Has Dolby Already Snuck Atmos Surround onto Blu-ray?

A few weeks ago, Dolby Labs announced that the revolutionary Atmos surround sound format will make its way to Blu-ray and home theater hardware later this year, but left details about the timeframe or exactly which movies will offer Atmos unclear. In the meantime, could Dolby have secretly slipped an Atmos test disc to market without telling anyone?

Our friends at Big Picture Big Sound believe that this is possible. Editor Chris Boylan (an occasional Roundtable contributor here) points to the recent Collector’s Edition reissue of the animated hit ‘How to Train Your Dragon‘ as a likely candidate. Obviously intended to promote this summer’s theatrical sequel, that re-release could very easily have amounted to a simple repackaging of the old Blu-ray from 2010 into a new case with different cover art. Instead, DreamWorks went to the trouble of upgrading the movie’s soundtrack to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, a step up from the previous Blu-ray’s 5.1.

Why would the studio bother to do this? Was anyone ever disappointed with the 5.1 on the old Blu-ray? Have any viewers clamored to hear the movie remixed with a couple of discrete back surround channels, when most A/V receivers can pretty effectively matrix a 5.1 track’s surround audio to those speakers anyway?

Chris speculates that the new soundtrack may be a stealth test case for Atmos on Blu-ray, in order to ensure that the format can be encoded onto a current Blu-ray disc and still be compatible with legacy hardware. The home version of Atmos will be built on the foundation of a traditional Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track with additional metadata containing the Atmos extensions. A standard non-Atmos A/V receiver will simply ignore the metadata and decode the 7.1 portion of the track, invisibly to most viewers. An Atmos-capable receiver, on the other hand, will detect the metadata and decode the entire Atmos soundfield. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to test this out until the first Atmos receivers hit the market.

In addition to ‘Dragon’, Chris also makes some educated guesses about other upcoming Blu-rays that might be among the first official wave of Atmos titles. Read the whole article here.

If you’re among the brave who intend to upgrade your surround sound equipment to accommodate Atmos later this year, what movies would you most like to see feature the format?

17 comments

  1. While it would be incredibly fun if this was true, the ‘HTTYD’ Collector’s Edition 7.1 mix isn’t new.

    The October, 2010 ‘How To Train Your Dragon – 3D’ Blu-ray is when the 5.1 to 7.1 upgrade was released, which is pretty much in line with what DreamWorks Animation was doing for their catalog titles (all four ‘Shrek’ films were post-converted to 3D and given 7.1 sound mixes).

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      That’s true. I’d forgotten about the 7.1 on the 3D disc. However, it’s still possible that How to Train Your Dragon could have been remixed when the theatrical Atmos track for the sequel was made.

  2. Timcharger

    I’m with Palmer on this one. Since the latest audio encode
    was the 7.1 one from the 3D disc of HTTYD, for the reissue,
    Dreamworks went with that one.

    Plus HTTYD 1 didn’t have Atmos in the theaters (if I recall
    correctly).

    I understand Beta testing in the market is important for
    computers where there are thousands of configurations
    (for Windows and Android) due to various manufactures,
    their models, sub-contacters, model years. But there
    really is only a dozen audio receivers companies which
    I’m sure share many of the same internal components
    year after year. Probably 1 million computers are sold
    to every 100 home receivers; I don’t know?

    So it would seem to me that Dolby can sufficiently test the
    Atmos encode’s backward capability in the studio or
    manufacturer level. I could be wrong.

    • Drew

      Atmos debuted with ‘Brave’. It was in the developmental stage, when ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ was released.

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        Dolby spent a lot of time remixing old movies into Atmos when they were developing the format. During my first demo of Atmos at Dolby HQ, we were shown an extended clip from a very famous animated movie that I am prohibited from naming due to a pointless NDA imposed by the studio that owns it. The movie was already several years old at that point. It sounded great in Atmos. Incredible, even.

        It’s not at all unrealistic to speculate that the first How to Train Your Dragon may have been remixed when the Atmos track for the sequel was being made.

        Chris has good reasons to believe that there’s an unlabeled Atmos disc on the market right now, and this one seems like a strong possible candidate.

        • Drew

          Oh, didn’t mean to suggest that it couldn’t have been mixed in Atmos. Just wanted to let Tim know that Atmos wasn’t in use, when it came out.

          I’m completely convinced that there are unlabeled Atmos discs already in circulation. I was going to speculate about this, as long as a couple of weeks ago. And actually, the disc that I was going to bring up just so happens to be ‘How to Train Your Dragon’.

        • Yes, that was a pretty Incredible demo. 🙂 Thanks for the plug, Josh! BTW, the fact that there is a disc out there already in circulation in Dolby Atmos is more than a hunch. It came from an “Industry Insider” who should know what he (or she) was talking about. But as much as I plied this person or more information, he (or she) would not reveal the title. I probably should have tried alcohol. The speculation of it being “Dragon” comes from a couple of things. As far as I can tell, “Dragon” is the only Blu-ray released in the Spring of 2014 (the time frame in question) that had a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack. A Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is the most likely bed for a Dolby Atmos mix. It wouldn’t make sense to do it as a 5.1 bed, with Atmos on top as that would be inconsistent with the theatrical mixes. And the second reason I picked it is that the DreamWorks guys would have been in the studio mixing “Dragon 2” around that time, which does have an Atmos mix. Maybe they got excited about it and said, “Hey, let’s have some fun with the first one!” I e-mailed the VP of PR at DreamWorks for a comment (to confirm/deny) but haven’t heard back yet. But if anyone else has any guesses as to what title it is, bring ’em on!

          • It’s a terrific guess, for sure. The intention of my original release was to point out that the change in 5.1 to 7.1 mixes wasn’t necessarily a smoking gun, nor is the re-release, which is pretty common when theatrical sequels debut.

            Did you contact say this unofficial title is a North American release?

          • Michael,

            I assume it was a domestic release but I didn’t ask for clarification. I was originally thinking it was “Star Trek: Into Darkness” that had Atmos but that Blu-ray came out too early. Still hoping that movie will have Atmos on the “Compendium” set that’s coming out in September but the studio hasn’t said anything about that.

            Hey, one good thing to come from Atmos: George Lucas and/or Disney will have a reason to mess with the Star Wars movies again. This time, Greedo will shoot *himself* after the laser bolt ricochets off the ceiling. 🙂

          • Oh, man. Original Trilogy (non special editions) with Atmos would be killer!

            And, the only reason I asked re: international was Dolby seems to have strong ties to its Asian partners (a lot more TrueHD 96K upsampling Blu-rays released over there).

            Cheers.

          • Well we heard back from an exec at DreamWorks Home Entertainment and he tells us that neither “Dragon” nor “Compendium” have Atmos encoding in the Dolby TrueHD tracks. So the search goes on… Michael may be right the the title that has it is not a domestic release,

    • But why would they re-release “Dragon” in the first place? It wasn’t like they were adding exclusive new extras. I know they were partially just capitalizing on the release of the sequel, but that doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to double dip. If someone has the 3D one and the 2-D May re-issue, it would be interesting to take a look at the audio track data rates on the Dolby TrueHD tracks and compare them between the two discs. I’m not sure if the Atmos stuff would even show up when looking at a TrueHD stream (as “filler”) but it would be worth investigation. And in terms of QA, I don’t think this was to test receiver (which aren’t out yet) but to test *players* which are all over the place. The fact that the disc (whether it’s “Dragon” or some other title) has been out and played back on existing Blu-ray players as a standard-looking Dolby TrueHD track is good news for Dolby.

      • Timcharger

        Is it as simple as this?

        The file size of the reissue 7.1 mix would be larger than the 7.1 mix in the 3D version.

        If there is Atmos data on that reissue, the file size of the Dolby TrueHD track must be larger, no?

        • I think it might be that simple. But I don’t have a BD-Rom drive to do any testing. I have the 3D Blu-ray from 2010 and have ordered the May 2014 Blu-ray. I was thinking about looking at the data rate displays on my OPPO player, but this might be a little tricky as the video data rates will be different and I’m not sure if the OPPO would include non-decoded data into its data rate display for audio. But if it’s exactly the same TrueHD audio track from the 2010 release, then the file size should be identical. Unless of course, the Atmos data is stored as a separate file referenced within the TrueHD file, but then we might be able to see that file on a BD-ROM drive.

          • William Henley

            While I am not promoting this as a legitimate method, you could always see if there is a torrent of the ISO images of the two discs, then you could look at the file size. The problem is that the audio and video is muxed, so file size alone wouldn’t be an indicator, as you are simply looking at an mpeg file. You would have to take the video file and demux the audio tracks, isolate the english Dolby TrueHD 7.1 tracks and then compare the file sizes. It shouldn’t be TOO much trouble to verify, but more trouble than I want to spend on it. However, that is how you would do it.

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