Monday, June 6, 2016

A Love Letter to Dolby Atmos

If you're anything like me, you've probably been pretty disappointed with your movie-going experiences for a while now. Well, if that's true, I have insanely good news for you: Dolby Atmos is here and it is glorious.

I first heard about Dolby Atmos maybe a year ago, but it wasn't until Jon Favreau took to the internet to educate them on how they can get the most of their "Jungle Book" showings with lists of theaters, projection types, and sound systems that correspond with the viewer's personal preferences and budget, that it really came into my worldview (which, by the way, is a fantastic post that you can read here). Dolby Atmos is a brand new speaker technology developed by Dolby that aims to, in the words of Dolby, "transport you into the story with moving audio that flows all around you with breathtaking realism".

One of the most impressive innovations with Atmos technology, is that it adds an overhead dimension, not by adding in another speaker, but by bouncing the sound off of the ceiling to create the sense of height in the sound mix. This is a dimension that's never been explored before. We've gotten surround sound in the past, but we've never gotten anything quite this encapsulating. Plus, with the surround sound systems of the past, you really could only truly benefit by sitting in the "sweet spot", which is the direct center of the theater that the sound engineer uses to balance the audio of his/her system. That is not the case with Atmos, as I discovered. At the X-Men showing I went to, I found a seat in the back left corner of the theater, yet still felt like I fully benefited from the experience. It's an all inclusive sound experience that has to be heard to be believed.

I have to admit, I was initially worried as the trailers ran because the sound was so blown out and distorted from all the extra power going into the sound mix, though those fears vanished the second the movie started rolling. As far as I can figure, those trailers weren't mixed with Dolby Atmos in mind, which caused the distortion. The movie itself was incredibly crisp and smooth, yet appropriately loud and bass-y. I often find myself craving the sensation of feeling the sound of the movie both in my feet and in my chest, and with Atmos, that's what you get. The dialogue cuts through the mix like butter, the explosions rattle your chair, and, oddly enough, it almost makes it seem like the image quality is better.

What I mean by that is (since Atmos is purely an speaker technology, not a projection or screen technology), is that they often say that audio is the most important component in convincing an audience of quality, and that if you have the most beautiful images on your screen, but the shoddiest of audio, audiences will still feel that they're watching something amateur. In my head, this ratio extends the other way, too, in that you can have audio SO GOOD that it subconsciously makes you think the video is better than it is. That's not to say X-Men: Apocalypse isn't a gorgeous movie; it is, but I cannot deny the possibility that maybe I responded so positively to the movie because of the audio experience.

Look, at the end of the day, audio is one of, if not the most important of dimensions in your movie-going experience. Bad audio can completely ruin a movie for you, just as good audio can make all the difference, and the fact of the matter is that, while not every theater includes it, Dolby Atmos is being sold to us for the SAME PRICE as a regular movie ticket for, arguably, twice the punch (as opposed to most average digital 3D projection systems, but I digress). In a world obsessed with higher resolution and gimmicks like 3D (Hell, even 4D now), Dolby is doing something so innovative that the average consumer will completely ignore, but for anyone reading this, I URGE you to go and catch your next movie in a Dolby Atmos-equipped theater. You will thank me.

If you want more information, please visit Dolby's website at this link:

David Harding is a movie and comic book enthusiast and contributor to the Getting Off Topic Podcast.

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