September 21, 2018
Apple TV 4K, with the launch of tvOS 12, is about to get Dolby Atmos surround sound. Dolby Atmos, initially launched in movie theaters, differs from other cinema surround sound systems by replacing a fixed number of audio channels with the concept of audio “objects.” With Atmos, sound designers and mixers can manipulate each sound as an audio “object” and place it anywhere inside the “virtual” theater. When Atmos is played back in a real theater, the mix is mapped to the speakers to recreate the original intent.
The Verge reports that Dolby Atmos “allows for a degree of precision and creative flexibility that simply wasn’t possible before,” supporting up to 64 discrete speakers in a theater. It is “also designed to be much more scalable across different theater sizes.” Releases featuring Dolby Atmos are increasingly more common, especially for blockbuster films, but also for smaller ones.
Dolby Cinema has a partnership with AMC Theatres, which combines Dolby Atmos with Dolby Vision HDR laser-projection. Dolby Atmos has migrated to home theaters, but is too expensive for most consumers.
Dolby “has also worked with hardware manufacturers to introduce alternative options into the marketplace,” so consumers can play back in home theaters films originally released with Atmos sound. “The difference between theatrical Atmos and home-entertainment Atmos is just resolution,” said sound mixer Andy King. Rather than use dozens of speakers in a theater space, “Atmos home installations … simply use four ceiling speakers configured like a traditional 5.1 or 7.1 setup.”
Dolby’s end game is to “make Atmos the default finishing format for filmmakers, by making it easy to translate those mixes into the various other formats required for media distribution around the world.”
“Dolby’s done their homework, and I, as a mixer, am confident in their technology,” said King. “And I can convey that to producers and showrunners alike when we get into the home entertainment space.” Atmos can enhance a TV show’s cinematic feel; King pointed to “Westworld,” where Dolby Atmos makes the “ambiences come alive.”
“I can really pinpoint things, and have movement so that the audience member feels like they’re in the experience,” he added.
These combination of factors, says The Verge, “make it an exciting time for high-quality presentation in the home,” with streaming services adopting new formats such as Dolby Atmos more quickly than broadcasters. Now, with Apple TV offering Dolby Atmos, “a turnkey solution for all premium formats is simpler to get than ever.”