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5 Reasons Why Dolby Atmos Will Succeed

by August 19, 2014
Illustration of an Atmos 7.1.4 system

Illustration of an Atmos 7.1.4 system

Tom Andry’s article 5 Reasons Dolby Atmos May Be DOA elicited quite a few reactions. Some folks were quick to agree with Tom’s assessment, while others vehemently disagreed with his take on Atmos in the home. Some even went so far as to declare we were anti-Atmos just because of the Tom’s opinion piece, as if he spoke for the entire Audioholics' writing staff.

As you might gather from the title of this article, I’m not quite as doom-and-gloom on the subject. That’s not to say I believe everything to be sunshine and rainbows: I’d just assume see Dolby and their partners focus their marketing efforts on the higher end of the market where Atmos makes more sense, versus the shotgun approach which will inevitably include Atmos soundbars and HTIBs in order to reach a wider audience. That said, I’d disagree with the notion that Atmos for the home is DOA, and here’s why:

5. Atmos makes things easier behind the scenes.

Irrespective of what consumers may think about Atmos, there’s no question that it’s a boon for the engineers who mix film soundtracks. The move to an object oriented format makes mixing for an ever increasing number of discrete channels substantially easier. The idea is simple: place objects within a 3D soundscape, and it’s up to the system to actually steer the sound to the appropriate speakers. If you’re dealing with >7 channels of audio (Atmos in the cinema can support up to 64 speakers), it’s not hard to see the appeal.


Representation of objects within a virtual 3D space.

At the same time, an object oriented soundtrack has the benefit of serving as a master mix. Regardless of whether you’re running 2.0 or 34.1 channels at home, a single object oriented mix is all you need, again simplifying the lives of mixers. Suffice it to say, even if relatively few consumers opt to purchase X.X.2 or X.X.4 Atmos setups, the format will live on behind the scenes.

4. Atmos is backwards compatible.

It’s important to keep in mind that Atmos in the home isn’t being implemented as a new codec per se, but as extensions to Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus. If you’re happy to stick with your current 5.1 / 7.1 setup, that’s A-OK. If you unknowingly happen to buy an Atmos Blu-ray, no harm done, your system will play the base Dolby TrueHD track and you’ll be none the wiser. From that standpoint, there’s no sense in fretting about what Atmos means for consumers. It’s there for those who want to make use of it as opposed to being forced down our throats.

3. Atmos will appeal to niche market like DVD-A and SACD does for audiophiles.

While it’s impossible to say how many people will jump on board with full Atmos setups, there is a market where it should be successful: high end dedicated theaters. There you have people who desire the best, with spaces potentially large enough to support even a 34.1 setup, not to mention the funds needed to make it all happen without worrying about diluting system quality. The high end market obviously isn’t huge relative to the mass market, but it tends to be lucrative thanks to better margins. The end result is a win – win for manufacturers and installers who are assuredly drooling over the prospects, as well as consumers who will get a more immersive and realistic audio experience.

2. Atmos enabled speakers. 

While we’ve ragged on Atmos enabled speakers a bit, there’s no denying that they make the upgrade path much easier relative to dedicated in-ceiling speakers. While you’ll still need some extra wiring and amplifier channels to make use of them, Atmos enabled speakers (and separate add-on modules) boast a driver array that fires towards the ceiling, which combined with some DSP tricks from the Atmos engine will theoretically trick your brain into thinking that sounds are coming from above you.

Atmos Enabled Speakers

Illustration of a 5.1.4 Atmos system utilizing Atmos enabled speakers.

Now we’ll be frank here: some of these speakers do look a bit chintzy to us (i.e. a couple models that feature a single 3” paper driver). However, we’re not prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Implementations like that seen in the Pioneer Elite speaker line which feature a concentric driver have piqued our interest quite a bit, and we’ve heard rumors that other high end manufacturers will be throwing their hat into the ring as well.

1. Dolby is expending great effort to market Atmos while DTS is MIA at the moment.

Is Atmos in the home DOA? Not by a long shot in this writer’s opinion.

Atmos is, at least at the moment, the only game in town for a next generation object based audio format. Moreover, like Sony back in the days of Blu-ray vs HD DVD, they’re spending a great deal of resources to drum up studio support for Atmos. The net result is that news sites and forums are buzzing about the possibilities of Atmos, while mum is the word on DTS. Needless to say, Dolby is sitting pretty if there’s an audio format war looming on the horizon, while DTS faces a serious uphill battle.

Atmos Hear Everything


Is Atmos in the home DOA? Not by a long shot in this writer’s opinion. On the practical side, Atmos gives consumers options. Consumers that are happy with their current setup aren’t forced to upgrade anything. On the other hand, those seeking the additional involvement that Atmos brings to the table have the choice of in-ceiling speakers or the less painful path of Atmos enabled speakers. Add in what Atmos means on the back end for movie studios as well as the fact that Dolby is first to market with their next generation format, and you’ve got the makings of a successful rollout.

Tell us what you think in our forum and if you will be looking to upgrade to Dolby Atmos anytime soon. 


About the author:
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Steve Munz is a “different” addition to Audioholics’ stable of contributors in that he is neither an engineer like Gene, nor has he worked in the industry like Cliff. In fact, Steve’s day job is network administration and accounting.

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