Dolby Atmos

We're a humble bunch at IBTimes UK and are still impressed when we can hear things behind us in the cinema (special effects, not popcorn) but sound gurus Dolby think that five, or even seven speakers is no longer enough.

No; Dolby, who pioneered surround sound and digital sound, think 64 speakers is what we need for today's blockbusters.

It's new Atmos system can drive sound through up to 64 individual speakers on the front, left, right, back and ceiling of the cinema - this is the first time speakers have been used above the audience.

IBTimes UK was invited to Dolby's new London HQ in Soho Square to experience a demonstration of Atmos in its private cinema.

We were shown a number of demonstration clips that take full advantage of the Atmos setup, including excerpts from the animated film Brave, The Woman in Black, Mission: Impossible 4 and two brand new Dolby adverts.

Dolby told us that Atmos is the next big thing for cinema, and will take sounds we experience in the cinema to a new level, far beyond the 5.1 and 7.1 setups we have become useful.

Atmos delivers improved sound in two ways; firstly, with many more individually controlled speakers than your average cinema setup, sound can be sent to just one of many speakers, helping to pinpoint exactly where the director wants a noise to come from.

This also makes panning sounds (such as a car passing by) smoother, as the sound travels gradually from one speaker to the next, and not simply jump from left to right.

Over our heads

Secondly, by including speakers mounted in the ceiling and facing down onto the audience, directors are now able to place sounds above our heads in a way they couldn't before.

We were treated to a low-flying helicopter that sounded as if it was in the cinema with us, followed by a thunderstorm where the bolts of lightning sounded as if they were right above us.

It's impressive technology, and we look forward to seeing (and hearing) how directors and producers adapt for it with future films - as long as it isn't used for gimmicks as 3D often is, we think Dolby is onto a winner here.

Atmos is already available in its full 64-speaker configuration at screen one of the Empire cinema in London's West End, and the beauty of the system is that it can be adapted to fit small and large cinemas equally well.

Dolby told us that it hopes to have Atmos installed in more than 100 screens worldwide by the start of 2013 and there are "one or two handfuls" of films coming soon which will take full advantage of Atmos.