If you’ve been to the movies in the past 10 years, you’ve probably experienced Dolby Atmos firsthand. And if not, go to the cinema as soon as possible.
Originally launched in cinemas in 2012 at Disney’s Brave movie, the “object-based audio format” is responsible for creating that overall sound that we can enjoy when watching TV, movies, listening to music, and gaming. The sound of footsteps slowly climbing stairs in a horror movie, or that dramatic squeal of a high-speed car chase are all courtesy of Dolby Atmos and designed to enhance your experience.
No longer just a format that can be enjoyed in the cinema, Dolby Atmos technology can also be experienced at home. You just need to have invested in one of the best soundbars or TV brands – and have the right Dolby Atmos-enabled content and hardware.
For more on what Dolby Atmos has to offer, we ask Rob France, Head of Home Content Engineering at Dolby Laboratoriesto give us the low.
What is Dolby Atmos?
1. Dolby Atmos is an object-based audio format
But what is an object-based audio format, you ask? “An audio object is a sound that the creators decided to isolate and move around you to create a three-dimensional effect,” explains Rob France. ‘Imagine a horror movie. The music comes all around you. The intruder enters. You hear footsteps moving separately – first behind you, then above your head as he climbs the stairs. A rainy day with the sound of rain falling from your ceiling. That’s what Dolby Atmos can do for you.
Dolby Atmos is an improvement over what came before and a leap forward over surround sound. It’s ultimately designed to put you in the center of everything when watching movies or listening to music to give you the most immersive sound possible. Originally designed to be enjoyed in theaters to bring movies to life, it can now be experienced using everyday home gadgets such as soundbars, smart speakers, TVs and computers.
And it’s all in the detail, to create a more three-dimensional listening experience. “Dolby Atmos delivers impressive clarity, richness, detail and depth for a more compelling impression,” says Rob. “It creates stunning, moving sound that flows above. ‘Object-based’ means that individual sounds are free to move around the room and the soundtrack will always adapt to your room setup. It can make you feel like you’re part of the story as sound comes to life in three-dimensional space.
2. Dolby Atmos is available in the latest home and lifestyle gadgets
To listen to Dolby Atmos, you’ll need content and hardware that supports Dolby Atmos – so Dolby Atmos-enabled content (on Netflix, Apple TV or YouTube, for example) fed through a Dolby Atmos player and speakers or a sound bar.
“Since its first launch in Brave 10 years ago, Dolby Atmos has been adopted across all home devices, including TVs, home theaters, soundbars, laptops, tablets and phones, and it will soon also be available in cars,” says Rob. “Dolby Atmos is also available on standard Blu-rays and Ultra HD Blu-rays, so there are no format issues to worry about.”
Because Dolby Atmos is designed to adapt to any device you listen to, you can enjoy Dolby Atmos sound using almost any solution. ‘Whether you’re listening in a movie theater with a giant 64-speaker setup, or at home with seven speakers or a soundbar, or even with headphones or your mobile device (phone, tablet, laptop), all necessary data is up to 128 audio objects can be read accurately, which means the technology is incredibly adaptable.
If you want to experience Dolby Atmos at home, take a look at our pick of the best 85-inch TVs to enhance your audio experience.
To learn more about Dolby Atmos, you can also read our article on how to improve the sound on your TV.
3. Dolby Atmos can be found on most major streaming services
It’s also worth noting that Dolby Atmos titles can be found on most major streaming services, including Netflix and Apple TV – the latter currently offering the largest collection of Atmos titles to rent or buy.
“Most Netflix Originals now include a soundtrack in Dolby Atmos, including Formula 1: Drive to Survive, Stranger Things and Bridgerton,” says Rob. ‘Disney+ also offers many movies, including all Star Wars feature films in Dolby Atmos. Most titles available through Apple TV+, including Apple Originals, also support Dolby Atmos.
“If you have a Sky Q box and a relevant subscription package through Sky Cinema and the Sky Store, you can use Dolby Atmos, Sky and BT Sport both offering major sporting events live in Dolby Atmos as well.”
4. Experience Dolby Atmos when listening to music and gaming
But TV and movies aren’t everything. If you are an avid gamer or just want to listen to high quality music, you can enjoy the benefits of Dolby Atmos which has ventured into both areas.
“Apple Music (Spatial Audio powered by Dolby Atmos), Amazon Music and Tidal all offer a huge catalog in Dolby Atmos,” says Rob. “There is also a growing list of games available in Dolby Atmos such as Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5 and Cyberpunk 2077, and with highly accurate audio being truly valuable to gamers, the number of major titles available in Dolby Atmos is set to increase.
How is Dolby Atmos an upgrade from what came before?
Dolby Atmos is a definite improvement over what came before and was designed to improve low quality audio. “The move to flat screen TVs, MP4s and the like has come at a price in terms of audio quality,” says Rob.
“Smaller speakers and the high levels of data compression needed for streaming audio and video have led to reduced audio quality, but Dolby Atmos aims to remedy this problem by delivering the most immersive sound possible on what is available. Dolby Atmos frees audio to move around you and above you.
What is the benefit of Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos delivers audio clarity, more audio, and crisper sound you can enjoy at home through a range of hardware and streaming services. “The main benefit for content creators in film, music and games is having more space to implement their vision,” says Rob France. “Dolby has completely democratized the listening experience and is now supported on many device types and price ranges.”