The Advance of Dolby Atmos: Immersive audio format continues to expand

Features
Technology

Watching a movie at the cinema should never be seen as just a means to pass some time, it’s about creating a captivating and communal experience for moviegoers. Nowadays, as soon as the latest film hits the screen, the audience expects to be transported into the story through the immersion of picture and sound alike.

It’s approaching four years since we revealed the revolutionary Dolby Atmos technology with the release of Disney-Pixar’s Brave, making it possible to place sounds anywhere in the theatre, even overhead, “surrounding” the audience and placing them right in the center of the story. Our goal at Dolby is to make it possible for every moviegoer to experience their desired film in Dolby Atmos.

One of the key reasons for the aspiration to bring the immersive Dolby Atmos sound experience to more auditoriums is because moviegoers are noticing the difference. We’ve had some great responses from exit surveys conducted after patrons have experienced Dolby Atmos. The main takeaway is the immersive experience that’s created; for example, one moviegoer exclaimed that “the sound wrapped around the theatre and had the feeling of being at a live event.” Another raved: “The sound was amazing; I could feel it in my chest.” We also regularly receive feedback that we’ve converted people to return to the cinema to watch movies instead of staying at home. It’s clear to us that the quality of the aural experience is every bit as important and impactful as the quality of the visual experience, and that patrons notice a difference.

Launched in 2012, Dolby Atmos was quickly adopted within the industry. Since then, we’ve seen amazing momentum. Currently, more than 465 movies have been announced and 1,800 screens have been installed or committed to globally. There’s also been a tremendous response from audiences, exhibitors, studios and filmmakers. Every major Hollywood studio is releasing Dolby Atmos titles, and major Hollywood directors including Mark Andrews, Ang Lee, Alfonso Cuarón, Pete Docter, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Peter Jackson and J.J. Abrams, among others, have all used Dolby Atmos to bring their stories to life. The quality of the technology is showcased by the fact that in 2016 nine of the 10 films nominated for Oscars® in sound editing and sound mixing featured a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, with Mad Max: Fury Road awarded the accolade in both categories.

In EMEA, the number of Dolby Atmos screens has just surpassed 500, a milestone that seemed unbelievable when we launched with only two screens in the region—Cinesa Diagonal Mar in Barcelona, Spain, and the Empire Leicester Square in London, UK. With the number only looking to increase, we’re now starting to see a new trend emerging: multiplexes that feature Dolby Atmos in every screening room.

Traditionally, our relationship with exhibitors would typically result in a Dolby Atmos screen opening in the cinema’s largest auditorium. This was followed by a number of sites adding screens that can play down in 7.1 surround sound to their complexes. However, we’re starting to see more demands to outfit entire complexes with the technology. In EMEA, a partnership with Globusmax will see Israel open a brand-new Dolby Atmos-only multiplex, hosting 17 screens in Haifa. This will be followed by another new 18-screen Dolby Atmos-only multiplex to open by July in Kefar. We’re also working with Traumpalast to unveil a Dolby Atmos-only multiplex in Germany, based in Leonberg, with the aim of opening all 10 screens by July 2016. Beyond EMEA, exhibitor sites including United Cinemas (Melbourne, Australia), PVR ICON Cinemas (Andheri, India), DT Cinemas (Noida, India), Suncity Cinema (Mumbai, India), Shanghai Duo Yun Xuan Dolby Atmos Cinema (Shanghai, China), and the sky cinema (Hong Kong), among others around the globe, have done full-complex implementations (IMAX screens not included).

To further facilitate the expansion of Dolby Atmos, we’re introducing several new products and solutions aimed at lowering the total cost of a Dolby Atmos playback environment while still maintaining the same superior sound experience. With the advanced offerings from our new SLS Express Series, continued improvements in our Dolby Atmos object-audio renderer, and refinements to our room specifications, we foresee delivering a Dolby Atmos solution to our customers at up to a 30-percent cost reduction.

The new SLS Express Series comprises the new 3-Axis Speakers, which deliver exceptionally clear and powerful sound in a smaller, lighter package that’s easier to install, and the Rapid Rigging System, which simplifies overhead speaker installation to reduce labor costs and downtime. We’ll also soon release the first-ever Dolby Atmos Amplifier, a new advanced design that can replace up to 12 stereo amplifiers and lower amplification costs by up to 30 percent. These new Dolby innovations offer exhibitors of any size the ability to more cost-effectively provide the unmatched audio experience of Dolby Atmos throughout their cinema(s), market to their patrons a moviegoing experience that only Dolby can provide, and increase their revenue streams.

To learn more, we encourage you to visit the Dolby booth in Expo Hall, Suite B, at CineEurope.

Jed Harmsen is Senior Director, Cinema Products, at Dolby Laboratories.