Javier Foncillas is the Vice President of Dolby Laboratories and head of trade partenerships for the European continent. He agreed to sit down with us to answer our questions about immersive cinema sound, and more specifically, the Dolby Atmos format.
What is the Dolby Atmos format ?
Dolby Atmos delivers moving audio – sound that can be precisely placed and moved anywhere in three-dimensional space, including overhead. This brings the entertainment to life around the audience, putting them in the middle of the action and creating a spectacular experience, with multidimensional sound in the cinema, at home and on the go.
What are the advantages of Dolby Atmos compared to competing formats such as DTS:X and Auro 3D?
Dolby Atmos is based on the concept of audio objects. This means sounds exist as individual audio objects, rather than being constrained to specific audio channels. It’s also extremely adaptable as it’s not locked to a certain number of speakers.
Dolby Atmos also provides filmmakers and sound experts with an increased amount of creative freedom to place or move sounds anywhere in the room. This is because each sound in a scene can be a separate object, with a single scene containing as many as 118 audio objects. The object-based nature of Dolby Atmos gives the film soundtrack a pool of data about the scene’s sound. Providing this detailed information means a Dolby Atmos soundtrack is incredibly adaptable as it can be scaled from a huge movie theatre, to a home theatre set up or a mobile device playing for one person wearing headphones.
Dolby has been supporting the cinema market 45+ years and going strong, where other companies have moved away from supporting cinema over the years. Dolby Atmos successfully launched into the market with a long-term vision for bringing entertainment experiences to cinema, the home and to lifestyle devices. It‘s quickly becoming the preferred choice for next-generation audio in the cinema, for the home, and mobile devices by delivering compelling content experiences in multiple formats.
To date, there are more than 2,800 Dolby Atmos screens installed or committed to in more than 75 countries and over 780 screens installed in the EMEA region. In addition, there are more than 150 mixing facilities worldwide and more than 700 titles announced with support from all the major Hollywood studios.
Is there an estimated number of moviegoers who have discovered Dolby Atmos sound in theaters around the world as of today?
As mentioned, we’re seeing fantastic momentum with Dolby Atmos. Dolby has reached a fantastic milestone in France and there are now 100 Dolby Atmos screens in the region.
Consumer responses from exit surveys after experiencing Dolby Atmos have been extremely positive. The main takeaway is that consumers are truly impressed by the immersive experience that’s created. We often get feedback that the sound is amazing as people can really feel it. It is like being there at a live event or in the middle of the movie scene itself.
In addition to Dolby Atmos screens, we also recently hit the significant milestone of 100 global Dolby Cinema locations. Dolby’s award winning Dolby Cinema offering, which features Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos has seen great support in EMEA stemming from the recent new partnership with Les Cinémas Gaumont Pathé (Pathé). In May, Pathé announced plans to open 10 Dolby Cinema locations, seven in France and three in the Netherlands, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and the upcoming new Pathé cinéma in Massy, south of Paris, as the first locations. Initial locations are expected to be open by Fall 2017. Currently five Dolby Cinemas are available in EMEA, Vue has two locations in the Netherlands (Vue Eindhoven and Vue Hilversum), Cineplexx has two locations in Austria (Linz and Salzburg) and Cinesa has one in Spain with Cinesa La Maquinista (Barcelona).
What equipment is necessary to mix a film in Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos integrates easily into existing audio postproduction workflows. Dolby works with leading digital audio workstations (DAW) and console manufacturers to seamlessly integrate other technologies with the Rendering Mastering Unit (Dolby RMU). This allows x/y/z coordinates and other positional attributes of each object to be easily recorded in the system’s automation and built up naturally. This integration lets mix teams continue using the interfaces with which they’re already familiar, taking full advantage of the benefits of their chosen automation system. Dolby Atmos provides a truly optimised experience in every cinema by virtue of the method that the soundtrack is mastered and delivered to the cinema. This allows the soundtrack to be rendered to account for each individual cinema’s size and shape as well as speaker type and placement.
In April this year, Avid Tools announced the native integration of Dolby Atmos into Avid Pro Tools, to streamline complex workflows for content creators. Combined with Pro Tools | S6 and Pro Tools | HD, the premium suite of Dolby Atmos mixing tools delivers the most powerful, integrated and affordable solution for mixing Dolby Atmos soundtracks for theatrical releases. Dolby Atmos support for the fully cloud-enabled Pro Tools application enables customers to future proof their workflows and make mixing for immersive content a flexible, collaborative process.
The Sound-Bar in Chicago will be the first club to propose a Dolby Atmos installation: is this going to be done with the same equipment as in movie theaters? How will the DJ be able to get creative with specific speakers?
The Chicago club Sound-Bar will boast the first Dolby Atmos music entertainment experience in a club in the United States, but it’s not the first club with a Dolby Atmos installation. In January 2016, Dolby launched the first Dolby Atmos residency at the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London with Hospital Records. The Ministry of Sound has been equipped with a Dolby Atmos sound system, combining Dolby Atmos audio processing technology with a network of additional speakers designed to complement the club’s existing setup. Since the launch, top artists including Sub Focus, Solarstone and Kerri Chandler have performed sets in Dolby Atmos. All that’s required to experience Dolby Atmos in a club environment is a venue fully equipped with a Dolby Atmos installation (including surround and overhead speakers) along with content mixed by a DJ/producer.
In addition, currently sound mixers use a plug-in and audio interface that Dolby has developed as part of the workflow to mix movies and TV shows in Dolby Atmos; DJs and producers can use very similar tools based on the same technology in their workflow. Our panner plug-in is supported as AU, VST, or AAX format with the digital audio workstation (DAW) of the DJ or producer’s choice, including Pro Tools®, Ableton® Live, or Logic®. This unleashes the opportunity to move, pan, fade, and manipulate these audio objects, which can then be played back on a Dolby Atmos DJ software and sound system in the club. When mixing music with Dolby Atmos, the DJ/producer can treat all the elements of a song as individual audio objects, moving them around the venue or club to take full advantage of the environment, including moving them overhead, to build out the soundscape.
How many Atmos speakers are installed along the ceiling of the average movie theater?
Dolby Atmos adapts to the size of any theatre. It’s designed to capture the director’s intent and bring it intact to any theatre of any size and configuration, from 5.1 and 7.1 up to 64 channels. It ensures that the audience experience is always the best possible for the exhibitor’s specific playback environment. Dolby Atmos combines distinct sound elements with traditional channel-based audio content. It supports up to 128 simultaneous and lossless audio streams and allows for up to 64 discrete speaker feeds.
What are their characteristics, and do you certify all of them?
Dolby collaborates with exhibitors and the industry to deliver exceptional sound in the cinema with solutions that are more flexible and scalable than ever before. Dolby Atmos takes into account the speaker layout and playback capabilities of a theatre and uses the acoustic performance of the room to determine how best to render the audio, delivering consistent and optimized playback regardless of theatre configuration. With Dolby Atmos, we got involved in the process of certification: we approve the speaker location and equipment during the design phase, and send an engineer to commission the screen and make sure everything is aligned and working correctly.
Is there a standardized sound pressure level for movie theaters which play Dolby Atmos soundtracks? What is the recommended SPL?
Speakers and speaker arrays in a Dolby Atmos-equipped cinema are calibrated using wide-band pink noise to an industry-standard sound pressure level (SPL) of 85 dBC as measured at the reference listening position (RLP), which is a point that’s two-thirds of the distance to the rear wall of the auditorium and in the middle of the seating area.
How many Blu-ray films are currently available in Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos has received tremendous support from studios around the globe. More than 230 home titles feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack and more than 60 percent of the UHD Blu-ray media released include the format. This includes French titles such as Pathé’s Les Saisons and Animal Kingdom: Let’s Go Ape. A full list of Dolby Atmos Home titles with either French language versions or French subtitles is available on our official website.
Is the Dolby Atmos soundtrack present on these discs identical to the one played in the movie theater?
To deliver the full object-based soundtrack to home theatres, Dolby developed home authoring tools and encoding methods that take into account the spatial information of the sound objects to efficiently encode them in Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus. This coding technique allows all the audio objects created for the cinema to be used in the home theatre. Nothing is lost. Home theatres will be able to play Dolby Atmos content on Blu-ray discs or through streaming video services. No matter the source, when a Dolby Atmos stream is fed to a Dolby Atmos compatible A/V receiver, the receiver will render the object-based audio to your home theatre’s unique speaker configuration to precisely recreate the sound the filmmakers intended.
Are the Dolby Atmos processors integrated into home theater amplifiers able to upmix stereo or multichannel tracks using in-ceiling speakers?
Consumers can get full use of their Dolby Atmos home theatre, even if the content they are playing isn’t mixed in Dolby Atmos. Dolby Atmos enabled AVRs or preprocessors include the Dolby surround upmixer, which takes traditional channel-based audio and upmixes it. A Dolby surround upmixer expands the audio so that it takes full advantage of your entire system, including the ceiling or Dolby Atmos enabled speakers while still honouring and maintaining the artist’s intent for the mix.
A new Dolby Atmos 3.1.2 format is available on new home theater receivers hitting the market this year, can you tell us about its additional benefits?
We’re aware that there can be lifestyle challenges to creating a traditional home theatre, as there can be limitations caused by factors such as rooms being too small to support the speaker needs. It follows in the footsteps of larger offerings for home theatres, with the primary distinguishing feature being the ability to enable a highly immersive audio experience from just two or three speakers.
Dolby Atmos enabled compact entertainment systems, such as 3.1.2 provide consumers worldwide with access to the experience and magic of Dolby Atmos—in a form factor that fits their lifestyles.
This solution can be integrated into the profile of a traditional 5.1 A/V receiver, a stereo receiver, or even a combination receiver/Blu-ray player packaged with a pair of Dolby Atmos enabled speakers. The opportunity for new product designs and configurations is seemingly limitless.
Dolby is supporting partners such as Pioneer to bring new AV receivers to market that complement an existing home theatre install, or enable a “stereo only” household to be able to enjoy home theatre audio experiences.
Which Dolby Atmos films would you recommend to viewers looking to discover immersive sound?
Every major Hollywood studio is releasing Dolby Atmos titles; and 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. These include Oscar winning blockbusters, such as Mad Max: Fury Road which was awarded the accolade in both the sound editing and sound mixing categories. The film is a stellar example of the effects of a Dolby Atmos soundtrack as certain scenes really stand out, such as the opening car chase which starts by surrounding the audience with whispers before hitting them with the blast of engines.
It’s not just blockbusters that are enhanced by a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Last year it added a new level of horror to The Conjuring 2, by reverberating bangs and crashes around the audience. A more recent example is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Not only was the movie supported by an outstanding film soundtrack, but also realistic sound effects such as when the team escape a fleet of drones, or a telekinetic arrow soars overhead. Whatever the film genre of choice, movie fans will always enjoy the benefits of Dolby Atmos and find themselves surrounded by 3D sound and placed in the middle of the action.
Netflix has announced that it will offer some content in Dolby Atmos: will the streamed soundtrack be the same as the one found on Blu-ray and Blu-ray UHD discs?
Exciting and dynamic Dolby Atmos soundtracks can be enjoyed on Blu-ray Disc, Ultra HD Blu-ray, broadcast, and streaming sources that support 4K and Dolby Vision playback. To enable this, we developed a new, scalable algorithm as well as new extensions for our existing technologies Dolby TrueHD, which is Dolby’s lossless audio codec employed on Blu-ray Disc, and Dolby Digital Plus, which is used by leading streaming video providers, broadcasters and for secondary languages on Blu-ray Disc. Both formats support delivery of Dolby Atmos sound.French