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.