Why Dolby At­mos will al­ways be best in the cin­e­mas

HWM (Singapore) - - Contents - By Mar­cus Wong

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You’ve prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­enced Dolby At­mos sound by now. It’s the rev­o­lu­tion­ary new au­dio for­mat from Dolby that maps au­dio into a sphere of sound, so au­dio is no longer pro­jected at you from in­di­vid­ual di­rec­tions (i.e. chan­nels), but rather mapped to an area that cor­re­sponds to where the sound is com­ing from, even over­head.

That last point in par­tic­u­lar has spawned a whole new prod­uct cat­e­gory, upring speak­ers, as man­u­fac­tur­ers race to catch the trend and com­plete the sphere of “amaz­ing sound,” from set­ups as min­i­mal as a sin­gle sound­bar. But how do these sound­bars fare?

You may re­call that we did a sound­bar shootout in the last is­sue, with three of the sound­bars certied as “Dolby At­mos” ca­pa­ble. Dolby At­mos con­tent was used for test­ing, so you might ex­pect the three At­mos-certied sound­bars to eas­ily blow the rest away, given the in­clu­sion of ex­tra up-ring driv­ers and more ad­vanced pro­cess­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Ex­cept they didn’t. You see, the prob­lem with sound­bars is that ul­ti­mately they’re xed in one lo­ca­tion. Hav­ing more driv­ers an­gled side­ways and spread fur­ther apart cer­tainly helps in terms of stereo sep­a­ra­tion, and you can denitely get a sense of over­head sound if you raise the vol­ume enough (so that there is enough force to bounce off your ceil­ings), but ul­ti­mately noth­ing beats hav­ing a speaker phys­i­cally throw­ing au­dio at you.

That’s es­pe­cially true when you’re talk­ing about au­dio that’s sup­posed to be com­ing from be­hind you. No mat­ter what you do with time de­lays and in­tel­li­gent pro­cess­ing, the fact re­mains that sound is a force that we can feel, so noth­ing beats hav­ing it pro­jected di­rectly at you.

And then there’s the ques­tion of con­tent. How many times have you watched a movie where you’ve had ac­tion com­ing from be­hind or above you? Not many we’re guess­ing, so you’re un­likely to get the full “cin­ema ef­fect.”

In our own test­ing, the only times we ex­pected over­head sound was for a few sec­onds in a clip of

Game of Thrones, when ar­rows were ying over­head, and then again in

Un­bro­ken, when the enemy planes ew over­head. Just like with 3D, this is tech­nol­ogy that will only im­press when ap­plied to cer­tain ma­te­rial.

Dolby At­mos may work won­ders when there is a whole ar­ray of speak­ers that can be used to map sound with, like in the cin­ema, but not so much when you’re re­ly­ing on a sin­gle sound­bar in the home.

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