What is Dolby Atmos? How Does It Work? Is It Worth the Upgrade?

Have you ever imagined that when you go to the movies to see Hollywood blockbusters with a “strong” sound system, you will be able to take that sound system into your own home? Now that’s completely possible, when the popular Dolby Atmos sound standard has been integrated by the manufacturer on mobile devices, Smart TVs, … and you can completely experience it easily. Get extremely vivid sound quality right at home.

Dolby Atmos is a new technology that makes the sound in your home more realistic and natural. It’s a surround sound technology that brings the sounds around you, allowing you to hear everything in your room.

In this post, we will take a look at Dolby Atmos technology, what it is, and how it works.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos technology is a surround sound technology that creates a 3D audio environment. It has a new technology that uses a lot of speakers to make a 360° surround sound experience.

You will notice that the audio is not only coming from the front speakers, but also from the left, right, and behind you. This allows the audio to create a more realistic and natural 3D sound.

With Dolby Atmos, you can create 3D sound in your home, without having to install expensive speakers.

The first Dolby Atmos theaters were built in June 2012, with the first movie mix being for Pixar’s Brave. Since then, more than 400 movies have been released or will be released with Dolby Atmos soundtracks, including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Dunkirk. The technology is also used for some TV shows on Netflix and Amazon, as well as live sports broadcasts from MLB and NFL games.

In a Dolby Atmos theater, there are speakers mounted in the ceiling that can direct sounds around the room with pinpoint accuracy. In a home set up, you’ll still get those directional effects; however, instead of speakers mounted in the ceiling, you’ll see additional speakers dedicated to bouncing sound off your ceiling so it appears to come from above.

One of the best things about Dolby Atmos is that it doesn’t require new content. Any standard 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system can play back an Atmos soundtrack because it’s fully backwards-compatible.

How Does Dolby Atmos Work?

Thanks to Dolby Atmos technology, you will get a 360-degree sound experience as a result, where you will be able to place every sound around you, just as if you were inside the movie. 

To give you an idea, with a traditional system, you can enjoy surround sound where you can detect if a helicopter is passing in front of you, behind you, or from the sides. 

So far, so good, but Dolby Atmos achieves a higher level of immersion capability. In the case of enjoying the same scene with support for this sound standard, you will not only detect the position of the helicopter, but you will also know how high it is. For example, if it is hovering behind you, you will hear the propeller motor moving upwards. The result? It will leave you open-mouthed.

All thanks to the sound processor that is responsible for managing all the signals so that you know which speaker to play each of them on, their intensity and timing. It should be noted that it is essential to have a compatible receiver.

Thus, if you want to enjoy a movie with Dolby Atmos, you need to have an AV receiver or a sound bar compatible with this sound format. Fortunately, you will not lack options when it comes to configuring this section.

As we have said, there are two possible configurations: an AV receiver with speakers or a soundbar with Dolby Atmos. In both cases, you will get a soundscape beyond any doubt. But you’re probably wondering how you can enjoy true Dolby Atmos sound without overhead speakers.

The secret lies in vertical-firing speakers. We are talking about upward-facing models that make the sound bounce off the wall to achieve a very successful effect that will more than meet your expectations.

Is Dolby Atmos Worth the Upgrade?

When it comes to next-gen audio formats, Dolby Atmos is king. Unlike its rival, DTS:X, Dolby Atmos has an impressive number of movie titles that support the format. But what if you don’t have a home theater room or any space for ceiling speakers? Is it still worth upgrading to an Atmos soundbar?

To find out, we tested the Samsung HW-K950 soundbar with wireless rear speakers. The HW-K950 is one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars on the market, and it’s also one of the few that supports upfiring drivers that bounce sound off your ceiling.

Since there are so many different ways to set up a 5.1.4 Atmos system like this one, we decided to test it in three different rooms with varying degrees of space and acoustic treatment – one large room with a vaulted ceiling and no acoustic treatment, one medium-sized room with little acoustic treatment and a flat ceiling, and another medium-sized room with extensive acoustic treatment and a flat ceiling.

The results were surprising: in two out of three rooms, the Samsung K950 created a convincing sense of presence and a sound stage that was much better than the original surround sound, even when using the wireless rear speakers.

In the room with the vaulted ceiling and no acoustic treatment, the K950 sounded good. The wireless rear speakers created a sense of presence and dimension that was almost equal to that of the ceiling speakers. In the other two rooms, the soundbar created a great sense of presence and dimension, but the ceiling speakers were actually better in some cases.

If you want to use Dolby Atmos in your home theater room, we recommend that you look into the Samsung HW-K950 soundbar first.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Dolby Atmos?

Advantages

Dolby Atmos offers a more realistic surround sound experience. Thanks to overhead speakers and the way Dolby Atmos mixes audio, sounds can flow around you more naturally. Whether it’s an airplane flying overhead or a rainstorm, you may feel like you’re actually there.

Dolby Atmos is more compatible than DTS:X. DTS:X is similar to Dolby Atmos in many ways, but for now, Dolby Atmos is the more popular standard. Most home theater receivers support Dolby Atmos but not DTS:X.

There are a lot of movies and games that have Dolby Atmos support. You don’t have to do anything special to enable Dolby Atmos on Blu-ray discs or in games; if they support it, your receiver will automatically play them in Dolby Atmos if available. The major streaming services (Netflix, Vudu, and so on) also support it. There are hundreds of titles now, with more coming all the time.

Disadvantages

The main disadvantage to Dolby Atmos is its limited availability. It’s available in only a few theaters, and it requires a very specific setup at home to reproduce. This disadvantage ensures that only early-adopting enthusiasts and those with absolutely unlimited budgets will be able to take advantage of the technology for quite some time.

The other disadvantage is that the technology is still relatively new, so there aren’t very many movies or games that use it yet. This could be a problem if you plan to buy the equipment and use it for a long time before you can fully benefit from it.

How Is Atmos Different from Surround Sound?

The audio in conventional surround sound is limited to 5.1 or 7.1 channels (seven speakers, one subwoofer). In this type of setup, you don’t really have a Z-axis (up and down) representation of audio or a direct correlation to the listening space. Dolby Atmos gets rid of traditional channels and assigns sound objects to a location.

That means that if a sound is produced in the upper left corner, it won’t be relegated to sound in the left channel, but will actually feel like it’s above you.

Even without having speaker configurations at various heights, Dolby’s technology allows you to bounce the sound off the ceiling at a correlated height to the rest to replicate these classic height speakers, which are usually expensive. It’s not as powerful as a real-height speaker, but in some rooms you might not notice.

What Atmos Devices Are Available?

As far as mobile devices are concerned, the big brands are already on board. The iPhone XS/XR and later will already come equipped with Atmos. Brands like Sony, Huawei, or Samsung are also starting to release their new generations of devices already compatible with immersive music.

On the consumer electronics side, manufacturers are not lagging behind. XBox and several Microsoft divisions that include HD audio are transitioning to this new standard, as is Sony for its PlayStation. 

4K televisions are also seeing the birth of the first fully compatible devices with Dolby Vision. Laptops follow the same line, with more and more manufacturers including Atmos as standard.

But undoubtedly, the highlight is on the Hi-Fi speaker systems side, where most major audio brands offer Dolby Atmos immersive sound bars in some form. Many manufacturers make models with speakers that rise out of the top of the body. Other models have a “simulated Atmos effect,” which makes the soundstage bigger to make it sound like it’s bigger.

Of course, there are still the classic split speaker systems, from 5.1.2 to 11.1.4, which are Atmos compatible. But integrated soundbars are gaining ground by leaps and bounds in the consumer market.

FAQs

Does Dolby Atmos Work with Airpods?

Yes, Dolby Atmos works with AirPods. Spatial audio is a feature that Apple added to iOS 14.5 to make the AirPods work better.

When you’re playing a movie on the TV app on your iPhone or iPad and it supports Dolby Atmos, you can use your AirPods to enjoy the sound.

Can Dolby Atmos Go Through Bluetooth?

Atmos is a surround sound system, and for that reason, it can’t be transmitted to Bluetooth headphones. That’s because the headphones are designed to work with stereo audio, which only has two channels.

Bluetooth devices that mix Dolby Atmos into a stereo signal won’t be able to provide the same surround sound effect. Instead, they could use an effect called downmixing, where the audio is played at a lower quality and volume. This is called “downmixing.”

Does Dolby Atmos Work On Netflix?

Netflix does offer some audio in the Dolby Atmos format. However, this doesn’t mean every movie or show on the service will include Dolby Atmos audio. In fact, very few currently do, which means most Netflix subscribers won’t be able to take advantage of the feature.

In order to get Netflix in Dolby Atmos, you’ll need two things: an audio system that supports the feature and an internet connection fast enough to handle streaming high-quality audio.

For audio equipment, Dolby recommends using a 5.1.2 system that includes two overhead speakers and a subwoofer, along with the necessary digital inputs, like HDMI or optical. The speakers connect to your TV or other A/V receiver via HDMI or optical cables.

You can also use any 5.1.2 speaker set with a receiver to send Dolby Atmos to your TV, but if you want to enjoy true surround sound, use a receiver with a built-in Dolby Atmos decoder.

Are There Dolby Atmos Speakers?

If you want to make your home cinema system with Dolby Atmos, you can either use ceiling speakers to recreate this system or use speakers prepared with Dolby Atmos. The most common scenario is that they have another speaker oriented towards the ceiling where the sound will bounce and create the effect for it.

How Do I Know If My TV Supports Dolby Atmos?

If you have a 4K TV that features Dolby Vision, there’s a good chance it also supports Dolby Atmos audio. However, there are many TVs that only support Dolby Atmos via an HDMI connection. Here are some ways to tell if your TV supports Dolby Atmos:

If your TV is compatible with Dolby Atmos, it means you can play 4K UHD movies that feature Dolby Atmos soundtracks (provided you also have a 4K Blu-ray player).

If your TV doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, you can still play those same discs through a 4K Blu-ray player connected to a sound bar or AV receiver that supports the format.

Conclusion

Dolby Atmos is an exciting new audio technology that promises to make your home theater experience even more immersive. But if you’re not ready to invest in a new soundbar or receiver, you don’t need to worry. With the right home theater speakers, you can enjoy the sound effects that Dolby Atmos brings to the movies.