Is the Dolby Atmos format a true step forward for home cinema? Is HDR video the future of 4K TVs? We interviewed Craig Eggers, Senior Director of Home Theater at Dolby Labs.
Craig Eggers. : Dolby creates audio, video, and voice technologies that transform entertainment and communications in mobile devices, at the cinema, at home, and at work. For 50 years, sight and sound experiences have become more vibrant, clear, and powerful in Dolby.
S.V. : As Senior Director of Home Theater at Dolby Laboratories, can you tell us what have been the most innovative technologies created these last 15 years, as we’re celebrating our 15th anniversary?
C.E. : While I?ve been part of many exciting and successful launches at Dolby including Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Pro Logic IIz, Dolby Volume, by far the biggest, with most impact for entertainment enthusiasts and the home theater industry has been Dolby Atmos.
Dolby Atmos is the first home theater system that is based not on channels but on audio objects. With the revolution in audio that is Dolby Atmos, sound designers are freed from channel restrictions. Sounds flow above and around you in step with the visuals, bringing a new sense of height and reality to your listening experience. Dolby Atmos helps weave the audio story to match what?s happening on the screen. It puts you in the middle of the action’in ways you have never experienced before.
S.V. : Dolby NR, Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital, then TrueHD and Dolby Atmos, hy is Dolby so innovative?
C.E. : Ray Dolby, our founder, was more than just a brilliant scientist and inventor. He valued a work environment that fostered individual creativity and teamwork, intellectual curiosity and practical problem-solving. He believed in forward thinking, mutual respect, and a true work-life balance. Even as we’ve become a global company, Dolby continues to reflect Ray Dolby’s core values. We are fond of saying that at Dolby science meets art. High tech goes far beyond computer code. And it?s certainly true.
As a company, we focus on complete solutions that revolutionize how people create, deliver, and enjoy entertainment worldwide. We emphasize quality and we prize integrity, earning the trust of our partners and customers worldwide. I think another key element of our technology development is the idea of compatibility. It is essential as we introduce new technologies that those new experiences complement products that employ earlier technologies. You see this clearly with Dolby Atmos where the soundtrack can be played back on traditional 5.1 and 7.1 systems with remarkable results—and great review!
S.V. : Dolby has invented surround sound in theaters: can you mention the movies that changed the game?
C.E : Several films had an important impact on the evolution of Dolby technologies:
- In 1971, A Clockwork Orange was the first title using Dolby NR on all premixes and masters.
- In 1974, Callan was the first title to use an optical mono soundtrack with a Dolby A-Type NR.
- In 1976, A Star is Born was the first Stereo Optical Film to use 4-channel Dolby Stereo.
- In 1977, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was the first release of the Star Wars Franchise. It was something of a surprise success. It put Dolby Stereo over the top and enabled subsequent Dolby Cinema Technologies.
- In 1979, Apocalypse Now was the first title to use 70mm 5.1 channel Dolby Stereo with Stereo Surround.
- In 1992, Batman Returns was the first title using 5.1-channel Dolby Digital.
- In 1999, Star Wars Episode I: Phantom Menace was the first title using 6.1 channel Dolby Digital Surround EX.
- In 2005, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was the first title using Dolby Digital Cinema System.
- In 2009, Toy Story 3 was the first title using Dolby Surround 7.1.
- In 2012, Brave was the first title to use Dolby Atmos.
S.V. : Can you tell us what Dolby Atmos is?
C.E. : Dolby Atmos is a revolutionary new object based audio technology that enables sound to come from all directions, including overhead. Through positional metadata, and new content creation tools mixers can place sound anywhere within the listening space, place sounds into motion and allow specific sounds of people, music and things to move all around you in multidimensional space. Dolby Atmos gives artists new capabilities in sound design and provides them with a bigger, richer palate for their work.
S.V. : How many theaters are equipped with Dolby Atmos technology worldwide?
C.E. : There are more than 1,200 Dolby Atmos equipped theaters around the world.
S.V. : New Dolby Atmos theaters are opening in France this year, with great listening experience: can you tell how many Dolby Atmos movies will be presented in theaters in 2016?
C.E. : To date, more than 300 movies have been released in Dolby Atmos since 2013. Thus far some of the most highly anticipated movies of 2016 have been scheduled for release in Dolby Atmos including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Kung Fu Panda 3, Monster Trucks, The Jungle Book and Hands of Stone. We expect more studio announcements as the year rolls out. Visit Dolby.com for the latest list of Dolby Atmos theatrical releases.
S.V. : Does Dolby certify every Dolby Atmos enabled speaker, such as Klipsch’s new Reference Atmos series?
C.E. : Indeed, Dolby works with our speaker manufacturers to certify Dolby Atmos Enabled Speaker products. In addition to Klipsch, Onkyo, Pioneer, KEF, Triad, Teufel, Elac, Martin Logan, Atlantic and SpeakerCraft, are all now manufacturing Dolby Atmos Enabled Speakers. The important thing to remember is that Dolby provides key guidelines to speaker partners to succeed in their Dolby Atmos Enabled Speaker products. We test or fail products against those guidelines. We are not involved in specific speaker manufacturer specifications. We respect the integrity and philosophy of each speaker designer and their approach to their product.
S.V. : Is Dolby Atmos a real value added format for home audio equipment?
C.E. : The answer is yes. With Dolby Atmos, you have amazing flexibility: and scalability you can get the full experience with just seven speakers or get an even richer, more detailed sound by adding more. (as many as 34 total!)The intelligence of the system is something called the Object Audio Renderer (OAR) in the processor. The OAR scales and adapts the Dolby Atmos soundtrack to the particular speaker layout that you have assigned the AV receiver or processor. The scalability and adaptability of Dolby Atmos allows us to bring this experience to new entertainment form factors in the future. We are planning to see the very first Dolby Atmos sound bar, the Yamaha YSP-5600 debut this winter.
S.V. : How many speakers are required to set up a domestic Dolby Atmos installation’ The more the better?
C.E. : Because audio that originates from overhead is a key contributor to the Dolby Atmos experience, we recommend using at least two speakers to generate overhead audio elements. This provides a minimal ability to move audio from left to right above the listener. The addition of four or more speakers to generate overhead audio elements provides the ability to move audio left to right and front to back above the listener. This provides greater precision to the Dolby Atmos experience. For high-end home theaters, a 7.1.4 system (a traditional 7.1-channel-based layout with the addition of four overhead or Dolby Atmos enabled speakers) will provide a great listening experience. That being said, Dolby Atmos can support home theater systems with up to 34 speakers, in a 24.1.10 configuration: 24 speakers on the floor, a subwoofer, and 10 overhead speakers. However, Dolby Atmos content is not tied to any specific playback configuration. Whether you have a full 7.1.4 system, a 5.1.4 system, or a 5.1.2 system, your receiver will get the same content and play it back in a way that takes full advantage of your specific setup.
S.V. : Dolby Atmos speakers need to be directed towards the ceiling or integrated directly into the ceiling: is the listening experience comparable?
C.E. : In real life, sounds come from all around us, including overhead. Having the ability to recreate overhead sounds is a key element in making Dolby Atmos sound so realistic. The obvious way to create overhead sounds is to install speakers in or on your ceiling. But that?s not the only way to get great overhead sound. Through our knowledge of psychoacoustics and sound physics, we?ve developed speakers that can create overhead sound even though they?re only a few feet off the floor. These speakers fire sound upward, where it reflects off the ceiling to produce an incredibly lifelike recreation of overhead sound’you really have to hear them to believe them.
The key to enabling this is the inclusion of specific speaker design elements including directivity, signal filtering and other guidelines with which we provide our partners.
You will be able to buy integrated Dolby Atmos enabled speakers that include both traditional forward-firing speakers and upward-firing speakers in one speaker cabinet. (These speakers have two sets of posts, one for the traditional speaker and one for the upward-firing speaker). But if you already have conventional speakers you like, you can simply buy Dolby Atmos enabled speaker modules. These include only the upward-firing speakers. You can put the modules on top of your current speakers or on another nearby surface.
S.V. : We noticed that Dolby Atmos Blu-ray discs actually carry 7.1 Dolby True HD track, with similar bitrates as standard TrueHD track. What is the proportion of Dolby Atmos data in the track?
C.E : On average, a Dolby Atmos soundtrack may require 15 percent additional data on a Blu-ray disc; however this is entirely content dependent.
S.V. : Is a Dolby Atmos track compatible with Dolby TrueHD-only compatible receivers?
C.E. : The Dolby Atmos format was designed to be backward compatible, so it will play on both new and existing hardware platforms. We recommend that you purchase the Dolby Atmos version of content whenever that is available. In the future, upgrading your equipment to products capable of decoding Dolby Atmos will unlock the ultimate experience from Dolby Atmos content. In the meantime, you will get a great surround experience from traditional channel-based systems.
S.V. : Can we expect TV networks to broadcast audio with Dolby Atmos tracks? Or online services such as Netflix or HBO maybe, since Game of Thrones was recently remixed in Dolby Atmos?
C.E. : At CEDIA Expo 2015 in Dallas, one of the largest cable operators in the United States, Comcast, announced that it intends to support Dolby Atmos on its X1 platform in 2016. VUDU, one of the top streaming services in the U.S. supports Dolby Atmos on its service. We continue to work with the entire entertainment ecosystem to make Dolby Atmos as widely available as possible around the world.
S.V. : We read that Dolby has developed a new audio codec named AC4: can you tell us about it?
C.E. : AC-4 is a powerful new audio format in the Dolby Audio family. Dolby AC-4 addresses the current and future needs of next-generation video and audio entertainment services including broadcast and Internet streaming. The Dolby AC-4 format fundamentally rethinks audio architecture to add capabilities while reducing complexity. It addresses a complete range of delivery methods, including traditional broadcast, mobile networks, and hybrid broadcast and broadband. Dolby AC-4, which is already standardized with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and adopted by the Digital Video Broadcasting Project (DVB), is ready to deploy. Additionally, we’ve established partnerships with VIZIO, Sony Visual Products and TP Vision to incorporate Dolby AC-4 into next-generation televisions.
S.V. : Dolby recently introduced Dolby Vision, an HDR and high framerate video technology for theaters and 4K TVs: when can we expect that technology to reach our living rooms? Will it be embedded in TVs or new Blu-ray HD players?
C.E. : In October, Vizio announced that they are set to bring to market the first 4K Ultra HD TVs with Dolby Vision. Its new reference series sets, the 65-inch (model RS65-B2) and 120-inch (RS120-B3) are available for order. Dolby Vision is an optional feature for the new UHD/4K Blu-ray format.
S.V. : Dolby Vision will come with 10 bit video encoding to home theater: is it a huge leap in quality?
C.E. : While the transition from 2K to 4K, adds more pixels to the display, Dolby Vision delivers better pixels, with a more dynamic range and wider color gamut. In addition, Dolby Vision delivers images up to 40 times brighter than current TVs. Highlights and images blaze out brightly from the screen. You get a finer sense of dimension, with more natural depth and shading.
S.V. : Could you tell us about your home audio equipment?
C.E. : As a former musician, my home audio equipment theme is music everywhere. I am presently building a 9.4.6 Dolby Atmos system in my home theater that will consist of B&W and Triad speakers, and likely employ a Trinnov pre-processor. This system will be driven by ATI amplifiers. The subwoofers will be 15? Klipsch boxes. I have a 9.1 Dolby Pro Logic IIz system in another room driven by an Onkyo pre-processor, Rotel Amplifiers and Paradigm speakers. My new home has 6 zones of music driven from my iPad. The in-wall speakers are from Speakercraft, the system is driven by Sonos amplifiers and includes a 6 terabyte hard drive for storage. I work almost daily to keep up my guitar skills. My music rehearsal room is driven by an Anthem amplifier and Polk bookshelf speakers. A Marshall 50w with slant 4×12 cabinet and my Fender twin reverb with JBL speakers complete the room.
S.V. : finally, what is your best musical recollection’
C.E. : Anything on DVD Audio, Blu-ray pure Audio or SACD. My musical tastes are varied from Classic to Baroque to Gregorian to Celtic to Jazz to Rock and Alternative. I am a fan of multichannel high resolution audio; the work that Mark Waldrep does at AIX records is spectacular. I have to say when I really want to impress my musical friends I select the Beatles Love DVD Audio Disc. As soon as they hear the first track their eyes widen with disbelief and pleasure. It?s really magical!