Beginners Guide To Dolby Atmos. 7 Main Things To Know

Dolby Atmos is a form of surround sound technology created by sound giants Dolby. At its most basic, Dolby Atmos allows different sounds to be used as 3D objects. This allows for more immersive and realistic soundtracks for TV, film, music, and video games. In this guide, we look in more detail at what Dolby Atmos is, and how it works.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is an audio technology that adds a third dimension to a surround sound setup. Traditional surround sound uses multiple channels to create directional sound but it is constrained within these channels. 

Dolby Atmos removes the constraints of these channels and instead handles audio as objects. The objects can move freely and thus can be treated as three dimensional. The result is that sound can move anywhere and audio engineers can use this to create realistic audio that moves in multiple directions.    

A common example used to describe Dolby Atmos is that of the movement of a helicopter. With a Dolby Atmos setup, if the helicopter was flying from behind you, over your head, to your right onto the screen, you would hear an accurate representation of this sound. The result would be that you feel like the helicopter is actually flying over you due to the realistic sound path.

How Does Dolby Atmos Work?

Dolby Atmos can allow up to 128 audio tracks to be distributed throughout a surround sound setup. This includes 118 audio objects, and 10 ambient stems (also known as center dialogue). 

Each audio object can also include metadata – this is important information that states how the object is used and how it is processed. The number of available tracks and the metadata combine to create detailed and realistic directional sound.

Also, during playback, the Dolby Atmos system renders in real-time. As a result, audio objects are projected from a designated spot on different speakers – this helps create the immersive directional audio. 

What are the Benefits of Dolby Atmos?

So why should you invest in a Dolby Atmos setup? This sound setup has numerous benefits which we have listed below:

  • It is versatile and works with many home cinema configurations
  • It can be used with mobile devices
  • It can offer an immersive experience for VR
  • It provides a 360-degree sound that is more lifelike

Firstly, and most importantly, Dolby Atmos gives a fantastic lifelike sound experience. As mentioned above, audio objects are not limited to channels but instead treated as individual objects. The result is a new level of immersion with sounds moving by your side, over your head, and behind you – in all directions. It essentially takes surround sound to a new level, literally!

Secondly, this immersive sound is also compatible with VR headsets and mobile devices. This means you can experience 360 degrees sound on your tablet, or whilst playing awesome VR games like Vader Immortal.

In addition, Dolby Atmos is a versatile system that can be upgraded and used in multiple configurations. It is also expandable. As you will see below, Dolby recommends a 5.1.2 setup with a minimum of seven speakers. Over time, you could add additional ceiling speakers to this setup to further boost the 360 degree sound quality.

Common Questions Relating to Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is still a relatively new technology for home-usage. As a result, it is not fully understood and you may have a host of questions relating to its implementation and usage. To help, we have listed a handful of common questions below:

Do you Need eARC for Dolby Atmos?

This is a common question relating to Dolby Atmos and is important to understand. It is not vital to have eARC for Dolby Atmos. However, the answer is a little more complex than this.

There are generally two versions of Dolby Atmos that are used – compressed, or uncompressed. The compressed version is sent using DD+ and is mainly used by streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The compressed version of Dolby Atmos can be sent using standard ARC and does not require eARC.

The uncompressed version of Dolby Atmos (Or Full Dolby Atmos), however, does require eARC. This is because there is much more data to process. 

To conclude, for the best quality Dolby Atmos sound experience eARC is advised, but it is not essential and you can still get some form of Dolby Atmos with ARC.

How Many Speakers do I Need for Dolby Atmos?

Seven speakers are the bare minimum to create an effective Dolby Atmos setup at home. In other words, you need a 5.1.2 surround sound setup. Alternatively, some soundbars can provide a Dolby Atmos setup. You can find more info about the ideal Dolby Atmos speaker setup here. In addition, there is a variety of equipment you may need to create this seven-speaker setup including:

  • Ceiling speakers
  • Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers
  • A Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar

Ceiling speakers or speakers with Dolby Atmos enabled will provide the positional sound as they project the sound upwards which then reflects off the ceiling. The result is a fantastic lifelike overhead sound that adds to the immersive experience.

The 5.1.2 setup includes the following:

  • One subwoofer
  • Two height speakers (ceiling speakers)
  • Five surround speakers

Dolby actually recommends that you have a minimum of four ceiling speakers for a better sound experience. You can find full details of the traditional 5.1.2 surround sound setup here.

Can I use Just a Soundbar to Create a Dolby Atmos Setup?

It is possible to create a Dolby Atmos setup just by using a soundbar. Some soundbars are Dolby Atmos enabled and offer a much cheaper alternative to a complete 5.1.2 system. Great examples include the award-winning Sonos Arc, the entry-level Sony HT-G700, and the affordable Sony HT-ZF9. 

When Dolby Atmos was first introduced, there was only a handful of incredibly expensive sound bars and equipment available. However, now that the technology is gaining traction, you can find a great range of soundbars like the ones listed above to suit various budgets and setups. Also remember, that generally, if you spend more, you will get a larger array of features.

Is Dolby Atmos Good for Gaming?

In one word, yes! In recent years we have seen video games become increasingly immersive. Games compatible with Dolby Atmos sound is a natural progression of this and helps take the gaming experience to whole new levels. In particular games, Atmos can also provide situational awareness and give a tactical advantage!

Popular first-person shooters like Call of Duty Warzone, Star Wars: Battlefront II, and Overwatch are compatible with Dolby Atmos and the result is glorious. You gain a new level of positional audio – bullets whizzing over your head, footsteps to your left, a helicopter flying off in the distance. You almost feel like you are there, and it makes the gameplay that much better.

What is the Best Dolby Atmos Movie?

Many modern films have implemented immersive sound using Dolby Atmos technology. One of the current best examples is Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame. This was one of the most highly anticipated films of 2018 and was the culmination of over a decade of superhero flicks.

In this film, we see the Avengers and other superheroes take on Thanos once again on an epic scale not seen before. The sheer scale of this film was perfect for a Dolby Atmos flex. One of the best examples of Dolby Atmos in action was during the final battle scene – the action was frantic, and the multi-layered and positional sound really added depth and a new level of awareness to the fighting.

The Bottom Line – Is it Worth Getting Dolby Atmos?

This is subjective and depends on your own circumstance. For its raw sound quality and the immersive experience it provides, Dolby Atmos is definitely worth it. You can experience sound like never before and movies, music, TV series, and gaming will be so much better.

However, it can come with an associated cost if you want to go all-out and create a 5.1.2 surround sound setup which can include myriad of expensive speakers. This is not essential, however, as you can use one of the affordable soundbars mentioned above to create a much cheaper Dolby Atmos setup.

If you are a movie buff or an ardent online gamer, Dolby Atmos is definitely the way forward. You may already have a surround sound setup or expensive electrical equipment. As a result, creating a Dolby Atmos setup would be logical, and would allow you to enjoy what you love in a more immersive way.