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5 Reasons Dolby Atmos May Be DOA

by August 14, 2014
Admit it, youve always wanted a speaker that looked like someone hot glued another speaker on top of it.

Admit it, you've always wanted a speaker that looked like someone hot glued another speaker on top of it.

This article is an opinion piece.  The opinions shared by the author of this article don't necessarily conform to the site operatives.

Everyone in the AV and home theater world is buzzing about Dolby Atmos. This object-based processing for sound allows sound engineers to move sound around the room three dimensionally rather than just pans. From the content creator side, there is no doubt that Atmos is a useful tool.

For the home user, however, it is clearly stillborn. Just another in a long line of features that is used to pump up sales. Many industries use upgrades and new features to boost sales. For receiver manufactures, adding new features is key to keeping consumer dollars flowing in their direction. Each new receiver line launch is accompanied by announcements of the new, hot feature that you "must" have. Atmos is that feature for the foreseeable future. But most of you won't use it and don't need it. Here are five reasons why.

5) It costs too much.

New Atmos-equipped receivers are only now being announced. Most of them are ranging around the $2k mark. That's a pretty good chunk of change for most buyers. But, you'll also need new speakers. Many of them are either Home Theater in a Box (HTiB) offerings (like the ones from Pioneer and Onkyo) or are fairly pricy add-ons for your existing speakers (see Def Tech). If really want to do Atmos right, you'll install four in-ceiling speakers.

7.1.4

But of course you won't. No one is doing that.

If you really wanted a decent Atmos setup, you'd have to upgrade your receiver, install at least two in-ceiling speakers, and probably be out at least $3k. That's a lot to shell out just to get some extra height information especially if you just recently purchased a killer AV receiver or AV Processor that can't be returned or upgraded. Can you envision Joe Consumer doing that? We can't either.

4) The speakers are stupid 

What has some people excited are the Atmos-specific speakers. These are speakers with top mounted drivers that are angled to bounce the sound off the ceiling. Of course, these will have inconsistent results depending on the shape of your ceiling. Vaulted ceilings, taller than average rooms, ceiling fans, and more will work directly against this reflected sound.

Dolby Atmos Speaker

And we all know how well full range drivers work. Obviously, these will sound excellent.

Oh, did you have your room acoustically treated by a professional? Well, you probably have either absorption or diffusion on your ceiling. Is your wife still mad about the size of your subwoofer? Take a picture of her face when you tell her you want to install four more speakers in the ceiling. Send it to us. We'll be happy to post it on our Facebook wall.

5.1.4 Atmos Enabled

Most importantly, you need to look at the diagrams of the Atmos speakers (see above). Is that where you have your rear speakers placed? Most of us have them higher and on the side walls. Dolby is glossing over the fact that we already have our rear speakers fairly high up on the wall and instead assuming that they are at ear level. So, unless you are one of the rare few with rear speakers placed on stands at ear level, you won't be able to use the rear Atmos speakers at all. At least until they come out with something that is meant to be wall mounted.  See our Steerable Atmos Speaker Proposal

3) You didn't buy height/width speakers but you'll hang them on your ceiling?

Let's not forget that we already had receivers with additional speaker processing. Height and width speakers have been around for a while and "Presence" speakers from Yamaha (essentially height channels) have been around for a lot longer. How many home theaters have you been in that have either of these speakers?

dtx-neox_setup

Pictured - Twice as many speakers as you'll ever have in your home theater

There are some real reasons why width channels can help the sound in your home theater. Width channels are meant to positioned at the first reflection points of your main speakers. If you place absorption at those reflection points, the width channels recreate the reflections in a way that isn't detrimental to the sound. And I only personally know one person that has used them. And I'm not him. 

2) The only people that will buy Atmos speakers won't know what to do with them

I have to admit that Onkyo placing Atmos in HTiB systems is a stroke of brilliance. This will get Atmos into a ton of homes and will surely increase the sales of these systems simply because they'll be the only ones with the Atmos logo. Good for Onkyo, good for Dolby, good for the consumer.

Except, the people that buy HTiB systems historically don't know what they are doing.

HTiB

Comment below if you've seen speakers set up like this. We have.

How many times have you been to a person's home and nearly cried at the state of their speakers. I've seen speakers all up at the front. I've seen the front left and right speakers placed on one side of the TV with the surrounds on the other. I've seen speakers in cabinets behind closed, solid wood doors. I've seen such speaker placements that only non-Euclidian geometry could possibly explain. And these are the people that are going to placing Atmos speakers so that they properly bounce the sound off the ceiling? Yeah, that'll work.  In an industry where consumers are clamoring for less speakers, let's add more, hence the Dolby Atmos Paradox.

1) Atmos simply doesn't have enough Wow! 

There is no denying that 4k is a resolution upgrade from 1080p. It's simple math. And yet I've never seen anyone stop and look at a 4k display in a store longer than to notice that the price is exponentially higher than the other HDTV sets. I've walked past enough 4k sets directly next to 1080p displays and can say that I can't see the difference in the store. 4k isn't selling TVs right now. We may all end up with one in the future as, like 720p, eventually there won't be anything else to buy, but there are very few people that are buying new displays purely because they want 4k. 

4k v 1080p

Of course, where most people sit they might as well have SD.

In the same vein, 3D is a feature that adds something to your TV viewing experience. For some, it adds nausea and headaches, but others do enjoy it. At least a few times. But we've already seen display manufacturers abandoning 3D (see Visio's latest line). While manufacturers tried to convince us that 3D was the next, greatest thing, people just weren't buying it. Literally. 

What does Dolby Atmos bring to the table? By most accounts, a bit more spaciousness to the sound and the occasionally, "Hey, that plane sounded like it flew directly over me!" Does that sound worth spending a couple of grand and putting speakers on your ceiling? We doubt many would think so.

The fact is that our ears are not properly placed to locate higher sounds very well. Being on the same plane but on opposite sides of our head allows us to locate sounds near the ground (or at ear height) very well. That’s why pans are so effective. But as soon as the sounds start coming from overhead, we lose much of that ability. So, in essence, Atmos isn't the problem. The problem is our ears. Maybe Dolby should release a new Atmos-enable head. 

What do you think?    Also check out an alternative viewpoint by Steve Munz on 5 Reasons Dolby Atmos WILL Succed.  Share your views on Dolby Atmos in our forum and let us know if you'll be buying into it.

 

About the author:

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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Recent Forum Posts:

panteragstk posts on January 23, 2020 12:02
dzzmiller, post: 1364638, member: 85485
Thanks. I found that I had the sub set to LFE only. So the sub is on now in stereo mode.

What I still don't like is that I don't seem to have control of when the reciever will use all 11 main channels and cut out zone 2. I would like to tell the receiver to do a real 5.1 and leave zone 2 on.

If there is an actual Atmos signal I'm fine with the recceiver cutting out zone 2.

Not going to be much help there. I don't use multiple zone capability on any of my receivers.
dzzmiller posts on January 23, 2020 11:33
panteragstk, post: 1364628, member: 61217
There is a separate stereo setup on my 4300h when doing the speaker setup. Does yours have that too?

Thanks. I found that I had the sub set to LFE only. So the sub is on now in stereo mode.

What I still don't like is that I don't seem to have control of when the reciever will use all 11 main channels and cut out zone 2. I would like to tell the receiver to do a real 5.1 and leave zone 2 on.

If there is an actual Atmos signal I'm fine with the recceiver cutting out zone 2.
panteragstk posts on January 23, 2020 11:07
dzzmiller, post: 1364225, member: 85485
I'm about a week into 7.1.4 in a new room. The $20 D&M equalizer app certainly improved the experience today.

I suspect I would have had about equal enjoyment going to 5.1.2. But I'm too lazy to experiment.

I've used Denon/Marantz for two decades. I don't know why the crappy interface and documentation still surprises me. Why zone 2 plays in some modes but not others is a mystery. Why the sub doesn't have a signal in stereo mode is a mystery.

There is a separate stereo setup on my 4300h when doing the speaker setup. Does yours have that too?
dzzmiller posts on January 21, 2020 18:11
I'm about a week into 7.1.4 in a new room. The $20 D&M equalizer app certainly improved the experience today.

I suspect I would have had about equal enjoyment going to 5.1.2. But I'm too lazy to experiment.

I've used Denon/Marantz for two decades. I don't know why the crappy interface and documentation still surprises me. Why zone 2 plays in some modes but not others is a mystery. Why the sub doesn't have a signal in stereo mode is a mystery.
panteragstk posts on January 17, 2020 12:06
snakeeyes, post: 1363198, member: 85468
Ya there are also some UHD Blu-rays with 4K HDR10+

Here’s a link:

https://forum.blu-ray.com/showthread.php?t=300877

Man this lack of standardization is annoying.
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