Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos: Everything you need to know

The name Dolby is synonymous with surround sound setups at this point, as the company has been in that game for decades. What you may not know is that it has made significant advances in the visual field as much as the audio aspect of entertainment setups with the creation of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.

You’ve no doubt seen laptops, tablets, headphones, TVs, phones and other devices tout support for these technologies, but what are they, why do they matter, and how can you get ‘em? Glad you asked.

Dolby Atmos: Next Gen Surround Sound

The typical surround sound setup uses a 5.1 or 7.1 configuration, which, as the names imply, involve five or seven speakers positioned around the listener along with a single subwoofer and supporting technology splits the audio channels appropriately to create the desired surround sound effect. An Atmos-ready setup involves four additional ceiling mounted speakers and more advanced supporting technology that makes use of a special way of encoding sound data into “sound objects.” This provides creators with more fine-tuned control over how their content sounds to the listener while also being highly adaptable to each specific setup.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio (Image credit: Microsoft)

That last bit is key because it’s what allows Dolby Atmos to translate to other configurations like soundbars, headphones and onboard speakers in smartphones, laptops and tablets. Production and audio mastering using Dolby Atmos allows non-surround setups to deliver surround-quality listening experiences. When listening to music, specific instruments will sound like they’re coming from specific locations around you. Likewise, you’ll be able to place the location of sounds in TV shows and movies more realistically. The benefits this technology has for VR also cannot be understated, as positional audio is crucial to the immersion of that format.

What makes this technology work well is its ability to detect what type of audio setup the listener is using and calibrate the audio objects for the best sounding experience your hardware can provide. Whether it’s a full 7.1 surround sound home theater, a single TV soundbar or a pair of AirPods, the Dolby Atmos platform is designed to allow sound engineers to account for all the different ways people hear their work.

Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (2022) (Image credit: Future)

Dolby Atmos availability has been steadily increasing, now including all current iPhone and Samsung Galaxy smartphones and a growing number of laptops. This includes the Lenovo ThinkPad Xi Carbon Gen 9, Asus ROG Zephyrus M16, and the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4, to name just a few. But given the requirement to design the content using Dolby Atmos proprietary technology, simply owning Atmos-ready hardware won’t give you access to Atmos-quality sound. The content needs to be produced to utilize this tech, and while many major music artists, film and game studios use Atmos enhancements, not all do.

Dolby Vision: Intelligent HDR

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