Poll: Will You Upgrade Your Home Theater to Dolby Atmos?

Already a sensation in cinemas, Dolby’s immersive Atmos surround sound format will come to the home theater realm later this year. Are you willing or able to upgrade your equipment?

I first previewed Atmos near its inception in 2012, and wrote up a detailed explanation of how it works in the theatrical venue. More recently, our Michael Palmer visited Dolby and obtained some information about the home implementation.

The home version of Dolby Atmos will be treated as an extension to the existing Dolby TrueHD audio codec. It can be encoded onto Blu-ray discs without any revisions to the format spec, and can be played back from any existing Blu-ray player capable of Bitstream output for TrueHD. (This rules out the original “fat” PS3, unfortunately.)

To upgrade to Atmos, you will need a new A/V receiver with an Atmos decoder, and some additional speakers. The exact number of speakers you should add will depend on your room size and layout, and how many channels your gear can amplify. Dolby recommends a minimum layout of “5.1.2,” which amounts to a standard 5.1 configuration plus two height speakers. Home Atmos is capable of accommodating up to 24.1.10. (That’s 24 floorstanding speakers, a subwoofer, and 10 overhead speakers.) If you’re not able to install new speakers on your ceiling, some manufacturers are offering add-on modules that can attach to a pair of front main speakers. The add-on modules will fire upwards to bounce sounds off your ceiling.

I think Atmos is a pretty exciting development, but I’m unfortunately not in a position to make any expensive upgrades to my home theater at the moment. When I built the room, I wired for 7.1 with two back channels but no height speakers. Because I have a fairly low ceiling, I’m not sure that height channels would even work very well in here. I have a couple spots where I think I could install some (would require fishing some speaker wire behind the wall), but they don’t seem ideal. Add-on modules are not an option for me. They won’t fit my existing speakers and I do not plan to change my speakers just for that.

I will have to take a wait-and-see approach with home Atmos. It’s something I may upgrade to in the future, but probably not right away.

Will You Upgrade Your Home Theater to Dolby Atmos?

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25 comments

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      As far as I’m aware, the original “fat” PS3 can only bitstream DTS-HD Master Audio, not TrueHD. The PS3 Slim has a different HDMI chip and can bitstream both. I will edit the post to clarify the distinction.

  1. Jason

    In my dedicated home theater I don’t know if this could truly be appreciated. The room isn’t that small but at reference levels I doubt you’d be able to distinguish the difference between Atmos and my current 7.1 setup. Maybe if I added some more acoustic treatments to cut down on the reflections it would be worth it. I’ve never been in a theater with Atmos so it’s hard to say. Also, with the limited availability of movies that are mastered with Atmos in mind I’ll probably just stick with the 7.1 for now.

    • William Henley

      This is an interesting point about reflection. My local Atmos auditorium has curtains surrounding the entire auditorium that the speakers poke through. At home, its just carpet on the floor, a blackout curtain over the window, and walls with nothing on them. At my old place, while my walls were covered in photos, the floor was hard wood and foundation was pier beam (It was awesome when you put a subwoofer on it). With 7.1 there, sounds seemed to come from everywhere – overhead, underneath, sometimes 10 feet behind the speakers, etc. Some accousic treatment may certainly be necessary before I upgrade to Atmos

  2. Deaditelord

    I just recently caught Godzilla in Dolby Atmos and was very impressed. I would love to have that kind of setup in my home, unfortunately my home theater room is fairly small (one of the reasons I never upgraded to 7.1 since I didn’t think the extra 2 speakers would sound very good with my couch having to be placed right next to them on the rear wall) and installing speakers in the ceiling would be fairly difficult… not to mention expensive. The attachment approach might be a possibility though if the height speakers were stable enough when attached to the front speaker and it didn’t negatively effect the sound from the front speakers. In any case, I’ll wait to see how well the format works in a home environment before deciding on whether or not to pull the trigger on an upgrade.

    PS: Perhaps I’m mistaken, but aren’t there supposed to be new speakers coming that actually have a height speaker built in at the top of the speaker enclosure? Or is that supposed to be the attachment option?

    • Correct. Pioneer and Onkyo have announced both front channel and rear/surround speakers that include a second input and an additional upward facing speaker to bounce the height channels off the ceiling.

      Interestingly enough, because your room is too small for 7.1 — assuming Atmos in the home sounds anything like its theatrical father — you might be a perfect candidate to try either the new speakers or the ad-on speaker modules (those are only Onkyo, thus far) because this might add immersion that extra back channels could not create. Plus, you’d only need 7 channels of amplification, which is by far the most affordable. Cheers.

      • Deaditelord

        That’s a good point Michael. I can definitely imagine how a 5.1.4 setup with height speakers built into the front speakers and surrounds might work well with my room setup. Plus it would be the perfect excuse to upgrade my aging gear 🙂 It’ll be interested to hear about what people think of the Dolby Atmos home experience once the speakers and equipment are available.

      • William Henley

        I wonder what the effect on height would be for people with vaulted ceilings or high ceilings. The house I grew up in had 18 foot ceilings in the living room

        • Deaditelord

          I wondered about that too William, although in my case I don’t have really high or vaulted ceilings (just a small overhead fan). My guess is that Atmos wouldn’t sound right – especially with vaulted ceilings – but I’m hoping it’s something that can be corrected or relatively smoothed out with Audyssey or YPAO.

        • (Sorry for the delayed reply)

          For vaulted ceilings (or angled ceilings), you’ll be limited to installing in-ceiling speakers which, presumably, would be able to overcome the added distance with room calibration.

          However, withOUT in-ceiling speakers — if you’re bouncing the overhead channels off the ceiling — Dolby recommends flat ceilings between 8 and 14 feet. Too tall, and it’s not going to work properly.

          Cheers.

  3. Timcharger

    Josh, how about this option?

    – I will wait until reading independent reviews in real home environments.
    And especially hear what HDD has to say (wink, wink).

  4. William Henley

    I’m between the second and third option, although I chose the third. I won’t CONSIDER it when the price comes down, I WILL when the price comes down. Thinking like 2-5 years down the line

  5. I am cautiously curious. If I were to expand my system any bit at all, I would run 7.0.2. I am in no hurry to “upgrade” but as the receivers become more tempting to get, that’s where I would take the plunge.
    Currently I run 7.0 (there is no need for a dedicated .1 as the four corners have Large speakers that produce much bass, adding the .1 speaker does nothing but use up extra space)

  6. Ted S.

    Well I’m building a new home theater in my basement so YES I’ll upgrade to Dolby Atmos! I’ve seen many movies with Atmos in theater so I can’t wait to hear it on my home theater system.

  7. eric

    Unfortunately, most people don’t know what they are doing when they setup their surround and their dedicated rooms, even if they have the funds to mess with the new stuff. I have seen way too many rooms that cost under $5,000 blow away another room that cost over $20,000. Most people can’t even tell the difference until they are in a room that is calibrated just right, and then some still can’t tell. I’ve been in people’s brand new homes that came with a dedicated theatre room that looks beautiful. But, I immediately notice their center channel is being blocked by a plant, or their rear channels are not behind the seating area, or their speaker are mounted in the ceiling. If the first thing people notice when they walk into your theatre room is how perfectly spaced your framed movie poster with glass on it is with the rest of the wall, then you don’t deserve that space so many others would kill for.

    But for me, any excuse to upgrade audio or video in my home theatre is a good excuse… and Dolby Atmos is a great excuse. Some weekends I will take my whole theatre room apart and recalibrate it for fun. I run a 7.2 channel setup with an Onkyo receiver and I love it. When I wired my room I wired for 9.2 so it gives me a lot of options without having to do anything crazy. I feel like the only audio updates we really get are for volume and not for the nuance of the experience that is potential with surround sound. I have experienced Atmos in the theatre several times and got a kick out of every time, it is a different experience. I want to see GRAVITY in my home theatre on the 120” screen with the complete submersion of Atmos sound. I cannot wait. I am already looking at upgrading my Onkyo today just to get ahead of the game. Any excuse to upgrade is a good one.

    I am surprised that people voted for the “I don’t care about Surround Sound.” I consider sound part of the high-def experience.

  8. Pedram

    Josh,

    I thought you were considering Atmos back when you were building your home theatre and wiring speakers. It’s too bad you didn’t wire in overhead speakers back then, when it would have been easier since things were opened up.

    I guess we’ll have to wait for another HDD reviewer to give their impressions of Atmos at home.

    I myself will wait to see what the reviews of the overhead speakers vs the add-on modules, but I definitely want to do this at some point since I try to opt for the Atmos version of a movie when I can (and the film looks like it’ll provide a good sound experience).

  9. Mike Hanley

    Atmos sounds pretty neat but I currently have a dedicated theater in a small room 12 x 12 with height channel speakers installed and they do a great job of expanding my front soundstage to the ceiling. Curious how Atmos works in conjunction with these or if it is one or the other. Heck, will it even make a difference in my small room? I have my seats against the back room and can’t even add proper rear back surrounds. Also I do not see a lot of specs regarding implementation with a dual sub setup. Everything I read seems to be configured for a single .1 subwoofer system. I agree that I’ll also need to need to see professional and consumer reviews of the equipment and software before I consider upgrading my receiver again….argh!

  10. We’re about to buy a new house. Once we’re settled in I’m going to start planning out a dedicated theater room. My plan is to go with a Dolby Atmos set up. I’ll try and do a running diary, much like Josh did, of the process.

  11. Paul leal

    My current system in the theater room is a Denon 5308 ci receiver was well over 6 grand a JVC DLA-
    HD – 750B projector 8 grand also a 2000 Denon Blu-Ray player a 8000 power draper screen and at least 20000 in the best of wire and protection another 600 Blu-Rays 800 DVDs Even about 200 laserdiscs althoughI can’t remember the last time one got watched at least worth another 30000 to 40000 .not to mention the 2000 or so VHS I gave away .Now I mention this not to brag but to show how much I have just in this because this is one of many systems , the last one was CRT projector and faroudja line doubler.My point is how many times do you go down the rabbit hole ,after this how long before DTS has there great new sound system and that is the talk of the town . and so on !!!!

  12. ambientcafe

    I’m actually way more excited about Dolby Atmos than upgrading to 4K … maybe I’m internally ‘wired for sound’. I’ve already experimented with my own version Atmos-enabled speakers by pointing 4 of my side channel speakers upwards to reflect off my 8 ft ceilings, and have instantly noticed a more open, airy soundstage, especially when A/B’ing between my conventional side-firing bipoles. Btw, I chose Klipsch bookshelfs for my upward-firing speakers as I thought their horn-loaded tweeters would project sound upwards more efficiently. In any case, I’m pretty well ready for Atmos, as I already have an existing pair of on-ceiling front and back speakers (currently used for presence) in my 12X20 front pj H/T. Being a lifelong Yamaha devotee, I’ll be going for the Aventage RX-A2040 ($1,800 Cdn), altho I’ll wait until the FW update is out this Fall, plus hopefully some promo pricing will be in effect by then … crikey, I’ve never paid more than $600 for an AVR — talk about sticker shock.

  13. I’m ready to invest in the receiver (Onkyo 636) but Im not happy with my speaker options. My second floor is concrete so ceiling speakers are a no go. Atlantic Technologies and Definitive Technologies have some nice two-way modules but they start at 500 bucks which I’m not prepared to spend after buying the new receiver. Onkyo’s modules I’ve seen as low as $125 but they’re not worth half of that, it’s a 3″paper cone pointed up on an angle. The “secret technology” can be nothing more than the crossover and shape of the cone. My front speakers are large double woofer bookshelves so the modules wouldn’t work without some further mounting accomodations anyhow. I was thinking about trying some Polk OWM3s on an articulating bracket mounted to the front wall, and seing how they bounce off the ceiling. Has anyone experimented with non-Atmos speakers?

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