One Installer's Opinion
Written by: Terry Paullin
May I have some Catsup with my Crow, Please? (and other matters)
I hate it when I'm wrong. I hate it even more when I'm wrong in print.
A few years ago, I predicted the demise of the DVD - expecting wholesale, unanimous adoption of the Blu-ray disc. Here we are now, two technologies advanced (BD & UHD) and DVDs are as abundant as ever. It has something to do with the number of players installed, the desire to save money and the pull of the moon, in my opinion. Perhaps there will be a resurgence of VHS tape...just kidding.
More recently, I opined that Dolby Atmos for the home wasn't likely to transfer from the Commercial Theatre version. I had been to a demonstration of a small venue (home theatre) set-up in Dolbyville (San Francisco), and at the time, I was underwhelmed. Perhaps it was the notion that the commercial version of Atmos was so dramatically good that enthusiasts (who else would crawl through the fiberglass in the attic to install four speakers) wouldn't buy the experience transfer. My clients weren't asking for it, so at some point I thought the home incarnation of Atmos might go the way of 3D and curved screens.
Recently, I got a call for an ISF calibration in a near-by, well-heeled neighborhood. The video calibration went fine but, as often happens, the owner wanted to take the opportunity to "show off" the audio side of his investment - my guess was he had spent mid six figures on this room. I hadn't even noticed the four speakers in his ceiling, until he pointed them out.
After hearing about 15 seconds of his first "demo" offering, I was stunned. I have experienced hundreds of high-end rooms and this was the best sounding theatre I have ever been in. It's hard to extract five-year-old aural impressions from memory and compare them to something that was being experienced in real-time, but I remember thinking that it was at least as good as I recall the premiere showing of "Brave" in the newly named Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
How much of this could I attribute to the overhead speakers and of course, the Atmos steering in the receiver? I had my client remove the Atmos by simply setting the volume of the four "height" speakers to zero and then asked him to replay the same clip. The sheer quality of the rest of his sound system yielded "decent" sound, but it was obvious something was missing. Back to restored settings, back to Atmos, back to incredibly enveloping sound.
That did it for me. I committed right then and there to upgrading my own, less worthy, theatre to Dolby Atmos.
Although I am doing a complete restoration of my room (audio, video, lighting, furniture, and candy selection) as I write, I have completed the Atmos upgrade portion. Included in the upgrade is a new Atmos equipped receiver, four new wide-dispersion speakers, a couple hundred feet of wire and a great Atmos demo disc thanks to my friends at Dolby. I'm WOWing friends and prospective clients already.
There was something unexpected with my first audition of Atmos in my own theatre. I was prepared for dramatic improvement in precision placement of "obvious" overhead cues such as helicopter flyovers, 747 take-offs and thunderstorms, however, what I was hearing was an unexpected benefit of subtle ambience effects, like birds, wind noises and extraneous sounds that add to the general feeling of being in the middle of the scene. I think that this is one of those things that someone must experience to fully appreciate.
As with less sophisticated audio codecs before it, Atmos is likely to get even better as movie sound mixers get more experience with the tools.
As I knew would be the case, the final post-calibration experience in my modest theatre was not quite the same as the theatre that sparked my inspiration (at 10 times the investment) but was absolutely, positively worth the trouble. Now, most sources in my system will get the benefit of Atmos "direction" and because of the "demo" I can now deliver. I predict many more clients will lean toward "Ceiling Atmos".
Installing four speakers in the correct place above your seating arrangement may not be an easy job. Indeed, in some installations, it may be impossible. If installing on your own, look on the other side before you drill any holes and be sure to use wide-dispersion Atmos speakers, especially if you have an 8-foot or less ceiling height. If you are paying someone else to do it, don't expect the bill to be cheap - it's not our favorite job! Either way, I'm confident you will deem the result to be well worth it.
Yes, I was wrong about Home Atmos (at least the ceiling implementation). Who knows? Maybe I will "accidentally" run into an "Atmos Enabled" configuration somewhere else and be surprised .... again.
Waiting to see the Light
The big buzz in our community is 4K/HDR. The 4K part is great, especially if you have a large screen (75"+) or a projector/screen combo, but the real prize here is HDR and all that it brings with it. High Dynamic range is all about "blasting" selected pixels with extra luminance. This requires a display device to be a "light canon". Flat panels are a step ahead of projectors in this regard, but if your wallet is stout enough, you can have it today. The Sony VPL-VW5000ES ($60,000), the not-as-bright JVC DLA-RS4500 ($35,000) and the Wolf Cinema DLD-380FD ($38,000) can render what is required for impressive HDR.
For those of us not willing or able to secure a second mortgage for a flat panel, will have to wait for prices to come down while the nits go up.
It’s not always best to be the new kid on the block. The benefit of waiting has more to do with second generation performance increases - the benefit of second generation lower prices is just a bonus.
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