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Answers About Dolby Atmos

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Atmos is a "surround mode"

And it's the "latest" surround mode. Dolby has been doing surround sound since the 1980's

What is "Surround Sound"?

Small bathroom

It's a Bathroom Scene

It's a Stadium Scene

In real life we use our ears to help us figure out where we’re at….it’s instinctual.  If we were blindfolded and put into a bathroom, we could tell WE’RE IN A BATHROOM! Likewise in a large stadium.  These are auditory cues that come into our ears with timing delays that help us move around in the world. 

In “surround sound” or a theater setting, a movie producer and/or sound engineer takes many microphones around a movie scene to record these sounds/cues then in your home theater, they TIME ALIGN these sounds to make us feel like we’re IN that setting. Each of the speakers in the theater that are placed “around” us in a surround array play in concert with the others to deliver those time aligned cues and voila…we are experiencing that scene!

How Many Do We Need?

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Atmos 5.1

3 speakers in front, 2 speakers behind. Rooms up to 20 feet deep (front to back)

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Atmos 7.1

3 speakers in front, 2 speakers midway (near the couch/sofa ends), 2 speakers behind. Rooms up to 20 feet deep (front to back)

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Atmos 5.1.2

3 speakers in front, 2 speakers midway side walls, 2 speakers behind. Rooms up to 20 feet deep (front to back)

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Atmos 7.1.4

3 speakers in front, 2 speakers midway side walls, overhead 2 speakers slightly in front of the couch/sofa, overhead 2 speakers outside the edge of the sofa/couch, overhead 2 speakers behind. Rooms over 20 feet deep (front to back) and best in rooms OVER 30 feet deep.

Why Did They "Invent" Dolby Atmos?

Some history to start, Dolby got into the surround business for “home” theater in the early 1980’s with Dolby Surround. It’s basic iterations were as follows in order:

Source for more detailed history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolby_Pro_Logic

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*The following is an opinion: 
 Basic Pro Logic wasn’t all that “Pro”.  It sounded muffled and seems to lag behind the dynamics of the movies.  TOP GUN was out in 1986 and by far the biggest selling home movie for the new theaters that were going in. The bullets would fly over your head and the planes would fly left and right in your room.  But the thing that sold those systems were the pure loudness.  The rear “channels” were a summed mono signal that wasn’t even full range. It only went up to 7,000 Hz or so. But it was the only show in town.

I think Dolby got it right with DIGITAL DOLBY 5.1.   (Year 2000)
This was full range control of all 5 channels, digitally encoded/decoded with a dedicated subwoofer out channel.  EVERYTHING could be customized and it was perfect!

The whole industry took off.  DVDs were renting and selling (Blockbuster). This industry I’m in took off.  Inwall speakers were the reason I quit my cushy distributor sales job to start this business. Plasma TV’s would be introduced for $10,000!  This was the golden era of home theater. Action movies were where it was at.  Your friends would come over and the whole neighborhood would hear your movie!

Almost 10 years would go by before the leaders would get a little nervous about their sales. Market saturation was happening.  Even your dad had a home theater.  He couldn’t use the remote, but you’d come over an help him out!

6.1 they said would be better?!  What?  I need to add a center channel to the rear? Eh, nah.
7.1 they said would be better?! What?  I need to add 2 more speakers in the middle of the room next to my couch?  What about that rear center channel you wanted me to get last year?  Are we still doing that?

So we lulled along for another few years.  Now the default receiver you could get was 7.1, it still did 5.1 just fine but the sales guy in the blue shirt would frown.

2014/5 and now we get a new name for all this…Atmos.  And this one “sorta” makes sense for most of the guys out there (yes, guys.  I have analytics. I have 90% men browsing here). The industry wants to sell you more stuff (NEWSFLASH!!) so they’re suggesting (pushing) 4 extra speakers on top of a 5.1 setup.  All 4 of these new speakers are to be pointed UPWARDS to give a sense of “height”.  This works for most ALL of the home theaters out there as those are floor standing or bookshelf on stands type of speakers.

BUT HERE’S WHERE THE NICHE OF INWALL / IN-CEILING SPEAKERS IS DIFFERENT!

We were already at the ceiling boundary of the room with a DIRECT source driver giving you the perfectly timed sounds that are the inherent nature of that “setting” we talked about first up above.  When you go to a pro theater (AMC, Regal, etc.), they have speakers behind the screen (directly at you) and high on the walls pointing down (directly at you).  They don’t have Atmos bouncy speakers in the front or rear of the theater and if you have an inwall / in-ceiling system, neither do you!

I only recommend an Atmos setup of 9 speakers or more if you have a room that can/needs to handle it.  Over 30 feet in depth from the front wall to the rear wall.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your money with speakers too close in proximity to another one that’s basically giving the same sounds.

But I also recommend that you pre-wire for ALL those crazy options in case I’m the idiot.  Wire is cheap and future proofs your room.  So go ahead and wire for 13.4.8 in that 15 x 15 foot room!  But start with the 5 speakers with a sub first and try it out. This is the advice I give folks who call me. This is why they come back after 7 years when they move to do it again.

Front Wall/ Rear Ceiling

All Wall

All Ceiling

Dolby® Atmos

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