Dolby is about to unleash a new sound system and it’s called, Atmos.
I’m a total nerd about surround sound. I’ve cared about it for as long as I can remember. I was very fortunate in growing up by the once historic Northpark I & II theaters in Dallas (George Lucas once said it was one of his favorite places to see a movie) and saw all of the ‘major’ movies of my youth there (Star Wars, ET, Indy, Close Encounters, Jurassic Park, Viva Kenevil, etc). Northpark was a stand alone pair of screens adjacent to a mall and we would stand outside for hours to get in, and it was worth it because it was one of the few houses that really paid attention and care to the art of movie projection and movie audio. Northpark always had the latest and greatest technology. I will never forget seeing that now famous THX opening and hearing that ‘Deep Note’ crescendo for the first time for Return of the Jedi. I pee’d a little that day.
With consumers now able to install high performing surround sound systems in their own homes, theaters and the movie industry are desperate to find new, better tech to keep people coming to theaters to see movies. IMAX digital, 3D and even moving seats with D-Box are all the newest gimmicks, but the area of audio surround has pretty much been limited in advances of digital sound, bigger amps and more efficient speakers.
But starting with the June 22nd release of Pixar’s “Brave” – Dolby will be showing off Atmos their latest setup in a limited number of theaters nationwide. And it looks and reads to be very promising. The video below from Dolby will give you a far better explanation than I can, but for those that don’t want to sit and watch a none minute video, here’s the jist -
Theaters today are limited to 7.1 “channel” – seven different speakers, or groups of speakers, that receive separate audio information. (the .1 refers to the subwoofer channel) This provides a pretty good experience, but there are some serious limitations in how audio engineers can “steer” the sound from front to back, left to right and diagonally. Additionally, there are different formats: 7.1, 5.1, 2.0 (all referring to the number of channels) and today audio engineers have to account for one, or all, but they have to create each separate from each other.
Atmos changes the game because it allows a theater to be setup specific for its layout and size with speakers that run along the side walls, and another two rows that run along the ceiling. In theory, each speaker – not just an area – can be its own channel, and the Atmos is capable of handling up to 128 separate channels. That is more than 18x the current capabilities. Not all theaters will have that many, but they can adjust according to what that specific theater needs. Tremendous promise. Even better is that audio engineers working in this format can author a movie once, and have it work on any existing format (7.1, 5.1 etc).
For its debut Dolby Atmos will roll out in these 14 theaters: AMC BarryWoods 24, Kansas City; AMC Burbank 16; AMC Century City 15; AMC Downtown Disney 24, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.; AMC Garden State 16, Paramus, N.J.; AMC Van Ness 14, San Francisco; ArcLight Sherman Oaks; Brenden Theatres at the Palms, Las Vegas; Centry at Pacific Commons and XD; West Plano, Texas; SilverCity-Yonge Eglington Cinemas, Toronto; Cinetopia Vancouver Hall 23, Vancouver; the El Capitan Theatre; and Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Collection, Chicago.