Dummies guide to Dolby Atmos – vastly simplified (one page)

ThDummies guide to Dolby Atmos

Why vastly simplified? The overwhelming feedback from the original Dummies Guide to Dolby Atmos is, “I think I get it. Now how do I add Dolby Atmos again?”

While the Dummies Guide to Dolby Atmos (here) is mandatory reading before you try to get superb Dolby Atmos sound we admit the guide is more for techy types.  

So here are the simple, clear, easy steps you need to tick off before you have real Dolby Atmos.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Normal 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound are on one horizontal ‘plane’ – Front (left, right, centre) and rear (left and right). Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos content and means it adds 3D vertical ’height’ to sounds – Front (left, right) and rear (left, right) overhead sounds. Atmos is at least 5.1.2 or 4 where the last digit is the number of overhead channels.

Dolby Atmos content can come from Netflix and other internet streaming services or a 4K Dolby Vision/Atmos Blue-ray player or set-top-box like NVIDIA Shield.

You must have a Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos compatible TV. If not get one!

Despite the claim that some TVs are compatible all it means is that if you play Dolby Atmos content it can decode and downmix this to its TV speakers – usually a 2.0 stereo. You don’t get Atmos 3D sound from this.

But it can passthrough the Atmos signal to an Atmos soundbar.

To do this the TV must have an HDMI 2.1 and eARC port, and you must use HDMI 2.1 cables – Premium High Speed 2.0 ([email protected] – good) or  Ultra-High-Speed 2.1 (4/[email protected] – best).

Dolby Atmos soundbar

Look for 5.1.2 (good), 5.1.4 (better) or 7.1.4 (best). Some are offering 9.1.4 – even better but largely overkill.

Dummies guide to Dolby Atmos

Our strongest recommendation is to buy an Atmos soundbar with at least two separate rear speakers. If a single soundbar and sub-woofer ‘does it all’ it means it has to bounce Dolby channels off ceilings and walls. We call this psychoacoustic trickery and its never as good.

Adding a Dolby Atmos soundbar to a non-Dolby Vision/Atmos TV means at best you will get 5.1 faux surround sound.

Thats it – Dummies guide to Dolby Atmos – vastly simplified

If you have a non-Dolby Vision/Atmos TV you can’t add Atmos to it. Buy a low-cost 2.1, 3.1 or 5.1 soundbar for sound reinforcement. This is perfect for free-to-air and HD streaming.

If you have a Dolby Vision/Atmos TV buy at least a true 5.1.2 or 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos with dedicated rear surround/up-firing speakers.

  1. None of this makes any sense.

    In a movie theater, there are 30-40 or more “overhead” speakers, plus all the surround speakers, etc. And I’ve got a Lenovo laptop that says “Dolby Atmos” and it has only two speakers. All of this is starting to seem more like a Dolby scam then real audio.

    In the days of THX Sound, the goal was always “to make every venue sound the same as the mixing studio”. Now it seems all we’re interested in doing is tricking the consumer into buying more speakers and more amplifiers with little practical difference for the consumer. Just “more”.

    The same goes for Dolby Vision. I understand what the theory says, and it might result in a slightly better picture in a dark movie theater. But at home the Dolby Vision pictures are far too dark in an average room and most consumers end up turning it off.

    It would seem its all about Dolby getting their logo on the box, and less to do with a better experience.

    1. Dolby Vision makes a great deal of difference and it requires a 1000nit panel (up to 10,000 nits). Dolbly Atmos is 130 separate sound elements (yes these could be speakers) that move phased sound around the speakers. DTX is another type of spatial sound that is losing out to Atmos. All a Dolby Atmos device needs is a proprietary licensed decoder chip to down-mix to the avaialbe speakers – usually stereo in a TV. The minimum for decent home Atmos is 5.1.2 (2 front height channels) but I prefer 5.1.4 or 7.1.4 for a better 3D sound experience. Once you have experiences decent Dolbly Vision and Atmos for movies you wont go back.

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