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Friday, June 27, 2014

Denon, Marantz, Pioneer, Onkyo, Integra Reveal Dolby Atmos-Equipped Home Theater Gear


Onkyo's TX-NR1030 will be among the first A/V receivers to support Dolby Atmos surround sound when it comes to market this fall.

Though we got Onkyo's Dolby Atmos news earlier than the rest, sure enough, other electronics manufacturer are showing their support for Dolby Atmos surround by offering home theater products (mostly A/V receivers) with built-in Dolby Atmos decoding. Pioneer, Denon, Marantz and Integra have all sent out official announcements for upcoming products that will include Dolby Atmos decoding.

Dolby Atmos is a new surround sound format, developed by Dolby for theater owners who said they needed better sound in order to lure prospective movie-goers away from their comfy couch or easy chair. It's an object-oriented surround platform which supports up to 64 discrete speakers including height or "voice of God" speakers placed above the viewers. Dolby first unveiled the format in April of 2012 and the first feature film to include a Dolby Atmos soundtrack (Disney's "Brave") debuted in a handful of theaters in Dolby Atmos surround in June of that year. Since then over 100 feature films have been encoded and released in Dolby Atmos and the surround format is available in hundreds of premium theaters around the world. You can find a Dolby Atmos-equipped theater near you.

And now that special kind of surround is coming to a home theater near you as multiple manufacturers confirmed their plans today for Dolby Atmos-equipped products for the home. Each of these upcoming home theater receivers offers at least seven amplified speaker channels, plus one or two subwoofer outputs. Seven channels are required to support the minimum Dolby Atmos configuration, which is referred to as "5.1.2" - the first number is traditional surround channels, second is for the subwoofer, and the third is for height channels.

A Dolby Atmos 5.1.2-configuration includes the five regular surround channels (Front, Center, Right, Right Surround, Left Surround), one subwoofer, plus two height channels. Higher end models have nine or more channels of amplification to support 7.1.2, 5.1.4, or even 7.1.4 speaker configurations. For those companies offering preamp/processors, the Dolby Atmos-equipped devices will include at least seven preamp channel outputs (not including subwoofers).


 Dolby Atmos overlays sound objects onto a standard surround sound "bed" in order to create a more immersive, height-enabled 3D soundstage (image: courtesy of Onkyo).

In addition to receivers and preamp/processors, some companies will release Dolby Atmos-certified speaker packages which will help consumers to get a uniform, high quality Dolby Atmos surround soundstage at home.

Denon announced the AVR-X4100W (7-channel, plus subs) and AVR-X5200W (9-channel, plus subs) audio/video receivers, both supporting Dolby Atmos. Both are expected to be available in September, 2014. Marantz bowed the SR7009 receiver (nine channels) and the AV7702 preamp/processor (11 channels). The receiver is expected in September and the pre/pro in October.

As we wrote about earlier, Onkyo announced new high-end receivers and a new preamp/process with Dolby Atmos on board, but also revealed that they will enable Dolby Atmos decoding in select Onkyo receiver already on the market. The new products are expected to begin shipping to dealers in August and the firsmware update for existing receivers is expected in September. It should come as no surprise that Onkyo's sister brand Integra (intended for the Custom Install market) will have a similar batch of new products and a firmware upgrade to enable Atmos on select current Integra receivers.

Upcoming Onkyo products to get the Dolby Atmos treament include the 9-channel TX-NR1030 ($1,699) and 11-channel TX-NR3030 ($2,399) network A/V receivers, and the 11-channel PR-SC5530 Network A/V Controller ($2,499). These are expected to ship to deales in August. Other new products which will feature Dolby Atmos include the HT-S7700 and HT-S9700THX HTiB systems, and the SKS-HT693 and SKH-410 speaker packages. Integra has announced that its upcoming DTR-60.6 and DTR-70.6 network A/V receivers and flagship DHC-80.6 Network A/V Controller will launch in September with Dolby Atmos, and their firmware upgrade for the DTR-30.6, DTR-40.6 and DTR-50.6 receivers is expected in September.

Pioneer also announced today that it would soon have an announcement. A press release sent out by the company stated that the company will soon have a "dedicated line of Dolby Atmos-enabled Andrew Jones-designed Elite speakers and Elite SC series home theater receivers that will be Dolby Atmos upgradable via a firmware update available by the end of the year." Apparently the company is planning its official Dolby Atmos coming-out party for this Wednesday (June 25), with a press conference and demo at the CE Week Line Show in New York City.

As to where all the Dolby Atmos-encoded content is going to come from, that's still a little murky.  In today's blog post (linked below), Dolby's Director of Content Development Brett Crockett stated,  "you likely won't need a new Blu-ray player (to get Dolby Atmos) - existing players that fully conform to the Blu-ray specification will be able to support Dolby Atmos content on a Blu-ray Disc." and later, "You'll start to see Dolby Atmos titles on Blu-ray and streaming video services this fall, with more to come at the start of 2015."

And while it is technically possble that they could encode a Dolby Atmos bitstream onto a Blu-ray Disc for playback on a Blu-ray player set to bitstream the output to a compatible processor, Dolby Atmos is not an official part of the Blu-ray spec, so we'd be a little cautious about assuming this will work with all players and in all situations.  But we shall remain cautiously optimistic about that.

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