Rob France talks Dolby Atmos
Rob France, Head of Home Content Engineering at Dolby, talks through everything behind the latest sound and vision technology from Dolby.
Dolby is a household name in cinema and home audio - at the forefront of developing exceptional sound for decades.
At LG, many of our TVs and soundbars are engineered to play content mastered in Dolby Atmos, the latest in cinema surround sound tech.
We caught up with Rob France, head of Home Content Engineering at Dolby, to ask how the company’s technology continues to transform TV, movie and gaming experiences.
LG: Firstly, what is Dolby Atmos?
Rob France: Dolby Atmos is our most advanced type of surround sound found in cinemas, soundbars and TV, and on movie and boxset soundtracks. It uses something called object-based audio to allow soundtrack creators to place individual sounds in specific locations – such as overhead or to the sides.
It’s designed to engage you in the content in a way that’s never been done before. For sci-fi movies or gaming, it can really take you out of this world and put you in that space.
That’s particularly valuable in sound, as it’s sound that makes us feel like we’re part of it. We can all think of a movie or a scene where we’ve been pulled into that content through the sound and it helps us anticipate what’s to come - and the content creators love using those tools.
LG: Tell us about how content creators use Dolby Atmos
Rob France - Dolby Atmos gives content creators much more flexibility to create a great audio experience, without having to worry about how the sound’s going to be reproduced.
If they’re wanting to deliver that calm and quiet scene, with just subtle bits and moments like that, they can do that. But if they want to bring big explosions across, that works too. It frees them from some of the limitations they’ve had to work with in the past.
This work will be done by an audio specialist, such as a dubbing mixer. That’s someone who’s sat at a mixing desk, post production.
The director and others will come and listen and provide feedback. But there’s typically one audio specialist focused on making sure the sound is done in the best possible way.
LG: How can I get Dolby Atmos at home?
Rob France – You have two options: Dolby Atmos TV or Dolby Atmos soundbar. Or better still, both.
Let’s start with the TV alone.
If you buy a TV with Dolby Atmos built in - one of the many in the LG range - that actually allows you to get a quick version of Dolby Atmos. This gives you a much more compelling sound experience than you would have got from a non-Dolby Atmos TV.
LG TVs use virtualization. We use digital signal processing to create the sound experience and trick our minds into thinking the sound is coming from all around us.
But if you also add a Dolby Atmos soundbar, the experience is greatly improved.
These soundbars use the ability to reflect sound off the ceiling, with additional speakers that point sound up to the ceiling. That gives a compelling experience of those overhead sounds that the content creators have decided to position overhead, like the helicopter flying above in an action movie.
LG: If you have Dolby Atmos in your TV, why add the soundbar?
Rob France: It depends how good sound quality you want to create at home, and also what your home environment is like.
Dolby Atmos was developed to take the best advantage of whatever equipment you have available. A Dolby Atmos TV will sound substantially better than a regular stereo TV.
But by adding a soundbar to a Dolby Atmos TV, it takes it to another level. It adds more dynamism, and things like the separate subwoofer can give you more of the low frequency effects that comes through in the mix.
By just adding some extra speakers, it’s possible to go even further than your standard Dolby Atmos TV would enable. It really depends on your environment. Particularly if you’ve got a larger living room you want to fill with sound, adding a soundbar can bring that to life.
The reality is this: Dolby Atmos TVs sound really good, but they don’t sound as good as a soundbar because of that ability to have more speakers delivering the sound.
LG: How much Dolby Atmos content is available?
Rob France: In the UK we have the widest range of Dolby Atmos content in the world. As well as major providers such as Netflix and Amazon creating an increasing number of their productions in Dolby Atmos, we also have a wide range of Blu-rays available.
In addition to the international services, we have Sky and BT, delivering a lot of their regular broadcasts in Dolby Atmos – a lot for their football coverage for UK subscribers. Increasingly, we’ve seen Sky create a wider range of productions, some of their episodic shows and the Isle of Wight Festival were both done recently.
LG: What impact does Dolby Atmos have on gaming?
Rob France: Microsoft has added Dolby Atmos support for their Xbox and Windows PC platform. Personally, I love gaming in Dolby Atmos. It gives you that tension of where the sound is coming from. If somebody’s shooting at you from behind through a first story window, you hear where that sound is coming from before you turn around and see it. It gives you a much better belief that you’re in that world the game is trying to create.
LG: How easy is Dolby Atmos to set up?
Rob France: For those listening with Dolby Atmos enabled on your TV, it’s just a simple on/off switch, which comes on automatically. The TV connects with Netflix or Amazon and when they know the LG TV has Dolby Atmos enabled, you will get the Dolby Atmos version of that content.
For those using other devices which support Dolby Atmos – such as Apple TV 4K devices or Microsoft Xbox – it’s a simple setup. Dolby Atmos has always been designed to travel over HDMI, so the same connection that carries the video to the TV or the soundbar can carry the Dolby Atmos audio as well. It’s just a one or two cable setup to make Dolby Atmos work.
LG: What is Dolby Vision?
Rob France: Dolby Vision is Dolby’s HDR video solution. HDR video is video that can be brighter or darker and deliver a much wider range of colours than traditional TV has been able to create. The colour designed for standard dynamic range TVs is really designed for the old CRT TVs – the big TVs that many of us remember – that were over half a metre deep, in some cases.
Modern TVs have greater flexibility to create lifelike colour, with lifelike differences between the brightest elements of that picture and the darkest elements. Where Dolby Vision excels is its ability to translate across many devices, so multiple different TVs can get the best possible image.
LG: How does this compare with other HDR formats?
Rob France: One of the key differences that makes Dolby Vision more compelling and better than other HDR solutions out there, is its ability to carry what we call dynamic metadata. This gives content creators the ability to change, on a scene by scene basis, how the brightness and darkness and all these colours are used on the wide range of different displays. This means it adapts much better to the capabilities of individual TV or tablet devices.
LG: What is the Dolby ecosystem?
Rob France: Our approach to bringing out any technology is to look at this from an end-to-end perspective. There’s no point having a Dolby Atmos device and no content, while there’s no point in the content creators making it if there are no Dolby Atmos devices in homes.
Dolby works with all the parts of the chain, be it the great creative people positioning the sounds in the first place, through the services such as Sky and BT, to make sure Dolby Atmos can be carried through their systems. Then also very closely with the likes of LG to make sure these amazing products recreate Dolby Atmos in the best possible way.