Amazon Prime Video is about to get a major upgrade to include Dolby Atmos immersive-audio soundtracks. Watch for flying objects!
Dolby Atmos is one of the most important upgrades to movie sound since 5.1 surround. It allows soundtrack mixers to place sound-emitting objects anywhere in a 3D hemispherical soundfield around the audience, creating a much more immersive experience. Unfortunately, it hasn't been adopted by many streaming services—yet.
Last week, Amazon announced that it will begin releasing content with Dolby Atmos soundtracks on the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Cube streamers starting August 31, 2018. The first title to get the Atmos treatment will be the Amazon original series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, a spy thriller that will undoubtedly make full use of the overhead audio.
With this move, Amazon joins Netflix and Vudu as the only major streaming providers to offer Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Apple's iTunes has a few Atmos titles, with many more promised. However, the Apple TV 4K is not quite ready to play them. The latest beta version of tvOS 12 includes support for Atmos, and it's in developer's hands now, but the commercial version isn't expected to be available until the fall. In addition to iTunes, the Apple TV 4K will play Dolby Atmos titles from its Vudu and Netflix apps as well, assuming they are updated along with tvOS.
We don't yet know if the Amazon apps in third-party products, such as LG's Atmos-capable TVs, Roku streamers, or the Microsoft Xbox One, will support Dolby Atmos. I assume they will, but perhaps not by August 31.
Another unanswered question is what codec will Amazon use for Dolby Atmos—Dolby TrueHD or Dolby Digital Plus. I would wager that it will be Dolby Digital Plus, since that compressed codec requires less streaming bandwidth than uncompressed Dolby TrueHD.
Of course, you need an Atmos-capable sound system to take advantage of the immersive-audio format. That can be anything from an Atmos soundbar to a full-blown immersive-audio rig with Atmos speakers on the ceiling—or at least pointing up at the ceiling to reflect the overhead sound down into the listening area. In any event, this is good news for anyone who values immersive audio as much as I do.