Dolby Atmos takes home theatre surround sound to a whole new level of immersion with audio coming at you from all directions, including overhead.
How many times have you sat in a cinema and been wowed by the directional quality of the sound? That’s the magic of Dolby Atmos, a spatial surround sound technology developed by Dolby Laboratories that was first installed in LA’s El Capitan Theatre for the premiere of Pixar’s Brave in 2012.
Since then, the tech has become available for home theatre set-ups as well as smartphones and other personal devices, and it will change the way you experience surround sound.
So, how does Dolby Atmos differ from a standard Digital 5.1 surround set-up? 5.1 routes dialogue to a centre channel, bounces gunfire, FX and action between the two front and two rear speakers, while bass rumbles from the subwoofer. Dolby Atmos adds ‘height’ channels to expand upon 5.1 (and 7.1), enveloping you in a bubble of surround sound.
The overhead (or vertical) audio is achieved by using ceiling-mounted speakers, or upward-firing ones placed in various positions along walls or atop bookshelves to bounce the sound off the ceiling and walls. A minimum of two height channels is required to create the 3D surround bubble – with four being optimum – so, the configuration for a basic Dolby Atmos set-up is designated 5.1.2.
When it comes to source content that supports Dolby Atmos, there’s no shortage – you’ll find Atmos tracks on a wide range of 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs, as well as major streaming services.
Moreover, there’s also Dolby Atmos Music (available from selected music streaming services), which brings unparalleled clarity and depth to your favourite tunes.
While a multi-speaker system will deliver the best results (the more speakers you add, the greater the immersion), a Dolby Atmos compatible soundbar can deliver an equally enveloping experience – without the need for overhead speakers – by using front and upward-firing speakers to reproduce the 360-degree surround sound effect. Some soundbars will upscale 5.1 and 7.1 surround, but to enjoy the full immersive power of true Dolby Atmos, the source content you’re playing must be Atmos-enabled.
SAMSUNG Q Series HW-Q900A 7.1.2 Channel True Dolby Atmos Soundbar
Comprising front, corner, side- and up-firing speakers, and a powerful wireless subwoofer, this multi-channel soundbar delivers the full cinematic experience when it comes to immersive audio. Smart technology analyses the environment and optimises sound levels accordingly, while an active voice amplifier ensures the dialogue comes through loud and clear. Samsung’s Q-Symphony feature synchronises motion tracking sound from compatible Samsung QLED TVs with the soundbar, and HDMI eARC connectivity delivers full resolution Dolby Atmos content from the TV to soundbar. There’s fast and easy Bluetooth pairing to stream music from portable devices, as well as Amazon Alexa and Apple Airplay 2 support.
SONY HT-X8500 2.1ch All-in-1 Dolby Atmos Soundbar with built-in Subwoofer
Sleek, compact and affordable, this is a terrific, entry level Dolby Atmos soundbar that delivers impressive cinematic 3D audio. Two front speakers and an integrated dual subwoofer work in tandem with Sony’s proprietary Vertical Surround Engine to accurately reproduce up to 7.1.2ch surround sound without the need for ceiling-mounted or reflection-based satellite speakers. The soundbar will also upscale dual channel and 5.1 audio sources at the tap of a button. The HT-X8500 is designed to handle the latest home cinema formats like Dolby Vision and HDR10, with fast 4K HDR 18Gps passthrough (when using a HDMI 2.1 cable), and there are five sound modes – Cinema, Game, Sports, Music and News (dialogue) – which further enhance the audio according to the content type.
LG SP11RA 7.1.4 Channel 770W Dolby Atmos
In the premium tier of Dolby Atmos soundbars is LG’s flagship model for 2021, which utilises Meridian advanced digital signal processing (DSP) to create a wide sound stage. The unit incorporates five outward-firing drivers and two upwards, plus a pair of wireless rear speakers (both forward and upward drivers) and a wireless subwoofer to deliver powerful and thoroughly immersive 7.1.4 channel sound, bringing the cinema experience home. There is also 4K passthrough for Dolby Vision, and LG TV Sound Mode Share – a feature of LG’s 2021 TV models – which uses the TV’s AI Sound Pro technology to automatically adjust the audio and frequency range to fit the source content being played. And for music lovers, High Resolution Audio support (24-bit/96kHz) will up-mix your favourite tunes with studio-quality sound.