If you’ve ever gone to a film in Dolby® Atmos™, you know firsthand how it changes the cinematic experience, making you feel as if you are right in the middle of the onscreen action.
We’ve often used the word “immersive” to describe that feeling. It is the result of the brand-new approach that Dolby Atmos brings to cinema sound—a technology known as object-based audio—that makes it easy for filmmakers to precisely place or move sounds anywhere in the auditorium.
However, as Doug Darrow, Dolby’s Senior Vice President for Cinema, writes in an essay published in Digital Cinema Report, others have used the word “immersive” to describe cinema sound formats based on more traditional, multichannel approaches, resulting in some confusion.
“References to immersive audio formats lumped together two dramatically different approaches to sound—an 11.1 channel-based approach similar to Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround 7.1, and Dolby Atmos, the first and only object-based sound platform for cinema,” Darrow writes. “This confusion created concern among some exhibitors that the industry might be approaching an immersive audio format war.”
(To provide some historical context, Digital Cinema Report also ran an informative timeline of advances in cinema sound technology.)
Dolby Atmos is called object-based audio because the format treats each sound, such as the flapping of a bird’s wings or the ringing of a bell, like a separate object. Moviemakers can choose precisely where the sound should come from and where it should move.
Darrow also writes about efforts within the cinema industry to draft clear standards for object-based audio and about Dolby’s involvement in the process.
“In the end,” Darrow writes, “our standards efforts are guided by two main goals: one, end-to-end quality control to ensure that the filmmaker’s vision is delivered and played back intact at the cinema, so that audiences have the exact experience intended by the creative team; and two, technically correct and useful standards that will stand the test of time.”