If you already have a 5.1 or 7.1 home theatre, you’ve probably been wondering what it takes to upgrade to a Dolby Atmos system.

Here’s what you need to know.

A new AVR or pre-processor

You may need an audio/video receiver (AVR) or pre-processor that can decode Dolby Atmos sound and send the signal to your speakers.

Some existing AVRs can be upgraded to support Dolby Atmos. A range of examples of Dolby Atmos enabled AVRs and pre-processors are on Dolby.com.

If you find one that suits, visit your a home theatre showroom to give them a try.

Dolby Atmos enabled AVRs or pre-processors include the Dolby surround upmixer, which takes traditional channel-based audio and upmixes it to take full advantage of your Dolby Atmos system, playing out overhead as well as around you.

According to Dolby, many users have raved about how much better older content sounds when played through all the speakers available in a Dolby Atmos system.

However if you prefer to listen to your older content just the way you’re used to hearing it, you can turn off the upmixer.

Speakers and overhead sound

You chose your current speakers with care, and if you still love the way they sound, there’s good news: you may not need to replace them.

Dolby Atmos home theatre systems build on the foundation of a traditional 5.1, 7.1, or 9.1 system, adding speakers to provide overhead sound.

You can get that overhead sound by using any of three types of speakers: speakers that are mounted in or on the ceiling (overhead speakers), speakers that integrate upward-firing Dolby Atmos technology with traditional speaker technology or add-on speaker modules that you place on or near existing speakers.

Use two to four overhead speakers to direct sound down to the listening area.

For greater precision, Dolby recommends four overhead speakers. The ceiling should be a minimum of 2.4m high.

Connect these speakers to your Dolby Atmos capable AVR or pre-processor via the height outputs at the back of the unit, or use the graphical user interface in the setup menu to assign the height outputs to the correct speakers. (The Dolby Atmos Home Theatre Installation Guidelines [PDF] provides suggestions on proper speaker placement.)

If mounting ceiling speakers won’t suit, you can add Dolby Atmos enabled speaker technology to your setup with add-on speaker modules or integrated speakers.

Both feature upward-firing technology that directs sound overhead and bounces it off the ceiling. These work best in a room with a flat ceiling that is between 8 and 14 feet (2.4 to 4.6m) high.

Check first to see whether your speaker manufacturer makes Dolby Atmos enabled add-on modules for your speakers; you’ll find some examples on Dolby.com.

Place these add-on speaker modules on or near your front left and front right speakers and the rear left and rear right surround speakers, to get that experience of moving audio all around you.

If you have older speakers or if add-on speaker modules are not available from your preferred manufacturer, you can choose Dolby Atmos enabled speakers that combine the upward-firing element with a traditional speaker in a single cabinet. Again, Dolby.com offers suggestions.

Whether you use Dolby Atmos add-on speaker modules or integrated speakers, connect the height outputs from your AVR or pre-processor to those speakers.

If you’d like a more compact setup, a home-theatre-in-a-box (HTIB) system with Dolby Atmos sound may be best for you.

By the way, there’s a new numbering designation for Dolby Atmos sound. You’re familiar with the terms 5.1 and 7.1, in which the first number refers to the number of front, centre, and surround speakers, and the second number indicates the number of subwoofers.

Dolby Atmos for home theatre adds a third number to indicate the number of overhead speakers.

For example: a 5.1.2 system has two speakers that produce sound overhead; a 5.1.4 system has four speakers for overhead sound; and so on.

The Dolby Atmos speaker setup guide illustrates the possibilities. Refer to the installation guidelines for suggestions on speaker placement.

Finding the best speakers depends on your taste and your budget. Read home theatre websites and forums, and visit home theatre showrooms to find the combination that suits you best.

Getting that great Dolby Atmos sound

Once you have your speakers set up for Dolby Atmos sound, you’ll want to calibrate your Dolby Atmos home theatre system.

Although many websites offer calibration suggestions, the best guide will come from the manufacturer of your AVR or pre-processor.

Follow the instructions in your owner’s guide to tune your audio for the best results.

You can play or stream Dolby Atmos content from several different sources.

You can play Dolby Atmos content encoded on a Blu-ray Disc through a Blu-ray Disc player that is fully compliant with Blu-ray specifications.

And you will be able in the future to stream Dolby Atmos content from a compatible game console, Blu-ray or streaming media player.

Set your player to bitstream output and make sure to disable secondary audio functionality. Connect the source device to your AVR or pre-processor through an HDMI connection (v1.4 or later) to properly pass the Dolby Atmos audio to the AVR.

Happy listening!

Dolby recommends that any overhead speaker installation be performed by professional installers with experience in installing overhead speakers.


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