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What is Dolby Atmos and Why Does it Matter?

Last Updated on April 19, 2024

Dolby Atmos Logo Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos was introduced in 2012 and saw its first theatrical release with Disney's Brave.

Unlike traditional multi-channel sound formats that came before it, Dolby Atmos treats each element of sound as an object that can be moved throughout a virtual hemisphere of sound around and above the listener. Think about a golf ball cut in half, and you are sitting in the center with a dome above and around you. Now imagine that a sound can be placed anywhere on the inside surface of that golf ball for you to hear. Now imagine that 128 different objects can be placed at a time, and you have the potential for an incredible listening experience!

Naturally, all this capability requires a different way to produce all that sound in the auditorium. The theaters that have been converted to Dolby Atmos capability have installed additional ceiling speakers, additional side surround speakers, and even additional subwoofers, as just a few subs in the front aren't going to cut it when you have a bomb going off behind your right shoulder...

One of many advantages of Dolby Atmos is that each theater can be equipped with the number of speakers that the theater is capable of installing (either due to physical or financial constraints). The Atmos processor knows where every speaker is, and assigns the sound objects to the appropriate speakers that are available. This means that theaters can vary in their performance, however, so you may want to contact the theater you wish to attend to find out what equipment they have installed. This has the potential for confusing the moviegoer, as one theater may have an awesome setup with more speakers than you can count and others may not have as many, but it does provide theaters with some flexibility and may encourage more to get started with a small system and upgrade later.

As of September 2012, Dolby Atmos was available in less than two dozen movie theaters across the United States. That number increased to 95 U.S. locations by January 2014. As of March 20, 2015, there are approximately 144 Atmos-equipped locations in the United States.

In order to take advantage of a Dolby Atmos sound system in a theater, the movie must be encoded with an Atmos soundtrack. Not all movies are, and you can find a list of such movies on the Movies in Atmos page on Dolby's web site.

Finding Dolby Atmos Showtimes

We rely on theaters to indicate Dolby Atmos showtimes. Dolby Atmos will be indicated on showtimes that have been marked as such by the theater.

To make it easier to find a presentation in Dolby Atmos, we have created a search tool we call Movies Playing in Dolby Atmos. That will display all showtimes with Atmos indications provided by the movie theater.

For more information about Dolby Atmos, please visit Dolby's web site: Dolby Atmos Cinema Sound Technology and Dolby Atmos Movie Releases.

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