The Sound Works Collection’s obsession with movie sound continues. This time the cool content they’re bringing to us is a series of videos that take a look at Dolby’s new sound platform, Dolby Atmos, which intends on taking theater surround sound to a new, more immersive level. The reason this new way of developing movie sound is different from everything that comes before it is that it’s not so much concerned with speaker configurations and mixing the sound in a movie to hit certain clusters of speakers in a room. Instead, it views the soundscape a movie is creating as a three-dimensional plane of existence, like the Danger Room or the Holodeck, and it views the sounds in a movie as “objects” that are traveling around said plane. As the objects move around in this imaginary area, the sounds that they make come through a theater’s speakers individually, instead of in clusters.
When movie sound first began, it came to us in mono, which consisted of one speaker set behind the screen. Then we progressed to stereo, which sat three speakers behind the screen and broke the soundtrack up into different elements. The big leap forward was surround sound, which put speakers all around the theater and allowed those mixing a movie’s soundtrack to make it seem more like the sounds were originating from different places. 5.1 surround broke the theater up into left and right tracks, so the sounds could move from one side of the room to the other. 7.1 surround then broke the room up into four quadrants, which made sound origin even more specific. According to these videos, Atmos gets even more immersive than that.
First off, it doesn’t just put speakers on the walls, it puts speakers on the ceiling of a theater as well. That basically creates a crazy sound dome that envelops your head completely. When a theater has a fully functioning Atmos sound system, the effect should be the same as being put directly inside the movie, Last Action Hero style. Mike Hedges, the Academy Award winning re-recording mixer at Park Road Post Production says of the new system, “Dolby Atmos brings a completely new dimension to the motion picture soundtrack. To be able to move sounds anywhere in the theatre, and to also create environments that surround and excite an audience, is extremely powerful.”
Those with smaller, less fancy theaters shouldn’t worry though. The other cool thing about this new way of doing sound is that the track that comes with a movie automatically adapts itself to whatever setup you have running. No longer will theater owners have to worry about getting the right sound mix for a movie, depending on what they’re set up for; with Atmos movie sound just works ( ™ Steve Jobs ).
Even from the perspective of an audio neophyte, this new way of doing things sounds pretty dang cool. You don’t want to rely on my second hand rambling when it comes to learning about everything this new system can do though; so I highly recommend those with a deep and abiding interest in sound check out the videos and get all the technical mumbo-jumbo straight from the horse’s mouth.