Dolby Atmos coming to stores this year through Onkyo, content less so

Australia gets most of the big blockbusters, but if you look at how many cinemas we have that support Dolby’s totally immersive audio format, the number is very small. But you mightn’t have to worry about that, as Dolby’s Atmos format comes home.

We all enjoy movies, and we all enjoy them at home, with surround sound systems found in more than just the niche places these says. The first 5.1 systems rocked up in 1994, with 7.1 hitting in 2000, and since then we’ve had numerous improvements, but most of us kind of sit between the two technologies.

Many of us even go with the 2.1 option, as soundbars begin to permeate homes and work as a middle ground providing just enough stereo and home theatre sound but without the room requirements needed with a larger system.

But there’s a bigger sound coming, and it’s even been available in Australia for a while, but only in one place.

That technology is called Atmos, and it’s a technology created by Dolby aimed at delivering more sound in a way that is truly three dimensional.

Ceiling speakers or bouncing speakers: Atmos projects audio around you to make it more immersive.

Rather than rely solely on several channels, Atmos sends its sound objects to different positions around the room, allowing sound to travel from point A to point B, with several parts in between, almost as if each elements of sound was its own entity and could travel great distances to let you hear it.

The technology originally made for cinemas, but in Australia, we only saw one location with the technology, found in the Crown Casino in Melbourne. Unfortunately, the reason Atmos never made it to more cinemas apparently had to do with cost of implementation, as well as the scaffolding and installation costs associated with the technology.

But never mind that because Atmos is coming home, and provided you have enough cash and room, you can get totally immersive sound in a 3D way in your home shortly.

Tested this week at the Amber Technology showroom in NSW, Atmos was demonstrated with several speakers positioned not just in the front and back, but also on the ceiling, using a combination of the speaker positions and the Atmos engine to shift sound all around the room, making for a dynamic and very in your audio experience.

It’s almost like you’re inside the noise, and if you’re watching a movie or a clip, the sound is almost too real, coursing through your body and leaving through your eyelids.

To make this any more immersive, we’d need wall-to-wall projections, we really would.

5.1.2 as demonstrated by Atmos.

Home setups of Dolby Atmos can be built using ceiling speakers as well as the regular floor standing gear, but to make the technology truly cost effective for most homes, Dolby has been working with companies like Onkyo to build 90 degree speakers, aimed at sitting on the tops of other speakers and bouncing the sound signals off the ceiling, with the audio engines calculating the milliseconds it takes to transmit and bounce, and spreading this audio throughout your home theatre.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear what these speakers were like, and we’re very curious how they work, but the ceiling technology worked a treat, and it will be interesting to see just how many setups of Atmos there will be, with a new number brought into the picture of regular home theatre.

You’re probably used to seeing 5.1 and 7.1, but the Atmos concept will bring an extra digit, with 5.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1.2, and 7.1.4.

Those extra “.2” and “.4” numbers are for the additional Atmos ceiling speakers or bouncing speakers, as you’ll be able to throw in more vertical speakers for a more immersive experience, encapsulating the viewer even more and improving the sound altogether.

In fact, even that “.1” is negotiable, with Amber’s people telling us that many of the amps will sport two subwoofers out, making it possible for homes to see a 5.2.2 or 5.2.4 connection (5 is the surround speakers in a traditional sense, the first 2 are subwoofers, and the remaining 2 or 4 are the Atmos higher bouncing speakers).

More immersion with 5.1.4. That's either four ceiling speakers or four bouncing speakers.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of titles out there to take advantage of this technology, with four available by the end of the year, and we’re not even sure if these will be enjoyed by most people.

The four titles will include the new “Ninja Turtles” movie, the recent remake of “Hercules” with Dwayne Johnson, a new dance movie from the “Step Up” series, and the latest romp in the Michael Bay “Transformer” series (we didn’t like it, but hey, you might).

But that’s it, and even though Dolby and Onkyo are quick to point out that to date there have been over 120 Atmos-enabled titles made for movie theatres, only four will be coming to Blu-ray, and that’s the real shame in all of this.

On the upside, the Atmos systems will be able to calculate a mix from legacy content — think anything that isn’t Atmos and you have it — and provide something that a Dolby spokesperson says was “aesthetically meaningful and nice,” but that it wouldn’t be true Atmos.

So the music and sound will pass through you, but unlike the content with an actual Atmos track, it will be simulated, sending the channels to the several positions around you and making it appear as if you’re being encompassed, though not designed like the proper Atmos audio tracks.

At least it will be something, but we’re a little curious why there are so many movies supporting Atmos, and yet practically nothing to support the technology available.

So many Atmos movies, and yet the selection you'll have to choose from consists of four movies at Christmas.

You can probably expect new Blu-rays in 2015 to take advantage of the sound, but there’s also more news on the horizon, with Dolby in talks with both Netflix and Hulu for delivery of content, even though neither has a presence locally.

Gaming also seems like the other obvious place for Atmos to be, and while no games apparently support the new sound technology, Dolby is in discussions with various developers and manufacturers to make this a possibility.

With that in mind, we probably won’t see Atmos become something more than a niche product for another few years, with the target right now being people who demand the best audio and have the money to spend on it.

As such, Atmos doesn’t come with a cheap price tag, with the Onkyo options starting at $1199 for a low-end Atmos-enabled amp, with a full package — including the speakers in a 5.1.2 entry level configuration — starting at $2297.

The entry level Dolby Atmos amp from Onkyo is the TX-NR636, and that's $1199.

If you already have speakers you want to upgrade, it’s the cost of a new amp and some upward facing bounce speakers (or some speakers to embed in the ceiling), with the additional bouncing speakers going for $299 each to start with.

Other options will be made available for people with larger wallets, with amps costing as much as just under $4000, or with a pre-amp power pack for $6798, and with speakers from several manufacturers, such as KEF, Klipsch, and others.

But availability will be soon, and with the first titles out from the end of November, you’ll be able to dig in and update that home theatre system with something few cinemas in Australia have.

If you have more money to spend, there's the TX-NR1030, just under the biggest model (TX-NR3030). This one carries a price tag of $3199, amp only.