Sounding off: Exhibitors sing the praises of Dolby Atmos


“I think the sound quality is magnificent in our E3 premium auditoriums which feature Dolby Atmos,” says Paul Glantz, chief executive officer of Michigan-based Emagine Entertainment, setting the tone for this exclusive follow-up report on early adoption of Dolby’s revolutionary cinema sound platform that we began in September 2012 with AMC Theatres.

When Glantz learned at ShowEast about the availability of three Dolby Atmos units that could be installed in his “Emagine Entertainment Experience”-branded screens (E3) in time for The Hobbit: An Expected Journey, “he jumped at the chance,” recalls the circuit’s VP of technology, David Zylstra. “We set in motion a five-week whirlwind of auditorium design and install scheduling, including speaker orders, amplifier orders and other miscellaneous equipment.” While this seemed like a task of “epic proportions,” he assures that “everyone came through quickly: Dolby with design advice and approval; QSC with our required surround speakers and amplifiers; our local contractors with enough labor and skill to quickly do the install; and of course Dolby again, with two great field technicians who did the final configuration and room tuning. Each auditorium took about three to four days to install. The only real challenges were choosing a speaker mount for the ceiling that maximized safety and figuring out how to easily modify the ceiling in our larger auditoriums to ensure the surround speakers did not cast a shadow on the top of the picture.”

The last auditorium (see our theatre section below for additional information) “was literally finished 24 hours before the first midnight show,” Zylstra confirms. “The crowds watching The Hobbit in E3 were very pleased. Dolby Atmos represents the future of cinema audio. With the ability to pinpoint objects of sound anywhere in the room, our guests are literally immersed in the film’s environment and, coupled with the large format of our E3 screen, Dolby Atmos engages the moviegoer like never before.”

The Emagine team feels very much engaged too, Zylstra adds. “I think, as well as our staff, that Dolby Atmos—and any other object-based audio format—is a light-year jump in cinema audio and definitely the future. In my 25 years in the business I have seen many innovations, but only two stand out where I actually said, ‘Wow, that’s awesome.’ Those are digital sound on film and Dolby Atmos.” Going forward, “plans are to include Dolby Atmos in any E3 auditorium that we build. As more and more titles include Dolby Atmos mixes, we will also be evaluating the cost of installing in multiple auditoriums in the same building.”
At Roosevelt Collection in Chicago, Illinois, two Dolby Atmos systems are under one roof already. ShowPlace ICON Theatres “redefine how movies are enjoyed,” says Tim Johnson, chief operating officer of Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres. “With a multi-sensory experience of digital widescreen picture and sound, our Lobby Lounge, VIP 21+ premium reserved seating, and striking design…the ICON continues to lead the way with Dolby Atmos now.” Kerasotes was the first in Chicago to offer reserved seating, all-digital projection, and Dolby 7.1 digital surround sound, he says (FJI August 2010). So being first with Dolby Atmos was a given. After launching with Disney/Pixar’s Brave in auditorium 14, The Hobbit “set another milestone” with the debut in auditorium 6.

Bringing “two emerging technologies—HFR-3D and Dolby Atmos—together for the most realistic and immersive experience imaginable,” Johnson says, is “keeping in step with Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres’ commitment to providing our guests with the latest cutting-edge technology and an iconic experience.” The result exceeded guests’ expectations, “leading many to drive in upwards of 2.5 hours for the experience.” For more audience feedback, Johnson refers our readers to videos that Dolby captured at ShowPlace ICON after showings of both Brave and The Hobbit. “The best way to describe how the moviegoing public has perceived their experience would be through listening to their testimonials and experiences directly.” (We are also offering some “Social Media Sounds” below)

“Awesome” is the word that the ShowPlace sound and projection team has used. “They take a lot of pride in everything they do,” Johnson declares. “And Dolby Atmos raised that pride to a new level.” Take Fred Walraven, for example. “As we strive to provide our Chicago guests with the best experience possible,” Kerasotes’ director of digital projection says, “we are proud to showcase Dolby Atmos, which represents an astonishing breakthrough; a new audio platform that will forever change our guests’ experience by immersing them deeper into the film. We are very excited to once again raise the bar with a cutting-edge technology that surpasses anything else that is currently out there.”

Up in Vancouver, Washington, audiences have been enjoying the sounds of Dolby Atmos since June 2012 as well. “We literally stopped construction on that GLX auditorium [at Cinetopia Vancouver Mall 23] and actually delayed its opening,” recalls Rudyard Coltman, founder and developer, owner and operator of Cinetopia Theatres. “But it was well worth it… Dolby did a great job laying out what we needed to get done. Our contractor, American Cinema Equipment, was great too. It went off seamlessly.”

“Dolby Atmos is amazing technology,” he continues. “Honestly, it is the most innovative, forward-thinking technology that I have experienced in my 17 years in the business. And even from a viewer standpoint, this is big in my lifetime. Dolby Atmos is a revolution in sound and in cinema because you have…128 different sound outputs moving around the room creating a sense of reality. I walked into Oz the Great and Powerful just yesterday,” he recalls, providing a lively example. “The characters are walking through a forest, whether its mythical or real, and you hear birds that sound like they sit on your shoulder. When the wind blows, the leaves rustle all around you. Although it doesn’t fool me anymore, during the first week or so that we were playing Dolby Atmos movies,” Coltman admits, “you’d occasionally think someone in the middle of the auditorium stood up and started talking. Before you realize that it is actually a character in the movie that is just a little bit off-screen. I found myself laughing, but that’s where that character would actually be standing. If someone throws a chair across the room, it whooshes over your head and crashes in the back. That is all pretty amazing. You get the big sound effects that are really impressive, of course, but sometimes the small sound effects are even more important.”

Equally important to the success was Coltman’s commitment to Meyer Sound, he says. “Meyer EXP was a big differentiator for us. I firmly believe that this is the best system for Dolby Atmos because it was not designed as an afterthought to be self-amplified. Instead, for decades Meyer has used amplification at the source in the speaker. Another unique factor is the quality of their sub-bass frequency. And we have 12 of their sub-bass towers installed.” Together with tens of thousands of power wattage, that “adds up to quite a punch.”

Getting equipment into the ceiling was quite the undertaking, Coltman cautions. “Financially it is not that cost-prohibitive, but it sure looks like it and it is a lot of work. We had people climbing on 45-foot-tall scaffolding across the auditorium with our stadium seating in place,” he says. “Watching them work, I was like ‘Wow, how much time, effort and precision is required to put up scaffolding at an angle like that?’ It will be a lot easier in Overland Park,” he foresees. “We are currently building a brand-new Cinetopia in Kansas, with all three GXL auditoriums there being wired and designed out for Dolby Atmos systems from the start.”

Coltman reasons that not only has the flow of Dolby Atmos product been consistent, “there have been too many films almost” for just one auditorium.

“The public loves it” as well. “We have seen dramatic increases in attendance because of the system. When a title is in Dolby Atmos and GXL, it performs generally top of market.” For A Good Day to Die Hard, Dolby did special advertising, “which was wonderful” and pushed the title not only to number one locally but into the top 18 nationwide. “In a market of 2.4 million people, that can rarely happen.” Numbers were equally good for The Hobbit and Oz and Coltman feels that was “directly attributable” to Dolby Atmos. “Cinetopia is a popular brand and we are growing, with the best technology. We are known for having the latest and greatest creature comforts in our theatres. But, at the same time, Dolby Atmos provides that extra push.”

And quite a big push of support too, we might add. “Dolby has been phenomenal during the entire installation and launch,” Coltman concurs. “They go above and beyond, not only in their technical support…but also by supporting the product with marketing and branding. Going back to the first all-digital cinema in early 2006, I have been involved with a lot of new technologies. Dolby seems to really take that extra step to get the product and their brand out to the public. They came in and did anything they could to help us. And they keep on calling our marketing department to see about ‘What can we do now?’ Dolby is very much partnership-oriented in working with the exhibitor.”

Internationally as well, Dolby Atmos has been working. “Our first installation in Europe was at Donau Plex in Vienna, featuring JBL speakers and Crown amplifiers,” relays Till Cussmann, VP of sales at dcinex, the pan-European systems integrator and d-cinema services provider. “We have more projects with Cineplexx in Austria planned, as well as additional sites in the Czech Republic, Germany, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and the rest of Europe.” The installation at Cineplexx Donau Plex “took almost a complete week, since the cinema had to be completely refurbished,” he notes. “Installing overhead speakers is always a challenge, but we had a very strong partnership with building professionals who did a great job in the room. This was our first project and accomplished in record time. Although the design and installation could be further fine-tuned now that we have more experience, the result is really satisfying and the exhibitor is very pleased.”
After Cineplexx on the river Danube, product integration engineer Alexandre Bleus and his team “in partnership with experts from Dolby” equipped auditoriums for JT Bioscopen in Vlaardingen and Hoogeveen, The Netherlands, with QSC speakers and amplifiers for both, as well as bringing Dolby Atmos to CineCittà in Nürnberg, Germany, with JBL loudspeakers and QSC amplifiers. Luxor Hoogeveen (“Dolby Atmos is de nieuwste ontwikkeling in geluid,” saw great results from the first installation with the prototype Dolby Atmos Cinema Processor CP850, Cussmann confirms.

Benjamin Dauhrer, technical manager at CineCittà, reports equally gratifying results. “Press attention was very good, since it was the first installation of Dolby Atmos in Germany. Our local media in Nürnberg was picking up on this in a very positive way. We couldn’t have been happier,” he says. “As expected, The Hobbit was a perfect film to start with because it really showed off some of the things that Dolby Atmos can do. Audience feedback was also very good. We received a lot of positive comments via Facebook and e-mail.”

Everybody at CineCittà agrees that “Dolby Atmos has a great potential to immerse the audience even further. Due to the immense power available, it sounds great when a lot is going on, but it is the finer notes that let Dolby Atmos really shine.” Dauhrer names “little bits and pieces of audio that make you feel like you are there” and believes that “future films will take even more advantage of all the things that become possible with Dolby Atmos. It’s a new creative process that has just begun.”

Also on the way for anticipated completion in May are plans to install Dolby Atmos at the largest auditorium with 547 seats. Noting that “costs need to be brought down for small and medium-sized screens,” CineCittà is “looking at installing other screens as well in the near future. The biggest challenge will be to equip our giant Cinemagnum theatre,” Dauhrer foresees. At seven stories tall and covering 600 square meters (6,500 sq. ft.) with 6,000 watts dual projection, the screen offers the largest 3D image in Germany.

In Canada, Cineplex Entertainment was “an early adopter of the Dolby Atmos technology,” says Adam Cuthbert, executive director, national operations and guest experience. In time for Disney/Pixar’s Brave on June 22, 2012, “we launched our and Canada’s first Dolby Atmos sound system into our premium-experience large-screen format UltraAVX auditorium at our SilverCity Yonge & Eglinton Cinemas in Toronto, Ontario. Since June we have launched an additional six UltraAVX locations that feature Dolby Atmos.”

In tune with the ongoing deployment of the UltraAVX concept into additional locations, “more Dolby Atmos screens are planned for installation this year,” confirms Cuthbert. “Since our UltraAVX conversions take about a month to complete, we were able to incorporate the additional scope of Dolby Atmos into the project without incurring further downtime. Some extra care went into the mounting of the ceiling speakers. As this was a new process for us, we wanted to make sure that something safe and secure was engineered. Otherwise the installation was very straightforward.”

The Cineplex operations and projection and sound teams “are very pleased” with both the performance of Dolby Atmos and the audience acceptance. “We see Dolby Atmos as the premium sound experience for moviegoers, which makes it the perfect complement for our UltraAVX auditoriums,” Cuthbert summarizes. “Early evidence has shown that guests are eager to experience Dolby Atmos, and the audience feedback has been exceptional. The upcoming lineup of blockbuster films being mixed in Dolby Atmos is also extremely encouraging. Our guests can experience the biggest films of the year on the largest screens with the best sound. This is truly an experience that can’t be duplicated at home.”

Tech Specs and Tips

CineCittà, Nürnberg, Germany
Screen 16 is currently equipped with 260 seats, but it will be retrofitted to a “deluxe” cinema with some 98 recliners this May.

QSC amplifiers and JBL speakers; three front speakers, 22 surrounds, 16 ceiling speakers, three subwoofers in the front and two in the back.

Since launching with The Hobbit on December 12, 2012, CineCittà enjoyed a steady flow of Dolby Atmos films with Life of Pi, A Good Day to Die Hard and Oz the Great and Powerful. Of these, only The Hobbit was a dubbed version, which technical director Benjamin Dauhrer calls “really, really good, even though I cannot compare it to the original-language version.” Going forward, he hopes that more titles will become available in a German dub with Dolby Atmos.

Sound Advice: “The installation took about six days. There were some problems with the ceiling mounts of the speakers, especially for 100-kg [220-lb.] subwoofers to be lifted and attached to the ceiling. Generally speaking, we think future installations could be a lot smoother, but this was a first for almost all of us and the installer.” (Benjamin Dauhrer)

Cineplexx Donau Plex, Vienna, Austria
The first installation by dcinex in Europe launched with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in auditorium 7, 390 seats.

52 JBL 8350 surround speakers, two JBL 4642A rear subwoofers, three JBL 4642A for the front LFE, five JBL 5672 for the screen channels, two Crown DSi 4000 for the rear subwoofers, three Crown DSi 6000 for the front subwoofers, five Crown DSi 1000 and three Crown DSi 4000 for the screen channels (tri-amplification) and 26 Crown DSi 2000 for the surround channels.

Emagine Entertainment, Michigan, USA

Launching with The Hobbit in HFR-3D, all three installations are part of the premium E3 (Emagine Entertainment Experience), which offers a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall picture, 4K projection capable of HFR, and 3D that meets the latest “xbrite” brightness recommendation.

Emagine Royal Oak, Royal Oak, MI; 280 seats—
42 channels: Three stage channels (four-way from QSC, tri-amplified), QSC 21” subwoofers and 38 surround speakers; QSC amplifiers with over 25,000 watts

Emagine Novi, Novi, MI; 400 seats—
50 channels: Five stage channels (three-way from JBL, tri-amplified), JBL subwoofers and 44 surround speakers; QSC amplifiers with over 35,000 watts

Emagine Canton, Canton, MI; 400 seats—
50 channels: Five stage channels (four-way from QSC, tri-amplified), QSC 21” subwoofers and 44 surround speakers; QSC amplifiers with over 35,000 watts

Sound Advice: “I believe that any new complex being built should have serious consideration given to either installing Dolby Atmos in a few auditoriums or at the very least include the infrastructure to easily add ceiling speakers and extra stage channels in anticipation of installing Dolby Atmos in the future. At the same time, any new build should also consider choosing surround speakers that meet the requirement of Dolby Atmos so future upgrades will not need to include complete replacements.” (David Zylstra, VP of technology)

Cineplex Entertainment, Canada
SilverCity Yonge & Eglinton Cinemas in Toronto (388 seats)—
38 surround sound speakers (eight left, eight rear, eight right and 14 overhead), five stage speakers, five stage subwoofers and two rear flying subs. First Dolby Atmos film: Brave

SilverCity Hamilton Cinemas in Hamilton, ON (332 seats); SilverCity St. Vital Cinemas in Winnipeg (396 seats)—
First Dolby Atmos film: Life of Pi

Galaxy Cinemas Pergola Commons in Guelph, ON (362 seats)—
First Dolby Atmos film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas in Montreal (514 seats); Cineplex Odeon Yonge & Dundas Cinemas in Toronto (390 seats); Cineplex Odeon Winston Churchill Cinemas in
Mississauga, ON (471 seats)—
First Dolby Atmos film: A Good Day To Die Hard

Social Media Sounds: “I can’t wait when the Atmos is installed in the UltraAVX. Action movies will be so much better!” “Looking forward to taking my son to his 1st 3D film in the cinema next week. To mark this special occasion, going all out: UltraAVX/Dolby Atmos.”

ShowPlace ICON Theatres at Roosevelt Collection, Chicago, IL
Auditorium 6 (256 seats), Auditorium 14 (306 seats)—
15,000 watts of power; 45 channels of sound, five bi-amped stage speakers, 14 ceiling surround speakers, 14 side wall surround speakers, seven rear wall surround speakers, and multiple subwoofers.

Social Media Sounds: “Through our social media, online comments, and guest feedback we received several notes,” confirms Nikolas Alyn Smith, advertising and marketing manager. Here are a few: “I could feel it in my body.” “I was able to see Brave and Taken 2 in Atmos and thought it was great to see a new spin on surround sound that gives a more immersed experience.” “It was Amazing. Being a sound geek myself and a film major, the sound was breathtaking. You could hear everything. I must now see every movie at that theater. I can’t wait to see the next Star Trek there. My wife who is not a movie geek like me was speechless. However, during the trailer for Atmos before the leaf hits the water, it went quiet almost as if the sound was turned off. I’m not sure if it was meant to be that way, but it did throw me off a little. I was expecting to hear some sort of ripple or when the leaf hit.” “I’d travel even further to see it in Atmos!”

For more about the rollout of Dolby Atmos, check out our related story, "Resounding success: Deployment of Dolby Atmos audio format exceeds target."