Sound that truly surrounds, is here!

04th May 2015
Sound that truly surrounds, is here!
Up-firing speakers of a Dolby Atmos set-up, help create the illusion of sound coming from the ceiling

Dolby's Atmos  brings truly  immersive theatre experience to  home -- and phone
From Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, May 4 2015: A few years  ago, I had the opportunity to view an Oscar-nominated movie in the preview theatre  at the glass-encased  global headquarters of Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco. The theatre  actually 'floats' on a 15 cm-thick pad of air and rubber to insulate it from all outside sounds.  The technology they were showing was  '7.1 Surround';  but a Dolby engineer admitted the term was  not strictly true. For  sound that truly surrounds,  it must come from both  around and above  -- and hop from speaker to speaker with the action on the screen.  "We working on it ... one day you can experience it   at home or on  the phone in your pocket!" he told me.
Last week  his prediction  came true:  Dolby Atmos, the first truly immersive surround sound  theatre experience, was offered on a phone in  india: The Lenovo A7000 is the world's  first smart phone with Atmos (Read our review here).
It is  also  coming to two tablet models by Lenovo --Tab 2 A8 and Tab 2 A10-70 , 8 and 10 inch respectively -- by June. Expect others to follow.
Atmos is the  arguably the biggest  jump in the    cinematic audio technology,   since  Dr Ray Dolby first "invented" noise reduction, fifty years ago. In the real world, sound comes to us  from all around. Our ears are very good at  identifying what comes from where.  While most movie sound system use  5 or 7 tracks to   create a realistic experience, it would take some 128 tracks to   achieve a  near-total surround effect.  Atmos  uses clever math to  overcome this hurdle.  It  chops up the film's sound track into  audio "objects"   which a computer moves in  a 3-D space  and  hands over to a particular speaker depending on the action on-screen.  A car horn, the whirring of helicopter blades, a child crying as she runs -- can be precisely choreographed to  move from speaker to speaker in a direction that mimics the action.
Since 2012, some  275 films have been made with Atmos -- 100 of them are in  India. Sathyam Cinema in Chennai was the first Indian movie hall equipped with Dolby Atmos. All the major chains -- PVR, Inox, SPI, Fun, Cinepolis  combined -- have together,  some 60 screens across the country: it costs between Rs 15 lakhs  and Rs 30 lakhs to convert a theatre for Atmos. 
For home theatre owners, it can be a small challenge to  get the  'above' sound experience.  Ceiling speakers are a hassle -- so Dolby has come up with a clever way solution:  Upward-firing speakers: pedestal mounted floor speakers  which are beamed to the  roof  so that the sound bounces off the ceiling. It takes a minimum of 6 speakers to get the full Atmos-pheric effect.  You can use your existing speakers but you need to add  an  Atmos sound processor.   Indian movie content has started appearing with Atmos: the first was the Blu-ray disk of "Mary Kom" with a Dolby Atmos sound track.
After Lenovo, Atmos on  smartphones   may soon be the norm, though the experience   would  be hardly impressive through the phone's  tiny speakers.   But any  good pair of speakers  coupled with a Dolby Atmos-enabled mobile phone or tablet   (which means it is fuelled by  one of  Qualcomm's Snapdragon 805 phone chips)  and  Atmos- enhanced  video or audio content, will provide  crisper dialogue,  loudness without distortion  and an all-enveloping experience that has not hitherto been possible outside a theatre.  In these hurry-burry times that may be all that customers want or can afford  to give  them that luxurious cinema hall  feeling.

Sight and Sound:  a timeline of movie audio
1927:  Introduction of  sound in film with "The Jazz Singer"
1950s: Magnetic stripping on film allows  multi channel theatre sound
1965: Dolby Laboratories founded in UK by Ray Dolby,  former UN Technical Adviser in India;
moves company  to  San Francisco, US  in 1967
1969 Dolby   patents  noise reduction technology  for audio tape. It works by increasing the
volume of low-level high-frequency sounds during recording and  reducing them during playback.
This  brings down tape hiss.
1975: Dolby Stereo launched
1980: Dolby ProLogic for Home theatres
1990: Dolby  Digital  5.1 for theatres
1991: Rival system  DTS or Digital Theatre System launched with support  from Steven
Spielberg who uses it for "Jurassic Park", in 1993
2010: Dolby Surround 7.1
2012: Dolby Atmos 
2015: Dolby Atmos for mobile devices