From Movies To Music, 2021 Was The Year Of Dolby Atmos


Through the years, we’ve seen our fair proportion of traits within the audio business, like hi-res audio, energetic noise cancellation, and whole-home multiroom wi-fi audio system. In 2021, these traits all took a again seat to the earthquake that’s Dolby Atmos. What began out as a seismic shift within the sound techniques utilized in business film theaters is now sending reverberations by way of each facet of dwelling and cellular leisure, from streaming companies to soundbars, and even the tunes you hearken to throughout your every day commute. Not conversant in Dolby Atmos? Right here’s a guided tour to the methods it formed 2021, and can proceed to evolve within the years to return.

From movie show to dwelling theater

Picture courtesy of Dolby Labs Dolby Labs

What’s Dolby Atmos? For a deep dive into the know-how, I like to recommend you’re taking a stroll by way of our no-stones-left-unturned Dolby Atmos explainer, however right here’s the quick model: It’s a complicated type of {surround} sound with two distinct traits. First, it makes use of “top channels” — normally within the type of ceiling audio system or up-firing audio system — that permit sounds look like coming from above you. Customary 5.1, 7.1, and even 9.1 {surround} sound techniques solely place their audio system round you, not above you.

Second, Dolby Atmos lets audio engineers deal with sounds as objects that may be moved round freely in 3D area, independently of another sounds. The traditional instance is the sound of a helicopter that may begin deep within the entrance of your TV room, then stand up, fly overhead, and step by step disappear behind you — all whereas the film’s rating continues to play from all your audio system directly.

Taken collectively, these qualities make Dolby Atmos a much more immersive sound expertise than conventional stereo and even earlier {surround} sound codecs. Due to Dolby Atmos-compatible A/V receivers, soundbars, and even audio system constructed into TVs, there are actually loads of variations of Dolby Atmos for the house, with costs beginning at simply $150.

Streaming help

Screens showing Dolby Atmos movies on Apple TV+.

One of many keys to getting Dolby Atmos at house is gaining access to motion pictures or TV reveals which were produced with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. For years, this was the unique area of 4K UHD Blu-ray discs, however in 2021, practically each main on-demand streaming media service provided titles in Dolby Atmos. Some, like Netflix, cost a premium value for this surround-on-steroids sound, however others, like Disney+, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime Video, embody it of their customary tiers.

Sadly, Dolby Atmos has but to make its manner into conventional TV platforms like cable, satellite tv for pc, or over-the-air TV, or their reside TV streaming equivalents like YouTube TV, Sling TV, or Hulu + Stay TV, however this might change within the close to future.

NextGen TV (aka ATSC 3.0) — the newest evolution of digital over-the-air TV — was constructed to accommodate Dolby Atmos, however we’re not conscious of any TV stations which might be broadcasting Dolby Atmos content material but. Most cable corporations supply set-top packing containers that help Dolby Atmos, however that is usually solely used to help the streaming service apps, not cable TV channels.

{Hardware} help: Streaming gadgets

Chromecast with Google TV.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Developments

Streaming gadgets that help Dolby Atmos was once costly, just like the Apple TV 4K or Nvidia Protect TV, however by 2021, we noticed Atmos on the characteristic record of each single mannequin in our greatest streaming gadgets roundup.

This doesn’t imply that each streaming system provides the identical Atmos expertise. Some present native, hardware-based decoding of Dolby Atmos, whereas others merely passthrough the Atmos sign to a downstream system like a TV or soundbar. However both manner, you should buy a streaming system with Atmos help for as little as $30.

{Hardware} help: Audio gadgets

Vizio Elevate Dolby Atmos soundbar.
Riley Younger/Digital Developments

Audio gadgets like soundbars are following the same pattern, with an growing variety of merchandise that supply Dolby Atmos processing and costs which might be extremely accessible. This 12 months introduced practically each main model beneath the Dolby Atmos soundbar umbrella, with quite a lot of  fashions from Vizio, LG, Sony, Sonos, Samsung, JBL, Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Monoprice, TCL, and extra.

Like streaming gadgets, there are variations in how these soundbars help Atmos. Some use a full complement of devoted audio system with up-firing drivers for a real 5.1.2 or higher {surround} sound expertise. These are usually the dearer items. However others are in a position to produce what’s generally known as a “virtualized” Dolby Atmos sound from as few as two channels. These soundbars received’t be as immersive as a discrete system, however they’re nonetheless higher than non-Atmos audio system they usually value far lower than their fancier Atmos cousins.

{Hardware} help: TVs

An LG C1 OLED 4K TV displaying Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos logos.
Dan Baker/Digital Developments

Should you worth simplicity, and thus use your TV’s built-in software program and streaming apps for all your media wants, having a TV that helps Dolby Atmos is significant. It doesn’t essentially have to have the ability to play Dolby Atmos by way of its personal audio system (a situation that not often produces thrilling outcomes), but it surely does want to have the ability to obtain and passthrough Dolby Atmos to a appropriate soundbar or A/V receiver by way of HDMI ARC or eARC.

The excellent news is that 2021 was the 12 months that Atmos help successfully turned common on all however the least costly TVs.

Made for music

Tidal interface showing The Weeknd's Blinding Lights in Dolby Atmos.

As a lot as Dolby Atmos has reshaped the house film panorama by way of new audio system and streaming devices, 2021 was additionally the 12 months Atmos started to alter how we hearken to music — and on a tool most of us already personal — the smartphone.

File labels and unbiased artists have began recording songs in Dolby Atmos Music — the identical immersive 3D expertise for dwelling theaters, however as an alternative of getting used to maneuver a helicopter round your room, artists use it to put listeners “inside” their songs, profiting from the additional top and depth that Dolby Atmos can create.

All kinds of artists from The Weeknd to Billie Eilish to Olivia Rodrigo to John Williams have all produced music utilizing the Dolby Atmos toolset.

A is for Atmos, Apple, and Amazon

Apple Music Spatial Audio Playlists.

Dolby Atmos Music made its streaming debut on Amazon Music HD in 2019, but it surely remained restricted to simply Amazon’s $199 Echo Studio sensible speaker. No different gadgets, whether or not made by Amazon or third events, had been appropriate with the brand new music format.

Tidal quickly adopted with its personal Dolby Atmos Music providing, but it surely too was severely restricted — you wanted an Atmos-compatible streaming system that was additionally appropriate with the Tidal app and a Dolby Atmos sound system.

However in 2021, Apple determined to leap into spatial audio for streaming music, and added its personal Dolby Atmos Music catalog to Apple Music. On the similar time, it introduced that anybody who owned an iPhone 7 or newer (or a number of iPad fashions) may hear Dolby Atmos Music utilizing any set of wired or wi-fi headphones. And if you happen to owned considered one of Apple’s AirPods household of headphones, you’d hear Atmos Music variations of songs mechanically.

Tremendous spatial audio

Person listening to Apple Airpods Max.

Apple’s transfer into Dolby Atmos Music created an enormous tent for the 3D format nearly in a single day. After beginning with iOS/iPadOS, it then added Dolby Atmos Music to its Apple Music apps for choose Android gadgets, growing Atmos’ viewers even additional.

However Apple additionally wished to do one thing distinctive with spatial audio, and in 2021 it started to leverage onboard sensors discovered within the AirPods Professional, AirPods Max, and ultimately the third gen AirPods) to allow head-tracking spatial audio.

If regular Dolby Atmos and Dolby Atmos Music are used to create a higher sense of immersion by way of a 3D sound discipline, head-tracking spatial audio ranges up that have by adjusting that sound discipline in actual time in response to move actions.

For motion pictures, it creates a digital theater atmosphere, utilizing simply your headphones and an iPhone or iPad to imitate what it’s like to take a seat in a 5.1.2 or higher Dolby Atmos dwelling theater. For music, it retains key track components like vocals or lead guitar briefly anchored to a place that’s “in entrance” of you, which may simulate what it’s prefer to be sitting entrance and middle as a band performs on stage or in a studio.

Amazon takes Atmos Music in every single place

Screen showing Atmos Music in Dolby Atmos.

To not be outdone, Amazon additionally made 2021 the 12 months it massively expanded its Dolby Atmos Music footprint. Now you can stream Dolby Atmos Music tracks from Amazon Music on any cellular system due to Amazon’s inclusion of Dolby audio know-how proper within the Amazon Music app.

In late 2021, Sonos introduced you can stream Dolby Atmos Music tracks from Amazon Music on to Sonos’ Atmos-compatible soundbars, marking the primary time these audio system can play Atmos Music with out the assistance of a third-party streaming system.


Dolby Atmos sound system in a Mercedes.

If Dolby Atmos Music is so good, why ought to or not it’s restricted to soundbars and headphones? In 2021, Dolby Atmos took its first steps into the automotive realm, first with the Lucid Air EV, then an announcement that Mercedes Benz shall be including Dolby Atmos sound techniques to a lot of its ultra-high-end touring sedans just like the Maybach.

We’ve seen quite a lot of collaborations between car builders and audio corporations, like Audi/Sonos and Jeep/McIntosh, however provided that Dolby Atmos isn’t tied to anyone audio firm, it’s a great wager that the immersive {surround} sound format will makes its manner into many extra vehicles in 2022 and past.

Large momentum

It’s honest to say that in 2021, Dolby Atmos had an enormous second as help for it grew amongst main video and music streaming companies and system producers. And although there are nonetheless holdouts — Spotify being the 800-pound gorilla that may’t be ignored — I think we’ll look again at 2021 because the 12 months that Dolby Atmos turned a genuinely mainstream audio know-how, accessible to anybody who desires to expertise it conveniently and at an inexpensive value.

With that form of viewers momentum, it seemingly received’t be lengthy earlier than it turns into ubiquitous amongst film and TV productions and throughout the music business.

Should you haven’t had your first Dolby Atmos expertise but, 2022 will nearly definitely be the 12 months that you just do.

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