Science & Tech

What Surprised One Home Theater Buff About Dolby Atmos

When audio enthusiast Jim Rogers installed a Dolby Atmos® home theater in his basement last year, he expected it would sound great when he played movies mixed in Dolby Atmos. What’s surprised him is how good content that’s not mixed in Dolby Atmos sounds.

“It’s been about nine months with [Dolby] Atmos,” says the 49-year-old software development vice president at Oracle, “and I am still blown away by how great it sounds.”

Right away, Rogers says, “It made the space seem so expansive. I watched Blade Runner,” a movie that isn’t mixed in Dolby Atmos, “and thought it sounded so much better with the Dolby surround upmixer, so I went looking for more movies to play on the system, even if they weren’t mixed in Dolby Atmos. The sound wasn’t ‘over the top.’ It helped with the whole experience.”

Dolby Atmos technology debuted in the cinema in 2012, giving filmmakers the ability to precisely place and move sounds anywhere in the movie theatre. Now available for home theater, Dolby Atmos places sound all around you, including overhead, to make entertainment incredibly immersive.

Jim Rogers built a Dolby Atmos home theater in his family’s basement.

Audio/video receivers (AVRs), amplifiers, or preprocessors that support Dolby Atmos play content encoded in Dolby Atmos, of course, but they can also upmix stereo, 5.1-, or 7.1-channel content to make full use of all your speakers, including the speakers that produce overhead sound. (If you’d rather listen to older recordings just the way you heard them years ago, you can switch off the upmixer.)

Alan Seefeldt, a senior sound technology researcher at Dolby, explains that the Dolby® surround upmixer in a Dolby Atmos home theater analyzes non Dolby Atmos audio, “identifies diffuse, or nondirectional, components of the signal, [and distributes them] evenly across all of the available loudspeakers, including those overhead, to create a more immersive experience.” The Dolby surround upmixer leaves alone the directional components of the mix, such as dialogue and solo instruments, and preserves “the original spatial balance of the mix.” This results in what Seefeldt calls “a very high quality separation between these diffuse and directional components.”

Rogers started reading everything he could find about setting up a Dolby Atmos home theater last year, planning for what he calls “a fairly modest home theater” in his basement, and bought a Denon X4100W Dolby Atmos capable A/V receiver. He started with a 5.1.2 system, with two speakers installed in the 11-1/2-by-18-foot room’s 7-1/2-foot ceiling.

Audiophile friends have visited and compared the sound in the Dolby Atmos home theater downstairs with the 7.1 home theater upstairs. Even with higher-quality speakers upstairs, Rogers says, everyone prefers the sound downstairs. Rogers has since added an amplifier and two more ceiling speakers to his basement setup.

The Rogers family stretches out in their Dolby Atmos home theater.

“Part of what really impressed me was that even in a suboptimal room” like his basement, he says, “Dolby Atmos with 5.1.4 sounds incredible. As great as 5.1.2 sounded, the additional speakers definitely made a significant improvement in what was already a very immersive experience.” He’s convinced about a dozen friends, neighbors, and family members to set up a Dolby Atmos home theater, based on what they’ve heard on his system.

Rogers, who lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife and four children, ages 8 to 17, used to face a lot of competition for the 7.1 home theater in the family’s living room. Now everyone’s competing for the Dolby Atmos home theater in the basement. The night before we spoke, his 17-year-old daughter had some friends over in the downstairs home theater to watch Kingsman: The Secret Service in Dolby Atmos.

Rogers and his wife most recently watched American Sniper with a Dolby Atmos mix. “I loved the sound. And John Wick was fantastic—all action all the time. You get into the movie so much more when the sound is all around you.” Rogers says that, with the Dolby surround upmixer, he can enjoy even a bad movie: “I can still enjoy the sound and how the upmixer works.”

“People wonder whether Dolby Atmos is really worth it, and it is,” says Rogers. “The first time I heard 5.1 surround, I thought it was amazing. Since then, Dolby Atmos is the first audio technology to give me that same feeling.”

Some components of the Rogers family’s Dolby Atmos home theater.


Here are the components that make up the Rogers family’s Dolby Atmos home theater: