Dolby Atmos sound is now used for live acts

Advancing the state of sight and sound

Dolby has changed how we consume our media. But they aren’t stopping just at cinemas, personal audio and home theatres...

The sound we hear from our movies and music has changed forever and behind almost every great recording, there probably is a Dolby story attached! Nishant Padhiar catches up with two senior Dolby Labs execs for a lowdown on the brand’s current status and future plans.

A huge shift in music has been enabled by Dolby with Atmos music. How has this evolved since its introduction?

JV: With music, I think we really hit a chord. Once the mixer, artist or anyone associated with the creation of music experienced Atmos, they were like, “that’s what I want”. It’s been one of the fastest-growing content libraries for us ever at Dolby. In the last two years, it has grown so exponentially that we have stopped keeping a count of the number of albums mixed in Dolby Atmos or even studios equipped to mix it. With the launch of Atmos on Apple Music, anybody at home too can create music in Dolby Atmos with our tools, so we have seen a major explosion both from regional and international music. Once you start getting the content out there, people want devices to play that on and we started focusing on improving the mobile phone experience. Better headphone algorithms, getting into more brands, TVs, wireless speakers and even cars now!

How do you differentiate between Dolby Atmos in the home-theatre space as opposed to Dolby Atmos on smartphones?

JV: The reality is anytime we move to a new device, there is a lot of R&D involved in bringing that product to market. So we can’t take our AVR product and plug it into a wireless speaker. A lot of additional improvements are made, and algorithms are refined for different use cases so every format and price point has a lot of development work going into it. We also have to take into account the limitations of the hardware and we realised that the market aligned itself naturally with Dolby Atmos. So when you see Dolby Atmos on a phone or a laptop, it means that you will be getting the best experience possible from that particular device. Customers understand that very well too now, so obviously, Dolby Vision for OLED will be different than Dolby Vision on a mainstream LCD, but our promise is that we are bringing the best possible quality which is closest to the source to the consumer. A richer experience at any price point.

Is there a new direction the brand is looking to diversify its portfolio and open new revenue streams?

JV: Interestingly, one of the bigger areas that is completely new for us is consumer or prosumer Dolby Vision capture, which started with the iPhone two years ago and is now trickling into Android devices too. This user-generated content required making of specific tools for this new video-sharing ecosystem and enabling connections to social media platforms. That is opening up the biggest content category we have ever dealt with. Ten years ago, we couldn’t have imagined how Dolby Atmos would have evolved and the same with Dolby Vision, which people can now shoot with on their phones!

Both Atmos and Vision have become synonymous with high-quality content playback and capture. Are there plans to spin this off into other verticals?

JV: Dolby Atmos for Live Music is also a whole new space for us, starting with a venue in Las Vegas where artists can perform their music live with a real-time Dolby Atmos experience. We see artists love it and that makes us happy. We don’t sell by logic, we sell by emotion!

KG: The next big foray for us will be in the automobile space with Dolby Atmos.

JV: And again, a lot of development has gone into making this work for mainstream cars, not just the Mercedes-Maybach with 36 speakers. We want to make it work in everyday cars with 6 or 8 speakers too. While the adoption of ICE cars might be a bit slow due to chipset shortages and longer development times, we are working with a lot of EV brands in China, Lucid in the US, Volvo and Polestar in Europe… so more and more brands are adopting it.

In terms of pre-determining the outcome, the car seems to be a logical step for Dolby Atmos…

JV: Since everything is pre-calculated in the car in terms of cabin volume, number of speakers, speaker locations etc, it’s getting engineers a lot more excited about it too. They want to take their mixes straight from the studio into the car to see how they sound! Our goal is to make it work with a mainstream car eventually with a minimal number of speakers (4 or 6) and that’s a challenge we are working to solve.

KG: We are about tools that enable creators to massify a format or technology and the ecosystem will take care of itself. We hope to have great news for you very soon in the Dolby Atmos for car space!

JV: Certain brands are easier to work with. For example, Volvo has been an early Android adopter for its in-car infotainment system and that is helping us develop a whole new platform for other brands and more affordable products.

Does Dolby play any role in the creative process of Atmos mixes? Because we encounter a lot of inconsistencies in experience from album to album.

KG: Any innovation can be an innovation only because it doesn’t have a benchmark. Case in point vertical cinemascope that we see on social media everywhere these days. I used it in 2005-6 before my days with Dolby and nobody had predicted TikTok or Instagram at that point. So with age and technology changing, it’s always up to the creators to decide how best to use the tools that we provide.

JV: It becomes a challenge when the creator is no longer around or the mixing engineer isn’t available or the original stereo mix is all they have to work with. So a lot of variables are involved in determining what kind of quality you get from every individual song.

KG: For the launch celebrations of Laal Singh Chaddha, we remixed three tracks from Aamir Khan’s first film as a gesture, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in Dolby Atmos and we didn’t even have the stems available. So we tried various things to make it come alive.

What is the uptake of Dolby Atmos enabled cinema screens in India?

I think we are 800+ screens with 1100 titles in 7 Indian languages. It’s something that is hygiene now… to have Dolby compatibility for new theatres and remodelled ones as well.