Dolby Atmos Demo
This morning, I attended a press preview of the newly renamed Dolby Theater at the Hollywood and Highland complex in Hollywood, California. The official unveiling of the venue's new signage will take place this evening amid throngs of peoplean extravaganza not unlike the Academy Awards ceremony that makes its home thereso I was glad to get a sneak peek beforehand.
The theater looks about the same as it has since it was built in 2001 under the Kodak name, with one obvious exceptiontwo 50-foot trusses suspended overhead, each with 22 speakers. These speakers are part of the Dolby Atmos sound system installed in the theater, one of only six in operation at the moment, though Dolby expects 15 or more to be up and running in the US by the end of June.
Like the 3D Audio Alliance's Multi-Dimensional Audio (MDA) profiled here, here, and here, Dolby Atmos takes an object-oriented approach to movie sound. Each sound-generating object, such as a plane, explosion, etc., is placed in a 3-dimensional soundfield by the mixing engineer and reproduced by speakers all around and above the audience. The current system can reproduce up to 128 individual objects simultaneously
According to Dolby, the system widens the "sweet spot" to include the entire audience, and it's scalable to match the resources of different theaters. In addition, it's fully backward compatible with conventional 5.1 and 7.1 systems.
The Dolby Theater is quite large180,000 square feet with 3400 seatsand the Atmos system fills it nicely with a total of 164 speakers, most of which are self-powered models from Meyer Sound, permanently installed and used by Cirque du Soleil in its Iris show presented 10 times per week in the venue.
Behind the screen are three line arrays, each with 10 JBL Vertec VT4888s, as well as six custom-designed JBL subwoofers, each with dual 18-inch drivers. The front speakers and subs are all driven by Crown power amps.
We saw and heard several clips, including a 30-second trailer created by sound designer Erik Aadahl, who has appeared as a guest on the Home Theater Geeks podcast. After trying to come up with a soundtrack for existing video, he ended up creating the audio with no visual imagery, and the computer-generated video was added after the fact. The effect was stunning, with sound swirling all around and above the audience.
Other clips included Atmos remixes of scenes from existing movies. From The Incredibles, the scene in which Dash is being chased by Syndrome's soldiers in flying speeders was, well, incredible as the speeders flew overhead and around the room. This clip was played a second time with only the 16 Atmos objectsno dialog or musicso we could hear their placement more clearly.
Also impressive was the sandstorm scene from Mission: ImpossibleGhost Protocol. I could almost hear individual grains of sand whipping around my head as Ethan Hunt chases the bad guy.
Not to give the visuals short shrift, Dolby installed a Dolby 3D projection system in the theater using two Christie 4230 4K DLP projectors firing onto a Harkness Perlux miniperf screen measuring 60 by 32 feet. We saw a 3D clip from Fly Me to the Moon as well as a 3D version of the Atmos trailer, and both looked great, though I noticed some strange reflections in the glasses as I often do with Dolby 3D.
Now that the movie industry has undergone the transition to digital cinema and modern 3D, Dolby figures it's time to upgrade the sound, and Atmos is its bid to do just that. For now, the system is intended only for commercial cinemas, but I suppose it could eventually find its way into home theaters. Until then, look for a Dolby Atmos theater in your areait's a sonic experience worth seeking out.