It’s been a while since the consumer electronics industry has had anything exciting to talk about when it comes to home theater audio. Video has dominated headlines for years as Birmingham Whole House Audio & Video Systems seen resolution, contrast ratios, pixel counts and many others display technologies make advancements. So it’s with some excitement that we have seen our first real progression in home theater audio since the invention of 5.1 surround sound.
Surround sound’s first documented use was Disney’s 1940 failed experiment with “Flight of the Bumblebee” in the movie Fantasia. Although unsuccessful, it represented the first step in multichannel sound. During the 1950’s the Europeans had several ground-breaking experiments in sound channel separation, but it wasn't until 1978 when Max Bell at Dolby Laboratories implemented “split-surround” for the movie Superman. The first formal deployment in cinema of 3 channels in the front and 2 in the rear came shortly after with the release of Apocalypse Now. Dolby Digital was first used in 1992 with the release of Batman Returns where the audio was optically recorded at a consistent bit rate and once decoded provided 5.1 audio. There have since been many variations of Dolby Digital using separate channels of audio with some form of matrix audio processing to create different surround sound technologies. The commercial theater has always been the driving factor for advancements in surround sound and it wasn't until the late 1990’s that these technologies starting making their way into the home with the laserdisc release of Clear and Present Danger being the first available for the consumer.
Historically in the home, 5.1 and 7.1 audio (and their many variations) work in a single horizontal plane. While providing an engaging audio presentation, home theater designers have always been challenged with speaker layout since audio was sent to different channels (i.e. speakers) rather than a completely immersive experience. Even though it’s limiting, Birmingham Whole House Audio & Video Systems has had a lot of fun over the years bringing the full cinema experience home…and it’s about to get a whole lot better.
In 2012, Dolby introduced the world to Atmos surround technology with Pixar’s animated movie Brave at its theater in Hollywood California. For the first time since the creation of surround sound this new technology allows for multidimensional audio on an unlimited number of tracks providing optimal rendering based on the theater design and capabilities. With the addition of more speakers, audio engineers have developed a process, in conjunction with new hardware, which works in real-time directing audio to locations in the room which extends beyond speaker placement. The result is a home theater experience which is very natural and fully engaging.
Humans hear in all directions and the concept of sending audio to channels has been limited. Dolby Atmos uses audio objects to overcome previous home theater limitations and provide the listener with a truly immersive three-dimensional sound. The key to an Atmos theater is going beyond the horizontal plane by add overhead audio. The good news is existing 5.1 and 7.1 home theater systems do not have to be redesigned. Replacing an existing receiver with an Atmos AVR and adding overhead speakers is all it takes to get started and the number of speakers added directly relates to the increased precision of the audio objects. If adding speakers overhead is not possible, thanks to Dolby’s psychoacoustics knowledge, the audio can be reflected off the ceiling resulting in the desired overhead sound.
Earlier this year, Transformers – Age of Extinction was the first blu-ray to be released with Dolby Atmos. Several more titles will be available before the end of the year and 2015 will see many more titles available. There are already a number of home theater receivers available taking advantage of Dolby Atmos. It’s definitely worth a trip to your local cinemaplex to experience Dolby Atmos firsthand and then decide if it’s something that makes sense in your home theater (hint: it makes perfect sense).
Historically, home theaters have always presented a number of design challenges and adding Dolby Atmos is no different. Fortunately, this new technology provides a number of great options to bring this amazing opportunity to any movie lover. Here are a couple of tips as you are preparing for your home theater upgrade:
You can purchase Atmos add-on speakers to compliment your existing speaker system
Flat ceilings, rather than vaulted or angled, are best if you choose to reflect floor speakers
If possible, four overhead speakers are the recommended starting point
If you have low ceilings, it is recommended to reflect floor speakers rather than use in-ceiling speakers
If your application limits you to two speakers, it is recommended to reflect the audio from floor speakers
Existing HDMI specifications (v1.4 and later) are compatible with Atmos
Of course, you can always contact Birmingham Whole House Audio & Video Systems for expert advice regarding Dolby Atmos. Our technology advisers and system engineers are more than happy to assist you in creating the best in-home theater possible!