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 (4K@60Hz – good) or Ultra-High-Speed 2.1 (4/8K@120Hz – 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.
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.