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Dolby Atmos Compatibility Issues on Older Blu-ray Players

by December 04, 2014
The OPPO BDP-95 Blu-ray player.

The OPPO BDP-95 Blu-ray player.

A few months ago when we discussed Dolby Atmos for Home Theater, we went over the upgrades you’d need to make in order to be ready for the new audio format. The big changes were an Atmos-ready A/V receiver, and at least one pair of in-ceiling or Atmos-enabled speakers. What about your Blu-ray player? No worries we were told, Blu-ray players that fully conform to the Blu-ray specification will support Atmos without requiring a firmware update.

Naturally there’s a little more to the story. The Dolby Atmos website now states, “Current and recent products that fully conform to the Blu-ray specification are advised.” What about older products? As it turns out, the Blu-ray specification itself has been updated many times since the initial release of the format. With respect to Dolby TrueHD, which is the encoding format used to carry Atmos on Blu-ray discs, a feature called Seamless Branching was added. It is used to jump to a different scene or switch to a different segment of the sound track without the user noticing (for example, if watching an extended cut of a film).

So what does all of this mean to the end user? If you’re rocking an older Blu-ray player and watching a Dolby TrueHD / Atmos mix which makes use of Seamless Branching, you may run into random audio dropouts. What can you do about it if you have a problem? With Dolby TrueHD generally you can set the player to decode the audio internally and output the soundtrack via either analog audio or PCM over HDMI, thus workaround the problem. Sadly, since Atmos requires bitstream output to an Atmos-capable A/V receiver, the only solution appears to be buying a current model Blu-ray player, such as OPPO’s BDP-10x series.

In speaking with our friends at OPPO, we’ve been told that although users reported success in playing Atmos with their older BDP-8x and BDP-9x series, these players aren’t guaranteed to perform flawlessly. Only the current BDP-10x series are guaranteed to fully support Seamless Branching and Atmos. The older players conformed to the then-current specifications when these models were released, but technologies have moved on. While users certainly appreciate OPPO for continuing to support their older models, ultimately the fact is that players released years ago do have their technical limitations and cannot be firmware-updated to support new features like Atmos. OPPO also confirmed that many players from other brands produced around the same time period as the BDP-8x and BDP-9x would have the same problem.

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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