“Let our rigorous testing and reviews be your guidelines to A/V equipment – not marketing slogans”
Facebook Youtube Twitter instagram pinterest

Prime Video Removes Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos Unless You Pay More

by February 13, 2024
Prime Video Strips Dolby Atmos

Prime Video Strips Dolby Atmos

In September of 2023, Amazon announced that its Prime Video streaming service would beginning running ads in 2024. Despite the negative attention that this announcement received, the company confirmed in December that it would run non-skippable ads starting in January unless subscribers paid an additional $2.99 per month for a new ad-free tier. Sure enough, the ads arrived on January 29th, 2024. But along with the ads came another unwelcome change. Without warning, Amazon removed support for Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio from the ad-supported tier. Both technologies were previously included with a standard Prime Video subscription, and many users with newer TVs (or streaming devices such as the Apple TV 4K) had grown accustomed to viewing content in these Dolby formats. Users who did not opt-in to the new ad-free tier were switched to the ad-supported tier by default, and lost access to Dolby in the process. Titles that were previously offered in Dolby Vision are still available in HDR10+, which is a free alternative to Dolby Vision. Dolby Vision and HDR10+ both support dynamic metadata, meaning that the content contains information about HDR performance that can change on a scene-by-scene basis, resulting in better picture quality. On the audio side, Dolby Atmos titles are downgraded to 5.1-channel audio in the ad-supported tier. 

 Jack Ryan in Atmos

Various online sources have confirmed the change on a number of devices, including TVs from LG, Sony, TCL, and Samsung (though it’s worth noting that Samsung TVs have never supported Dolby Vision). Forbes writer John Archer reported that, in the new and more expensive ad-free tier, “the TV throws up its own confirmation boxes to say that the show is playing in Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos.” But those pop-up boxes were “stubbornly absent” when Archer was signed into a basic ad-supported account. When he first encountered the change, he thought it might be the result of an unintentional oversight or technical error. Only after he published his initial findings did Amazon officially confirm that this was no mistake — users who don’t pay up will lose access to Dolby tech. Making a significant reduction to features is never going to be popular, especially when customers are used to getting those features at no extra cost. (Remember when airlines suddenly started charging for checked baggage after including it in the ticket price for decades? I’m still fuming.) So it’s no surprise that Amazon didn’t shout about this change from the rooftops. But trying to sneak it past subscribers without so much as an email or press release is not the way to keep paying customers happy. To make things worse, some TVs are still labeling the affected content with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos logos, even when the user’s Prime subscription no longer includes those features. On the TCL TV that Forbes writer John Archer recently tested, the Prime Video header information for the Amazon Original series “Jack Ryan” still listed Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos among the supported technical features when Archer was signed into a basic ad-supported account. But when he pressed play, it was clear that neither feature was being delivered to his TV.

Wheel of Time 

Why Did Amazon Remove Dolby Vision and Atmos??

Amazon has not given a reason for the removal of Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision from its ad-supported tier, but it seems likely that the goal was to reduce the company’s costs by cutting back on licensing fees paid to Dolby. It’s also possible that Amazon is toying with the idea of abandoning Dolby Vision and/or Dolby Atmos altogether. The company has had a rocky history with Dolby over the years. Prime Video first began offering Dolby Vision back in 2016, with an initial launch supporting films like “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and Amazon original TV shows, like “Bosch.” High-end TVs from LG were the only devices to support the technology at launch, though more devices began offering support throughout the following year. At the time, Amazon Video VP Jim Freeman said, “We’re thrilled that starting today customers have access to titles, including our binge-worthy Amazon Original Series, in Dolby Vision HDR. Today is just the beginning. We will continue to expand our selection, adding more movies and TV series for our customers to watch and enjoy in the premium picture quality of HDR.” Curt Behlmer, SVP of content solutions and industry relations at Dolby Laboratories, said that “Amazon’s commitment to deliver Dolby Vision content to consumers marks another leap forward in providing viewers around the world with access to exceptional movies and original content that come to life on screen.” But that commitment was surprisingly short-lived. Because it was just the following year, in 2017, when Amazon pulled the plug on Dolby Vision entirely, choosing instead to support the then-brand-new HDR10+ format. HDR10+ was created by Samsung, Panasonic, and 20th Century Fox as an open-source alternative to Dolby Vision. Amazon supported the new format by making its entire catalog of HDR content available in HDR10+, entering into a partnership with Samsung that would last over 5 years. But just when it looked like Amazon and Dolby were never ever getting back together, Prime Video began supporting Dolby Atmos in 2018, starting with the Amazon original series "Jack Ryan." Later, in September of 2022, Amazon once again began offering select titles in Dolby Vision HDR, including “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” and “The Wheel of Time.” The number of titles available in Dolby Vision and/or Dolby Atmos has risen significantly in the interim.

Of course, Amazon is not the only streaming service to charge a premium for a higher-quality experience. Netflix now charges $23 per month for its Premium plan here in the USA. This is the only Netflix plan that streams in 4K — the others max out at 1080p. But when Netflix began running ads, it did so by offering a new, significantly less expensive ad-supported tier. It was not a default replacement for the ad-free plans that users were accustomed to. Those who wanted to pay much less and watch ads could elect to do so. Everyone else just went about their business and kept their existing plans. Warner Bros. Discovery handled things less gracefully when the wheels of change began inexorably turning. When HBO Max turned into Max in the spring of 2023, initial announcements indicated that there would be no price increase for existing subscribers. But later it was revealed that subscribers who wanted to continue streaming in 4K HDR (including Dolby Vision) would have to upgrade from the standard $15.99 plan to a new $19.99 “Ultimate” plan — a price increase of 25% — just to keep the video quality they were used to. Dolby Atmos fans were in the same boat. Only those willing to pay for the Ultimate plan would be able to continue enjoying Dolby Atmos audio.

These changes may be met with backlash from enthusiasts like us, but unfortunately we are a small minority. Big companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Warner Bros. Discovery carefully calculate these decisions in order to make the most money, and there are plenty of ordinary folks who simply won’t notice that Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos have left the building. After all, there are millions of people who consume content solely on phones, tablets, or laptops, and if Amazon can get away with downgrading their content to save some cash, that’s what the company is going to do. While some enthusiasts might cancel their subscriptions in protest, most will likely fork over the additional $2.99/month and get on with their lives. Which way will you go? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.


About the author:
author portrait

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.

View full profile