Going to the movie theater used to be as simple as trying to figure out which one was closest and had the best popcorn. It isn’t as simple anymore, though. Now you have to think about what kind of seats do they have, what food are they serving other than popcorn, how big is the screen, do they have 3-D … you have to do your research. I was reminded of this fact when I planned on going to see the new Transformers movie with the family. I wasn’t worried so much about the food and the seats, and 3-D is off the table for my family because of the discomfort it causes them, so you’d think it’s just pick a theater and a time, right? I thought so too until I saw something else that I have to now add to the list of things to consider: Dolby Atmos.
You already know about standard 5.1 surround sound that you can get in your home, which consists of 5 speakers (3 in the front, 2 in the back or on the sides) and a subwoofer. Movie theaters have more than just 5 speakers, but for surround sound the principle is the same: you have speakers in the front for vocals and music, and speakers along the sides and/or the back for music and ambient noise. Newer, more expensive surround sound receivers allow you to kick it up a notch for your home setup and do 7 speakers instead of 5 (7.1), or maybe add an additional subwoofer (7.2), which will give you a more enveloping sound experience, assuming the movie supports that type of setup. What Dolby Atmos does is add additional speakers above you. Yes … above you.
You want to know why you should care about speakers being above your head. Ok, picture this: something just happened in the movie, the heroes (usually there’s more than one) have escaped some insanity, and they’re now somewhere like a house or a car and of course, it’s raining. There isn’t any music playing, just dialog and the ambient sound of the rain hitting the ceiling and the space around them. In a Dolby Atmos theater, it sounds like the rain is hitting the roof. You hear the rain drops above you. Or if a plane flies by overhead, it pans from behind you, to above you and then in front of you like an actual plane would sound flying overhead. Or the sound of footsteps of someone in the room above you, complete with the floor boards creaking … sound is a very important piece of a movie experience … assuming the movie isn’t crap. It can completely change the mood of a scene if used properly.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dolby has figured out how you can have Dolby Atmos in your home. New speakers and surround sound processors will be coming out later this year that will allow you to have a similar experience in your home with movies that are encoded with Dolby Atmos. And no, you won’t have to drill holes in your ceiling to add speakers (I mean you COULD, but you won’t HAVE to), but you probably will have to get new gear. As if that’s an issue. All you need is a reason, right? More so than 3-D (which I still think is a gimmick), or 4K (which is great, but they have to figure out how to get it in our homes a lot more conveniently), I’m pretty excited about Dolby Atmos. For now, find a theater in your area that has it, and let me know if it adds anything to your experience. Meanwhile, I need to figure out how to add speakers in my ceiling without “certain” people noticing …