At this past CEDIA show, Dolby created a new Atmos demo Blu-ray disc for exhibitors to use. While the disc wasn’t initially available for attendees, it is now available for integrators, and it’s a must have for your showroom!
A link at the end of this post takes you to a site where you can get a copy for your company. (Note, this offer is only open to integrators, and you will need to provide your company details to receive the disc.)
First, here’s a breakdown of the tracks found on the new disc:
Introduction to Dolby Atmos for the Home (4:08)
This is a terrific sales icebreaker for you to show new home theater clients, as it quickly and simply explains, demonstrates, and demystifies what Dolby Atmos is and why this is “the next revolution” in surround sound technology. The clip starts off by explaining, “A Dolby Atmos soundtrack transports you from an ordinary moment into an extraordinary experience,” and then various onscreen clips swirl audio around the room and overhead.
Brett Crockett, Dolby’s senior director of research, Sound Technology, does a nice job explaining and simplifying how traditional channel-based surround sound mixing works and why Atmos’ new object-based audio system gives sound designers better tools to move sounds precisely around the room and even overhead to deliver the ultimate immersive experience.
Crockett also explains the components needed to create a Dolby Atmos home theater environment. I do take issue with the statement that you can get the “same incredible experience” with upfiring Atmos speakers, as in my personal experience this is not the same and definitely ceiling and room dependent. It will, however, open up a nice dialog between you and customers, and it’s great that there is an Atmos solution for rooms that can’t support in-ceiling speakers for whatever the reason. Crockett also says an “optimal Dolby Atmos experience” is achieved with four overhead (or upfiring) speakers, but it can be achieved with as few as two or as many as 10.
Amaze takes you on a brief trip through a rainforest as birds fly around and rain falls from overhead. Other than the on-screen visuals, a lot of the audio reminds me of that old Dolby/THX Surround-EX audio-only demo clip, where a bird flew around the room, a hunter shot at it and missed, and then a tree comes crashing down, ending with a Wilhelm scream. (Except there is no shooting or tree falling in Amaze.)
My daughter calls this one “the dancing game” as a ball and colored lights move around the screen like something out of the Just Dance games with audio chiming and pulsing all around the room through the different speakers. It’s a clever little demo that gives a really great effect of sounds panning 360 degrees around the room and up overhead.
Horizon is a very cool and effective clip that has a running commentary explaining Atmos along with some really aggressive audio mixed to the side, back, and overhead speakers. The clip begins by saying, “Right now you are listening to where cinematic audio has been,” with just a traditional, fairly restrained 5.1-channel audio mix playing. After a few moments, the soundtrack explodes into a full Atmos mix as satellites and spaceships whiz by overhead. This is a really effective demo with a lot of different audio and visual elements making it appealing and engaging to a large variety of viewers.
Leaf takes you back into a forest with bugs darting about the room as you slowly move through the branches of a tree and follow a leaf as it breaks free and then spins and twirls around the room, finally settling into a pond. Leaf features audio mixed by master soundman Gary Rydstrom, animation by Pixar, and makes for a terrific demo.
Shattered begins with a baseball crashing through a window and then the scene slips into slow motion as you follow the shards of broken glass tinkling and crashing around the room and baseball traveling past your head and the sounds of children running off in the distance. There is some great dimensional audio here and a nice commentary telling people exactly what to be listening for that is quite effective.
Movies & TV
Let’s face it, movies are where Atmos is really going to take hold in the home theater space, and Dolby’s previous demo disc was really lacking on movie content. Fortunately, this is where this disc earns its place as your number one go to for demo material, as it includes some choice movie clips that really show off the technology.
Game of Thrones (2:46)
Thrones is the first TV series to be released with an Atmos soundtrack (seasons 1 and 2 are available now) and this gives you a nice sample of how Atmos audio adds to the onscreen action. The clip includes a ship sailing into battle while archers hold their bows at the ready, the sounds of the bow strings aching and straining in preparation. At the two minute mark a single, fire-tipped arrow is launched into the fray, and you hear the ship’s sails billowing and snapping up in the ceiling channels. When the arrow hits the poisoned water, a massive crumping explosion reverberates throughout the room and you hear destruction all around the room as wood splinters and fire billows.
Triss breaks through a large pane of glass in a simulation and she is thrown off the side of a building as skyscrapers fall all around her. A lot of the explosions are kind of distant and dreamy sounding, but at around 1:45 chunks of building fly from the floor up to the ceiling. I felt like the film had better Atmos moments and this scene isn’t really that impressive. (My full review of Insurgent can be found here.)
John Wick (4:15)
John Wick is without a doubt the best thing Keanu Reeves has done since The Matrix, and this clip is from near the end of the film, and it is definitely the most violent track on the disc. The scene is filled with cars smashing into each other, close quarters gunfights, hand-to-hand knife combat, a driving rock beat, and a rainstorm that constantly rages overhead drenching the listening area. While a solid demo, use discretion when showing this one. (My full review of John Wick can be found here.)
Jupiter Ascending (2:07)
Jupiter Ascending is just a train wreck of a movie, but it does have some pretty decent home theater demo-worthy scenes. Unfortunately, this is definitely not the scene that I would have selected as the audio is mainly focused in the front of the room as we watch Channing Tatum in a brief battle with some alien bounty hunters. There is a bit of side channel action, and overhead musical score, but not really anything special. (My full—admittedly excruciating—review of Jupiter Ascending can be found here.)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2:23)
When it came out I called Mad Max the best Dolby Atmos disc to date, and this scene from the opening of the film definitely doesn’t disappoint! The scene instantly immerses you in Max’s world, with voices that swirl, echo, and shift around the room and overhead, deep-throated engine revs that pulse, throb, and roar overhead and along the side walls past the listening position. (My full review of Mad Max can be found here.)
Transformers: Age of Extinction (3:22)
This is a longer version of the clip included on a previous Atmos demo disc that begins with an insane low-frequency note as an alien ship starts sucking items up into the sky. The scene is full of mayhem and explosions as the heroes race (backwards!) to avoid the heavy metal objects being dropped down on them from the alien ship hovering overhead. These cars, boats, shipping containers, etc. are constantly crashing and smashing down all around you. At 2:20 the ship is overhead, sucking up all the metal objects in the room, giving a lot of ambient sounds all around the listening space.
This is the marquee movie demo on the disc, in my opinion, having not only a lot of drama and overt audio action, but filling the room with lots of subtle sounds that really set the stage. This follows a WWII bombing run over Japan, with lots of flak exploding around the room and some exciting dogfights. When you’re inside the plane, you are inside the plane, with lots of rattles and wind sounds and buzzes making it clear the audio POV at all times. You can clearly pinpoint the location of the flak rounds, both around the room and in the height plane. And when the Zeroes come in to attack, they whiz past your head and into the rear channels. Even when you can’t see them, you can clearly track their progress as they rips around the plane shooting and peppering it with 20mm rounds. This is home theater ear candy at its finest!
Similar to closing your eyes when you are trying to really focus on a piece of music, removing the visual element makes people focus on the sound which is exactly what Atmos is all about. These audio only clips are all pretty brief and do a terrific job of letting people focus on Atmos doing its thing, specifically in the ceiling.
747 Takeoff (0:39)
This is the sound of a plane barreling towards you on the runway, and then sailing overhead and into the back of the room. It does a wonderful job of seamless traveling down the room’s centerline and straight overhead and is a real argument for why you want overhead speakers that can handle high dynamics.
Helicopter Demo (0:58)
This is a near minute of a helicopter hovering overhead and circling through the four different channels. If you want to see how the system handles overhead pans, this is a great track.
The Encounter (1:32)
Here you are out in a field at night with bugs all around, when you have an audio encounter with a spaceship that lands overhead and then kind of reaches and probes around the room. You can really track the location of the ship and where it is probing, including a moment where it reaches totally across the room. The demo shows off the placement and immersion capabilities of Atmos, especially in a full 7.1.4 system.
This was one of my very favorite demo clips in the past; a scene I used in all of my Atmos presentations. While it is still very effective, Dolby unfortunately changed the clip on this disc and took away what I felt was its most impressive feature. The audio used to cycle between traditional, 5.1-channel audio and Atmos audio while you are in the middle of a massive thunderstorm which literally helped me to sell two Atmos jobs. Now the clip is just 48 seconds of rain just pounding and pelting down all around you and the canopy over your head, which, while still impressive, lacks the impact of hearing the soundstage literally collapse all around you as it goes to traditional 5.1, making you never want to go back.
This has birds (loons?) that call and move around the room while there is a steady kind of drum beat, shakers, and wind chimes going on. Imagine stumbling into a drum circle where a shirtless Matthew McConaughey is enjoying some herbal and just letting the musical muse take him where it chooses.
Makota Nakura (6:31)
This is “Ciaccona from Partita 11 for Vibraphon in D minor; BWV 1004” by Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed by Makoto Nakura, and if you are a fan of the vibraphone, I dare say, this is some of the finest vibraphon-ing you are likely to hear. I myself, am just a casual fan of the vibraphone genre, so I found the entire six-and-a-half minutes to be a bit much, but I definitely appreciated how the Atmos audio did a terrific job of creating ambience and space and really preserving that wonderful tonal reverberance and decay that I’m assuming the vibraphone is known for. And it’s clear the way that Nakura is just hammering away with those four vibraphone, umm sticks or wand things, that he is really a true master of the vibraphone craft. All the while you are enjoying Nakura-san’s wicked-good vibraphone playing, you can enjoy some beautiful images of what I think is Switzerland. Plus, when you get that customer that walks into your store that is just craving some quality vibraphone in D minor—and, seriously, we all know exactly who I’m talking about, am I right?!?—brother, this is the track for you!
Def Tech (Japanese) (4:39)
This is what I can only assume is some Japanese boy band plus blonde-haired white guy singing an uptempo, poppy love ballad trying to tell their girlfriends they will never let them go in a combination of Japanese and English while simultaneously showing off synchronized dance moves in the pouring rain on top of a building while BMX guys rail grind. The white dude breaks out a rap at the end while some guy break dances and another juggles a soccer ball. If you need an Atmos video to initiate stimulation overload, this is the one.
Philharmonia Baroque (2:25)
Unlike the vibraphone, I actually really like Baroque music and often chose to listen to it when writing or having dinner, so this Haydn symphony was actually quite enjoyable. The presentation is very much kept in the front of the room, with just a bit of ambience to give the music some width and a bit of height and natural space.
Cappella SF (5:17)
This is an orchestral and choir arrangement recorded very aggressively overhead and around the room. It almost sounds like a rainbow of sound that arcs from the right side of the room overhead to the left.
Sammi Cheng (Cantonese) (5:26)
This is some weird concert footage that I just couldn’t even make it through. There are laser lights, a bunch of people wearing like crazy, futuristic S&M costumes and electronic music, a string orchestra, and just…well, you’re never going to demo it unless Sammi Cheng herself comes into your store and demands to hear it.
Enrique Iglesias, “Bailando” (4:23)
I’ve watched Bailando so many times at this point that I’ve actually just come to accept it. (I wanna be contigo…) I’m never going to be an Enrique fan (And live contigo…), or download the song and listen to it in my spare time (And dance contigo…), but I can now sit through it and just appreciate it for what it is (Para have contigo…). Also, it has a super-aggressive audio mix with massive overhead involvement that really sounds great and won’t leave anyone wondering if they can hear what is going on above them. Voices and instruments are also mixed around the room and up into the ceiling giving the audio a really expansive, room-filling quality.
On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter (1:39)
A Red Bull motorcyclist blasts down what looks like a ski jump ramp and goes flying through the air. The jump is shown multiple times from different angles and has him whooshing down the sides of the room and flying directly overhead.
Red Bull F1 (1:03)
This is the abbreviated version of what was originally demoed at CEDIA, which is a real bummer because this is a really cool cut following an F1 car as it shifts gears and rips through a racetrack and tunnel. The sound is really awesome and does a terrific job of immersing you in the on-screen action.
Where the Trail Ends (2:22)
This clip shows BMX bikers doing some insane jumps on trails, and while it might be visually appealing and cool to a young demographic, it doesn’t really offer much as far as Atmos audio goes except for some music mixed pretty aggressively up to the ceiling and occasional swooshes of sound in the side channels as a biker does a trick.
Star Wars Battlefront (5:18)
This is my favorite demo on the entire disc because it A) sounds terrific B) is unexpected (who demos with video games?!) and C) is Star Wars. With hype surrounding The Force Awakens at a fever pitch, this demo is going to be a hit with nearly anyone you show it to. The clip is a mini-movie cut together from actual multi-player game footage that is dynamically encoded in Dolby Atmos and watching the battle unfold on Hoth is just awesome. AT-AT walkers stomp right next to you, TIE Fighters scream past overhead, voices and gunshots change position in the room as the perspective of the character moves, and things blow up all around you. One thing I really notice about this demo is that with Atmos treating everything as an audio object, you can focus on any one thing and pick out its specific sounds. Atmos might revitalize the home theater gaming market and that will be an awesome thing.
These tracks let you confirm that the Atmos system is working and wired correctly. Dolby conveniently track-marked this section so you can just chapter skip ahead to the next channel.
The disc also features a Play All and Retail Loop option that repeats over and over.
To request your free copy of this new Atmos Blu-ray demo disc, click here and complete a brief survey. As per Dolby, “Our demo discs are available to home theater retailers, custom installers/integrators and industry partners for demonstration of Dolby Atmos. Our licensing agreements with content providers prohibit distribution to consumers.”