On Thursday evening right after the show closed, Dolby hosted an exclusive demo of Atmos in its booth for about 20 AVS members. After sharing some beer and big-ass pretzels, we went into the demo room to hear the demo that people have been lining up for throughout the show. The 7.1.4 system consisted of Triad speakers, including ceiling-mounted overheads and Atmos-enabled front and rear LRs, while the source was a computer running Atmos software that could be controlled from a tablet.
The program was designed to highlight the differences between flat 7.1, actual overhead speakers, and Atmos-enabled upfiring speakers. After the Amaze trailer and a short informational video using the overheads, we listed to a rainstorm and a music clip first in 7.1, then in 7.1.4 with the overheads, and finally in 7.1.4 with Atmos-enabled speakers. After that were clips from Transformers: Age of Extinction (Atmos-enabled), Oblivion (overheads), Star Trek Into Darkness (Atmos-enabled), and the Leaf trailer (Atmos-enabled).
That ended the demo sequence other showgoers experienced, but Dolby had some extra goodies for us. First was a recording of a single object—a helicopter flying in a circle overhead—and the operator switched between the overheads and Atmos-enabled speakers. Next was a demonstration of the Dolby Surround upmixer with two 2-channel music tracks—Madness by the group Muse and Route 66 sung by Natalie Cole—expanded to 7.1.4 while the operator switched between the 2-channel original and the overheads and Atmos-enabled speakers in the upmixed version. Finally, we heard a tune called Lies by the San Francisco bay area group Trifonic that had been natively mixed in Atmos from the original multitrack Pro Tools session and played on the Atmos-enabled speakers.
Overall, everyone seemed very pleased with the Atmos versions of everything. Many of those I spoke with after the demo preferred the upfiring speakers over the ceiling-mounted ones, especially if they were sitting directly beneath one of the ceiling speakers. Switching between the two types of height speakers during the helicopter demo, the upfiring speakers enlarged the circular path compared with the ceiling speakers, and it was impossible to hear the sound move from one speaker to the next, unlike the overheads, which were probably too close to the listeners for optimum performance.
I was amazed at how many AVS members—including myself—really liked the upmixed 2-channel music, which sounded much more expansive and immersive than the 2-channel versions. And the native Atmos-mixed tune was spectacular—the only dissenting comments I heard about that one were from Mark Henninger, who thought the vocals were too diffuse.
It was a great event, and I thank Dolby profusely for hosting it. And it was great to meet so many AVS members in person. I know that they got a real earful of what Atmos can do, and they seemed to enjoy it immensely. Now the only question is how will they upgrade their systems, with upfiring or overhead speakers?
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