CinemaCon 2012: Dolby to Unveil 'More Natural And Lifelike' Sound System

Set to debut this week, Atmos is designed to give more "precise control" to audio designers and mixers.

LAS VEGAS-- Dolby Laboratories aims to advance the quality of cinema sound with the introduction of its new Dolby Atmos audio format, this week at CinemaCon.

"We think it is going to be breakthrough," Doug Darrow, senior vp of Dolby’s cinema business, told The Hollywood Reporter, noting that with more "precision and control of sound" in any theater, audio will be more "natural and lifelike."

Atmos is capable of transmitting up to 128 simultaneous and lossless audio channels, and renders from 5.1 up to 64 discrete speaker feeds, according to Dolby.

For sound teams, Atmos enables what Dolby refers to as "object-based mixing" by providing precise control over "placement and movement of individual sounds or 'objects' anywhere within a theater environment."

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In order to create these mixes, Dolby reported that it plans to offer a new plug-in for Avid’s ProTools audio postproduction system, and it is also working with console manufacturers to enable support for the new format, which would be "layered" on top of a 7.1 mix.

A trailer mixed in Dolby Atmos will debut this week at CinemaCon for demonstration purposes. It was mixed by Will Files (Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted), and features sound design by Academy Award nominee Erik Aadahl (Transformers: Dark of the Moon).

Dolby said the mix could be delivered to theaters on standard Digital Cinema Packages (which are used today and are effectively the digital equivalent of a film print).

Exhibitors will need to outfit theaters for the format. According to Dolby, theater owners can still use the "majority of their existing sound system" though additional speakers and amplification must be installed. Dolby estimated that an "average mid-size" theater could expect to make an investment of around $25,000-$30,000 for this upgrade.

Audio equipment manufacturer Harman Professional is working with Dolby to design specialized loudspeakers to support the Atmos format.

Dolby is set to begin a limited deployment of Atmos in the U.S., Europe, China and Japan, and the first feature with an Atmos mix might be released as early as this summer. A larger rollout is planned for 2013.

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