It will take a few years before the technology trickles down to home theaters, but at CinemaCon this year Dolby introduced a new surround sound system called Atmos that promises to create the illusion that sounds are coming from everywhere inside the theater.
Using improved sound rendering algorithms and additional speakers located in the middle of the theater, engineers mixing a soundtrack can more accurately place sound effects in and around the theater. So imagine rain actually sounding like it's pitter-pattering on the roof above you. The new system doesn't require a complete retrofit for theater owners either. An inspection process will determine if the existing speakers have sufficient frequency range and amplification to support the Atmos system. And since it will require a longer mastering process, filmmakers don't necessarily have to opt for creating an Atmos-compatible soundtrack either. The upgraded theaters will simply recreate the illusion of listening to just a 5.1 or 7.1 mix if that's all that's available.
For patrons the improvements should actually go a long way to improving the theater-going experience. Helping to draw them into a movie, and increasing their suspension of disbelief. And since it doesn't sound like upgrades will be expensive, it will hopefully not be an excuse for theater owners to once again raise ticket prices for an Atmos-enhanced screening. But we're not going to hold our breath. [Dolby via The Verge]
Update: Dolby has reached out to us to clarify that the mastering process doesn't actually take that much longer, while the master Atmos mix will be automatically re-rendered in real-time to 5.1 or 7.1 depending on the individual theater's capabilities.