The new sound of home theater

In the quarter century since Dolby first introduced home-theater surround sound, the systems have grown steadily more sophisticated: first two audio channels, then five, then seven. But the sound has always been two-dimensional, surrounding listeners in a ring, not a dome. With Atmos, Dolby and its A/V partners (Pioneer, Marantz, and Onkyo, to name a few) have added a third dimension: height, which audio engineers can use to place individual sounds anywhere in a 3-D space. Imagine watching Godzilla while helicopter rotors beat overhead.

Atmos systems consist of a receiver and at least eight speakers, two of which handle overhead audio. A processor within the receiver interprets up to 118 object tracks and precisely places sounds in any environment. The receiver then assigns object tracks to as many as 34 speakers in a room. For overhead sound, users can either install ceiling-mounted speakers or opt for Atmos-enabled floor or bookshelf models, which have upward-firing drivers that ricochet sound off the ceiling to create the illusion that it’s coming from above. This fall, studios began including Atmos tracks on select Blu-ray discs and streaming services such as Vudu. Your living room will never sound the same. Dolby

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