Dolby Atmos brings people back to the cinemas

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 12 2014, 15:16pm hrs
Dolby AtmosDolby Atmos enables film-makers to match the sound much more closely with the action on the screen.
If you had known me as a kid, you would have been forgiven for thinking I was going to end up in the movies, one way or the other. I was the sort of guy who would leave home early so that I could be at the theatres on time, not my college. In the early 1990s, one of the biggest cinematic achievements of my small town down south was the addition of Dolby Digital sound in one of the oldest theatres around.

The drum roll that dominated the small Dolby trailer that preceded every show was a delight to the ears.

Last year, I was treated to a similar auditory experience, but one which was much superior in every sense of the term. That was when I had the opportunity to watch the Life of Pi at Sathyam in Chennai on Dolby Atmos. For the uninitiated, Dolby Atmos is a cutting-edge sound technology that adds the third dimension to movie audio by enabling film-makers to match the sound much more closely with the action on the screen.

So, if there is a 3D scene on screen, you can make the sound to jump in sync thanks to an array of 64 or 128 speakers spread all over the hall. Directors now have the ability to throw sound to just one of those speakers, or audio object, and that is how Dolby makes sound move.

Sathyam was the first screen in India to equip itself with Atmos, and a 3D version of Rajinikanths Sivaji was the first Indian movie to be enabled with the technology. Since then more Indian film-makers have been shooting in Atmos, adding that extra layer to grip the audience. Cinema sound for the 3D era had finally arrived.

The first year did not see Atmos going across the country, as not many new screens were being inaugurated. However, 2014 has been different with a flurry of cinemas, both big and small, adopting the technology across India.

While Mumbai had quite a few screens with Atmos, Delhi got its first this summer, that too at an old favourite, Daryaganjs Delite Cinema. For owner Shashank Raizada, the satisfaction of offering a better movie experience to his customers was enough to sign up for the R70 lakh upgrade consisting Dolby processor, amplifiers and new speakers. Delite Cinemas now has a 64-speaker array, compared to the Radio Corporation of America mono-system with which it was launched in 1955.

While Atmos is finding currency among landmark screens like Novelty in Lucknow and Jawahar Cinema near Ernakulam, it is also being lapped up by the bigger players in the industry. Gautam Dutta, chief operating officer of PVR Cinemas, says they aim to immerse the audience in the movies by providing everything from digital projections to sound systems, and stunning 3D facilities.

Undoubtedly, Atmos is a powerful and new listening experience that we wanted to make available at PVR as its natural and realistic sound truly envelops the audience. PVR is going for the full array of 128 speakers and Dutta says the retrofitting process was easy and took only two days to initialise. I personally believe that the Dolby Atmos has the ability to transport people into the movies with a lifelike sensory experience, he says, adding that Atmos has the ability to drive the audience back into the theatres.

And it is making a difference on the ground. Kiran Reddy, CEO of SPI Cinemas which runs Sathyam in Chennai, says the technology awareness amongst our moviegoers is pretty commendable and there has been a proven preference to watching a movie in a sound-experience-enhanced Atmos screen. Reddy is convinced Atmos represents a generational shift in sound technology, which automatically makes it a long-term thing.

Interestingly, two years after it was launched, Atmos is about to make an entry into the home as well. A lot of top-end audio brands like Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer and Yamaha have announced their intention to package this technology for homes.

In the home, Atmos will, in all likelihood, have a lesser array of audio objectsideally around 32and will consist of speakers on the floor as well as the ceiling. Atmos home theatres make sense for those who have already invested in a high-end 3D home entertainment system. This will be the next dimension.