Now that the system has been announced to the world, I can give a few details.
The way ATMOS delivers sound into a theatre is different from previous sound systems. There are up to 128 audio objects at any one time available to the mixer. The first tracks still reference the normal speakers, Left, Center, Right, Left Side, Right Side, Left Back, Right Back, Left Ceiling, Right Ceiling, and LFE. The remaining source tracks are active objects. The audio along with the information produced by the mixer for the location of the sound. For example, a helicoppter flying in could use a few tracks to locate the turbine whine, the rotor noise, and the tail rotor sound, and they could all move as the image moves on or off screen, and over your head.
There is no longer any tie between the source tracks and the actual speakers in the room. When the system is setup, the location of each speaker is entered into the setup. So when a sound is to be at a certain location, the system routes it to the best speakers to produce that location in the target room. A Small room may get away with 3 speakers up a side wall and produce an excellent pan, but a room 100 feet long may require a speaker every 15 feet or less to create the same smooth pan from front to back. Since the system adapts to the room, a theatre can take advantage of the ATMOS process without adding any speakers at all. It will render the audio to best use what is there, yet take advantage of improvements later. Ceiling speakers do add a new dimension, but are not required. If they are not there, the existing side speakers will be used to give the best effect possible. Most average sized theatres today use at least 10 surround speakers to get decent coverage, but they only use 4 or maybe even 2 channels to drive them as a group. The biggest improvement in the audio location will come from splitting the existing surround arrays up so each speaker is now an individual speaker feed. The basic 9.1 channels are also dynamic to some degree. The installer decides which group of speakers in the room becomes the side surround arrays, back surround arrays, etc.
A theatre can upgrade incrementally, using the existing arrays now, split up the amps, then add ceilings, etc. Each step improves the accuracy of duplicating the original sound field.
As for the home, hard to say. My home setup does have 6 surround speakers now, I would love to add 4 on the ceiling to play ATMOS content on a 13.1 array of individual speakers. The theatre I setup for ATMOS uses 43.3 channels, but we hate to use the term as channels really do not exist in this format. I am sure there will be some form of this for the home. The playback does require a fair bit of processing power and an amplifier for each speaker. How many speakers will people want to hang in their room? It will work on 5.1 and just like the theatre, it could be added to later if you want smoother, more accurate location of the sound.
I can try to answer some specific questions, but I do not get on here as much as I used to. The system will be shown off this week in Vegas at Cinema Con. There will be alot more info showing up on the web as more people hear it and ask all the questions.