Dolby Atmos: New 3D Surround Sound In Manila Movie Theatres


New movie theatres in the Philippines are popping up and showing movies in a new sound system called Dolby Atmos®.

Dolby Atmos Theatre

Dolby Atmos uses “3D” surround sound in an attempt to make movie audiences feel as if they are inside the movie, instead of just watching it.

Since its debut in 2012, more than 100 films from 12 different countries have been or are scheduled to be released with Dolby Atmos sound.

More than 600 screens in 40 countries are now equipped or are scheduled to be equipped for Dolby Atmos.

The first Dolby Atmos theatre in the Philippines opened in the newly built Promenade at the Greenhills Shopping Center on July 11, 2013.

Dolby Labs, the creators of this “revolutionary” new sound format claims:

Dolby Atmos creates a lifelike, virtual reality of sound and the most powerful cinema experience ever.

Say whuut??

The most powerful cinema experience ever?

Is it really?

Just how much better can sound get?

Is the improvement worth it? Or just another attempt to get folks to pay more at the theatre?

In order to fully understand this new type of “3D surround sound,” it helps to familiarize yourself with the different types of movie sound systems currently being used in local theatres.

Your ears will thank you for it.

Dolby Digital

Dolby DigitalDolby Digital is the sound system most commonly found in cinemas that haven’t upgraded to digital projectors and still use traditional film projectors. It was first used in the movie, Batman Returns, in 1992.

Dolby Digital breaks up the sound into channels or zones. The easiest way to think about this is to imagine that speakers are spotlights, more accurately groups of spotlights. But instead of shining beams of light, they shine beams of sound.

Its configuration consists of six different channels of sound: three front channels (left, center, right), two surround channels (left side and right side), and a subwoofer.

So instead of just having sound come from the front, the movie can now pan sound left and right as well. You’ll also now feel low rumbling bass due to the addition of the subwoofer channel.

Think of Dolby Digital as being able to hear sound from the front and sides.

Dolby Digital 5.1 Layout

Dolby Digital Surround EX

Dolby Digital Surround EXDolby Digital Surround EX takes Dolby Digital a step further. A rear surround channel was added giving you seven zones. Speakers are added directly behind the audience so now, not only can sound pan side to side, but can also pan front to back.

Think of Dolby Surround EX as being able to hear sound from the front, sides, and to the back.

It was first used on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace allowing us to be enveloped in Jar Jar Binks’ annoying voice.

Like Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Surround EX is known as a “film-based digital sound format,” meaning the sound is digital but the picture is not (since the theatre is still using the traditional 35mm film projector).

Dolby Digital Surround EX Layout

Dolby Surround 7.1

Dolby Surround 7.1Most local cinemas now use digital projectors instead of conventional film projectors, so if you’ve watched a movie recently that’s not Atmos or IMAX , this is the sound format you’ve probably heard.

With Dolby Surround 7.1, the back surround channel is split into two channels: back left surround and back right surround. So now there are eight zones instead of seven. The first film to feature Dolby Surround 7.1 was Toy Story 3 by Disney and Pixar.

What’s interesting is that every digital cinema projection system has the ability to produce 7.1 channels of sound by default. Dolby Surround 7.1 is the marketing name that is used, but there isn’t any specific Dolby technology or equipment involved or needed.

Think of Dolby Surround 7.1 as being able to hear sound from the front, sides, and across the back.

Dolby Surround 7.1 Layout

Dolby Atmos

Dolby AtmosUnlike Dolby Surround 7.1, which is pure marketing, Dolby Atmos is a totally new movie sound system. It was first used on Disney’s Brave.

With Dolby Surround 7.1, sound was broken into eight zones: front left, front center, front right, side left , back left, back right, side right and a subwoofer.

It didn’t really matter how many speakers you had since each is assigned to a specific zone (or channel). If you have 5 speakers in the side left zone, and sound is transmitted to this zone, ALL 5 speakers will go off.

This is NOT the case with Dolby Atmos.

Every speaker is INDIVIDUALLY controlled, allowing for specific sound placement anywhere in the auditorium which gives an accurate sense of motion when the sound moves around the screen.

Dolby Atmos supports up to 128 sound effect audio “objects” which can be played through up to 64 individual speakers.

This allows the “sound” to sound more natural and life-like. When something moves on-screen, the sound moves as well, matching the object’s visual movement exactly.

If Godzilla was stalking a character and moving from right to left behind her, then the sound would pan from specific right to left speakers at the back of the screen. With older sound systems, all the right speakers would have played the sound. Then all the left ones. Then all the front ones.

With Dolby Atmos, there is no more “front, sides, and back.” It’s now much more precise. It simply selects which speaker (or speakers) to route the sound.

Dolby Atmos Layout

Compared to regular theatres, Dolby Atmos theatres have speakers on the ceiling, as well as more side speakers and more subwoofers. So you’ll have speakers in the front, on both sides, behind you, AND above you.

The Dolby Atmos theatre at Greenhills Promenade uses 50 speakers, compared to 20 for a typical Dolby Digital theater.

There isn’t a minimum required number of speakers needed though so not every Dolby Atmos theatre will sound the same. One theatre may splurge on speakers and have an awesome sound, while another may be more stingy with their speakers.

Is it worth it?

Dolby Atmos sounds great on paper, but how does it really sound in the theatre? And is it worth the extra ticket price?

Let’s see what looloo reviewers thought…

From Gianne C.

I wouldn’t mind adding Php20 more to the regular-priced movie ticket for a better sound-surround movie experience.

From April H.

The surround sound was amazing! You can “hear” the movement, as the sound passes from one speaker to the next.

From Lesley Ardelle E.

The theater’s sound system is Dolby Atmos. This is my first time to experience this, and I was blown away by the quality of the sound. You’ve never quite experience surround sound before if you haven’t experienced Dolby Atmos. Wow.

From Roegan T.

Then they showed the audio & video presentation for Dolby Atmos. It was really impressive. The overall sound is indeed superb as the audience get to enjoy “360 degrees speakers” and overhead speakers. It sounded just like the real thing.

However, I think it’s still not being fully utilized by most movies. Take Ender’s Game for example. I didn’t really notice the “Atmos” when I was watching it.

From Kal K.

I don’t really notice the 360 degree sound with some the movies…

From Em D.

Ganda! (It’s so nice!) It really felt like it was raining as in I had to stop chewing my Piattos just to check if it was just me or the amazing speakers.

For the most part, it sounds like Dolby Atmos really does deliver on its promise for a better movie experience. Or at least, it’s worth the extra pesos.

Not every movie seems to take full advantage of Dolby Atmos sound and that’s definitely something to consider.

In order to fully experience the full power of Dolby Atmos sound, the movie needs to be encoded with an Atmos soundtrack.

Not every movie is. The Dolby Atmos theatre might just be playing a non-Atmos movie to show something in between releases of Dolby Atmos movies.

If it’s not, you might as well just watch in a regular theatre since you’ll be paying extra for nothing.

Here’s a list of upcoming Dolby Atmos movies for the rest of the year from Dolby’s website.

You can watch Dolby Atmos movies at Bonifacio High Street Cinemas (Cinema 1 and 2), Century City Premiere Cinema (Cinema 3), and the Dolby Atmos Theater at Greenhills Promenade (Cinema 6, 7, and 8).

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About Author

Odell Ramirez

A self-educated Ebonics linguist who aspires to teach Honors Ebonics classes one day. Until then, he works as the clown-in-residence at looloo. He has a B.S. in B.S. and was working on a master's degree in playa hatin, but discovered he can just get a Ph.D.