However, equipping a cinema for immersive audio is an expensive business. A Dolby Atmos theatre employs two additional overhead speaker arrays, running front to back, which are used to create height effects. There are also additional surround speakers added to the sidewalls, with enclosures taken much closer to the screen than has been the norm previously.

Dolby Atmos
The Dolby Atmos logo will make its UK debut at London's Empire cinema, in Leicester Square

However audio elements are not locked to any of these channels. Instead, they are stored with virtual position metadata and are assigned positions dynamically during playback, depending on the arrangement within a given theatre. Of course, not everyone agrees this is the best technology solution for better surround sound.

Dolby's closest competitor is Barco. Its rival Auro 11.1 system (expandable to 13.1) is channel, rather than object based - and it has some big Hollywood hitters behind it. The first movie mixed specifically for Auro 11.1 is George Lucas' WW2 action yarn Red Tails.

"With Auro 11.1 whatever is on that track, stays on that track. It doesn't vary. Nothing gets added or taken away from it," says Field. He confirms that Datasat has been working closely with Barco on a theatrical audio processor for Auro 11.1.

"We're developing software and a slot-in processing card for our AP20 cinema processor," he says. "When it's ready, we can then produce an upgrade card for our consumer RS20i processor." Barco definitely has aspirations to get its 11.1 sound system into the home market, he says.

The upgradable Datasat RS20i is the first pro audio processor for home enthusiasts
The upgradable Datasat RS20i is the first pro audio processor for home enthusiasts

Dolby, however, is certainly not talking about a home iteration of Atmos. Indeed, it's being pitched to theatre owners as a carrot to tempt punters away from their own home theatres, the aural equivalent of big-screen 3D visuals.

It's an understandable policy, says the man from Datasat. "Dolby first wants to maximise revenues by being the only supplier of cinema decoders. But I believe Dolby will expand the licensing of Dolby Atmos at some point. It will get its reoccurring revenue from the licence for film encodes, so it's in Dolby's interest to have the maximum number of audio processors able to play the format."

Field is quick to point out that the 16-channel Datasat RS20i is the only consumer audio processor currently upgradable to this new crop of cinema sound formats.

"It's a very simple upgrade procedure, too" he says. "You just slot in a board and the system immediately recognises the new hardware and knows what to do." Of course, installing a string of height channels and lining your living room walls with surround speakers may prove a tad more challenging…