the right speakers for Dolby Atmos – the video material must also be specially tailored to this audio technology and support the standard. Amazon has officially been offering the audio technology for its Prime Video streaming service since August 2018. However, even three years later, it can hardly be used due to the lack of content. The function is compatible with the Amazon Fire TV and the Amazon Fire TV Cube.
Netflix also only offers selected programs with an Ultra HD subscription that support Dolby Atmos, such as the film Bird Box or the Altered Carbon series . These, too, can only be played on certain devices with the sound format, such as the Xbox One or the OLED TVs from LG.
There are still no series or films with Dolby Atmos on TV, but some Blu-Rays support the format. Look for the Dolby Atmos logo on the back of the packaging.
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Who is Dolby Atmos for?
Primarily for sound enthusiasts who watch a lot of films and series and are willing to spend a lot of money on good sound. Because: Although there are more and more sound systems and sound bars with Dolby Atmos, the number of supported series and films is still very clear. It will be a long time before the standard has established itself in normal TV – if at all.
If you still want to take money into your hand and have now got a taste for it: Don’t let the Dolby Atmos logo on the packaging of soundbars dazzle you. Rather, you should definitely use independent tests to find out whether a spatial sound experience is really offered here. Real Dolby Atmos is only available with a sound system, which is usually expensive and takes up space in the living room.