Sound and Imaginative and prescient: We have a Dolby Atmos challenge, and it is not going away | Digital Noch

OPINION: Dolby Atmos is nice – when listened to in the fitting house and setting. The expertise might be as widespread because it’s ever been. However satirically, its greatest downside is that it’s all over the place.

I bear in mind in my first few years working within the A/V trade I used to be despatched to Dolby HQ in Soho to report on this new-fangled encompass expertise known as Dolby Atmos. Again in 2014, it was meant to be an improve on cinema sound, leaping from 5.1 and seven.1 mixes to a soundtrack that could possibly be absolutely immersive, with the viewer enveloped – sides, entrance, rear, and above – in a hemisphere of sound.

The important thing phrase was immersive, and that’s what I took from that demonstration. Not that Atmos was essentially higher than 5.1 and seven.1 tracks, however I didn’t really feel as if the sound was coming instantly from a speaker – that it was merely within the room with me.

What’s Atmos meant to be anymore?

That’s not the expertise I’m getting from expertise that integrates Dolby Atmos at present.

It’s reached the purpose the place I’m not even certain what Atmos is supposed to be. It’s grown from being a cinema expertise to 1 that’s – considerably uncomfortably – fitted into dwelling rooms, and may be present in smartphones, wi-fi audio system, headphones, soundbars, and TVs. Nevertheless it’s by no means fairly recaptured the joys of immersive audio.

In the fitting setting, immersive audio is incredible. I’ve visited studios similar to L-Acoustics, Dean Road Studios, and Dolby HQ (many occasions) to listen to spatial audio, and in these settings, it really works due to the room and the positioning of the audio system to create a soundscape you possibly can delve into.

It completely doesn’t work for TVs. Dolby Atmos doesn’t appear to have the identical objective with TVs, which appears to be to supply higher processing than essentially higher sound. I’ve had the privilege of testing two huge 8K TVs, one from Samsung and one other from LG, and the Atmos efficiency has left me scratching my head.

The Samsung TV introduced a greater ‘Dolby Atmos’ efficiency with its inside apps than it did by way of a 4K Blu-ray participant, however in both case, it’s not as if the TV was punching sound results out to the viewing place or creating a way of results above you.

That’s moderately tough for TVs to do except it’s the Panasonic MZ2000 or, to a lesser extent, Sky Glass as a result of they each have a fully-fledged Atmos sound system. The answer can be to get a soundbar, however that’s solely half the equation. You want rear audio system to finish that hemisphere of sound.

Smartphones can apparently do Atmos however I’m not even certain what which means anymore as a result of there’s no method they will produce an immersive expertise by way of their audio system. Then there are headphones, and regardless of the rising variety of spatial audio mixes and technique of listening to them, the issue you encounter right here is that not each tune is made to be heard in immersive audio, particularly audio tracks which have been retrofitted to be immersive. It requires a substantial amount of engineering and whereas some tracks sound good, others could possibly be succinctly described as ‘meh’.

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There’s additionally the problem with headphones that sound is locked round within the house round your head, not within the room itself. Wi-fi audio system can get previous this challenge, the Echo Studio and Sonos Period 300 produce a much bigger sound, however we nonetheless have the issue of how music is engineered in spatial audio, in addition to sitting in the fitting place to really feel the spatial audio impact coming from what is only one speaker enclosure.

The issue is that with Atmos, Dolby has slapped its seal of approval throughout all forms of gadgets to get spatial audio on the market. And whereas it really works in some instances, it’s additionally served to water down the expertise and turn into complicated. It’s a bugbear on Tidal that if a monitor or album is in Dolby Atmos it is going to play in that format after I typically discover stereo is a greater expertise (relying on the headphones, after all).

I’m intrigued by Dolby Atmos FlexConnect, which may get previous the problems Atmos has within the dwelling by being extra versatile when it comes to the listening house. However early indications recommend the worth could possibly be costly, which might dampen its preliminary enchantment.

I actually like Atmos, and immersive audio normally. When deployed effectively it’s subtly involving or frantically immersive. However I do assume it’s suffered from some wonky high quality management, built-in into gadgets that wrestle to do justice or use digital processing to create top and width, which merely doesn’t work. It’s at risk of turning into one other confused piece of tech, and it deserves higher than that.

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