The Future of Surround Sound

For this blog post I will be reflecting the future of 5.1 surround sound in the use of films with the rise of the Dolby Atmos. Does surround sound have a future, or is it on its way out? To answer this I will be looking at how Dolby Atmos has changed the format of surround sound. Finally I will be analysing Datasat, a free alternative to Dolby Atmos. Ultimately, this will determine the future of surround sound in both the professional market, and the consumer market i.e. home theatres.

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A Dolby atmos theatre. Source: http://ahundredmonkeys.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/A-Hundred-Monkeys-Dolby-Atmos.jpg

 

Dolby Atmos is Dolby’s latest innovation in surround sound. It involves “combining additional sound channels with object based steering” which allows engineers to place any source of audio, anywhere in the sound field (May 2015). Dolby’s argument is that Atmos will audiences to “enjoy a completely new listening experience with enveloping sound that brings the stories on screen more fully to life” and have an “only-in-a-theater” experience (Morrison 2012). So it can be said that Atmos results in a much more immersive sound than 5.1.

In a Sound and Vision article, Atmos also deals with a major problem of 5.1 and 7.1 mixing As certain sounds panned to the left or right or in the surrounds, the film has to have multiple mixes (i.e. a stereo mix, a 5.1 mix) so that it translates across the board. The Atmos decoder solves this problem by automatically determining which sounds are emitted by which speakers as it is designed for Dolby Atmos theatres (Morrison 2012). So through Dolby Atmos, the surround sound formats seems to have a bright future in the professional environments.

However, there are problems when translating this to home theatres. One of the criticisms of surround sound, is that listeners will need extra equipment i.e. a 5.1 surround sound system, and a SACD player. Furthermore, listeners have to be in a certain spot to truly experience surround sound, as opposed to listening to a stereo mix (Rosoff 2008). As for Dolby Atmos, there is not enough equipment that supports the format yet, and the products that do support it are around US$17000 (Cericola 2012). At the moment, Dolby Atmos does not have a future in home theatre due to unavailability and budget concerns.

Nevertheless, there is a free alternative to Dolby Atmos. Its biggest competitor Datasat (formerly known as DTS Digital), is a more accessible alternative to Atmos by allowing film studios to only use the hardware already installed in theatres to mix the sound (Waniata 2015). According to Stephen Fielder, the vice president of Datasat, this allows both professionals and consumers to mix the sound on the fly “depending on the speaker configuration” (May 2015).

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A Datasat 7.0 audio processor

Ultimately, it does look like surround sound has a future in both professional films and in the home theatre, provided there are more affordable options and that more equipment supports that feature. If so, then with the advances in technology, the use of surround sound in film could be of a much higher quality. Hence, I do not see the use of surround sound in film being replaced per se, but rather improved on and therefore allow consumers to interact with their movies, like never before.

References

Cericola, R. (2015). The Pros & Cons of a Dolby Atmos Home Theater. Retrieved 21 July 2016 from, http://www.electronichouse.com/home-theater/the-pros-cons-of-a-dolby-atmos-home-theater/

May, S. (2015). Is Dolby Atmos the future of cinema sound? Retrieved 19 July 2016, from http://www.techradar.com/au/news/audio/is-dolby-atmos-the-future-of-cinema-sound-1088428

Morrison, G. (2012). The Future of Surround Sound. Retrieved 20 July 2016, from http://www.soundandvision.com/content/future-surround-sound#gsxCyb7vA0Ic2E6r.97

Rosoff, M (2008). Does surround sound audio have a future? Retrieved 19 July 2016, from http://www.cnet.com/news/does-surround-sound-audio-have-a-future/

Waniata, S. (2015). Lookout Dolby Atmos, DTS just entered the next era of surround sound with DTS:X. Retrieved 19 July 2016, from http://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/dts-dtsx-object-based-surround-sound-system-released/

 

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