Is Dolby Atmos the future of cinema 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…

Steve May
Home entertainment AV specialist

Steve has been writing about AV and home cinema since the dawn of time, or more accurately, since the glory days of VHS and Betamax. He has strong opinions on the latest TV technology, Hi-Fi and Blu-ray/media players, and likes nothing better than to crank up his ludicrously powerful home theatre system to binge-watch TV shows.