HOBBITS ALL OVER THE PLACE
Break out the swords, chainmail armour and dwarf jokes, Dolby Laboratories has announced that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, will be mixed in Dolby Atmos format to deliver a more natural, realistic soundtrack that moves sound around and above audiences, helping to transport them into the world of Middle-earth.
Academy Award–winning trio Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, and Michael Semanick (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) will be creating the Dolby Atmos mix at Park Road Post Production in Wellington, NZ using an Avid System 5 with 104 faders and 650 channels on the console – there shouldn’t be any squabbles about who sits at the desk, all three of them will be busy. For those of you unfamiliar with Dolby Atmos it’s only been heard (and seen, of course) in a handful of released movies so far, but Dolby are planning to make it the default platform for cinema audio and ultimately also make it the standard for home theatre and video gaming. So do we all need to buy more speakers? It’s true that Dolby Atmos employs new overhead speakers in its configuration, plus extra speakers all around the movie theatre – in fact, Dolby Atmos is designed to cater for up 64 speakers in a cinema environment, but don’t panic yet. An integral part of the Dolby Atmos system is an ability to automatically detect the speaker configuration in place and adapt the audio accordingly. This can potentially save film production houses a heap of money, because they don’t need to create a variety of sound tracks (5.1, 7.1 or stereo for example) to allow for different facilities. Dolby Atmos is a one-mix-fits-all format. The post-production mixing process involves “layered” sound and an “object-orientated” approach. The underlying layer can be ambient sound while up to 128 separate elements (objects) are placed in the layer above and these sounds are heard accurately in the audio spectrum. In other words, a film director can choose a point within a 3D space and say, “I want the sound to come from there” and Dolby Atmos can deliver. Audio objects are tracked smoothly through the soundfield thanks to what Dolby call Pan-Through technology, which controls a signal feed to each individual speaker rather than transferring across adjacent surround-sound channels (jeez, it wasn’t that bad, was it?). As you’d expect, an obstacle to wide-spread adoption of the Dolby Atmos system is the prohibitive cost of installing the extra speakers and controllers – somewhere around $30,000 according to Dolby. But since Dolby Atmos is expected to be the last word in cinema sound the movie theatres shouldn’t have to upgrade ever again. We’ve heard that before – in 5.1 possibly – but surely 64 speakers should do the trick for a little while? More importantly, why isn’t Dolby working on noise-reduction technology to remove the sound of the bastard next to you sucking on his slushy straw and rattling popcorn?