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'Jack Ryan' Brings Dolby Atmos To Amazon Prime Video

by October 01, 2018
Jack Ryan Ultra HD Blu-ray

Jack Ryan Ultra HD Blu-ray

Streaming video has come a long way since Netflix began supplementing its DVD delivery service with web-based video-on-demand content in 2007. Back then, movies and TV shows were served up in standard definition, in the old-school 4:3 aspect ratio, and with a highly compressed mono or stereo soundtrack. It was good enough to enjoy watching reruns of my favorite 1980s shows (I’m an unapologetic fan of MacGyver and Airwolf), but if I wanted to watch a movie, I waited for the disc. For streaming, it was all about the novelty of instant gratification, and the all-you-can-eat buffet of content available. And just as buffet-style restaurants aren’t known for their Michelin-star cuisine, streaming media simply couldn’t deliver the kind of cinematic experience that home theater enthusiasts enjoyed from physical media. But in 2018, after more than a decade of technological advancements, the quality gap between streaming media and physical media has narrowed so much that even the most die-hard of AV purists gobble up at least a portion of their entertainment from online sources. You no longer need a spinning disc to enjoy 4K video with HDR (high dynamic range), and now even the latest object-based audio formats are streamable. Amazon’s Prime Video service is the latest to embrace immersive audio when the new Prime Original series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan which began streaming on August 31st with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

The new series is the first Dolby Atmos content available from Amazon. Prime Video has supported Dolby Vision HDR video since 2016, but not Atmos audio. (Dolby Vision is a premium HDR format that uses dynamic metadata to make picture adjustments on the fly, delivering a more vibrant overall presentation.) The Jack Ryan series will be available in both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos, but it’s not yet clear which devices will be able to deliver the double Dolby experience when the show premiers. Dolby has stated that Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Cube streaming devices will support Atmos on Prime Video, but neither device supports Dolby Vision HDR. No other devices have been confirmed, but Dolby did say in a recent press release that Atmos will be coming to Prime Video on “a variety of other compatible devices including TVs, sound bars, and home theater systems.” One very likely candidate is the latest Apple TV media streamer, which can deliver both Dolby Vision (currently) and Dolby Atmos (after a firmware update this fall). The Xbox One gaming consoles from Microsoft also support Atmos, and will be getting Dolby Vision support via a firmware update. LG’s latest OLED TVs support both Dolby formats. For the record, Amazon has indicated that Jack Ryan will also be available in the competing HDR10+ video format on compatible devices, such as Samsung TVs.

With the arrival of Atmos content on Prime Video, Dolby is expanding the reach of its flagship audio format, which is already available on a small but growing number of titles on Netflix and Vudu. Hulu and HBO have not yet adopted Dobly Atmos (nor Dolby Vision), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them follow the trend. Amazon’s Greg Hart, Vice President of Prime Video, said that

Amazon is committed to delivering immersive and compelling content to… Prime Video members around the world,” and that “Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision will enhance the action-packed scenes in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, and make viewers feel like they are at the center of the story.”

The series follows the exploits of Jack Ryan, an up-and-coming CIA analyst whose adventures we’ve seen before on the big screen, in films like The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger. (John Krasinski, who plays the protagonist in this new series, is the fifth actor to portray Ryan on screen, after Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine.) In the new Prime Original series, some suspicious bank transfers lead the protagonist to leave the relative safety of his desk job and become entangled in an international terrorist threat. Amazon ordered a second season of the series back in April, over four months before the first season’s premier of August 31st.

Has Streaming Quality Caught Up with Physical Media?

Now that streaming services are offering leading-edge technologies like Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision HDR, have they finally caught up to the audio-visual quality available from Ultra HD blu-ray discs? Not quite. The version of Atmos used by streaming services is based on Dolby Digital Plus, which uses lossy data compression to reduce file size. Dolby Atmos on Ultra HD blu-ray discs is built upon Dolby True HD, a lossless format that delivers the original, full-resolution soundtrack in its entirety. Similarly, the video compression techniques used by streaming services can introduce noise and video artifacts. But it’s not hard to imagine a time in the not-so-distant future when the performance gap between physical and streaming media will go from narrow to non-existent.

Are you ready to give up physical media? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below. 

About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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