Dolby Atmos Home Setup Guidelines

Updated: Jul 7, 2018





The following components are needed to set up a Dolby Atmos home theater system.

  1. A source device to play Dolby Atmos content. Many existing devices will work.

  2. A Dolby Atmos capable A/V receiver (AVR) or processor unit.

  3. Speakers to reproduce overhead or height audio.

  4. Speakers to reproduce listener-level audio. Note: In many use cases, the customer’s existing speakers may be employed in a Dolby Atmos home theater


Dolby Atmos Home Playback


Source device options to play or stream content


To experience this sound revolution, you’ll need a way to play or stream Dolby

Atmos content. There are two initial pathways into the home theater:


  1. You can play Dolby Atmos content encoded on a Blu-ray Disc™ through an existing Blu-ray Disc player. Be sure you have a recent player that’s fully compliant with Blu-ray™ specifications.

  2. You can stream Dolby Atmos content from a compatible game console, Blu-ray, or streaming media player.


In both cases, be sure to set your player to bitstream output and ensure secondary

audio functionality is disabled. Connect to your AVR using an HDMI® connection.


Dolby Atmos capable AVR or processor


You’ll be able to assemble a system from a wide range of available A/V components,

starting with an AVR or pre-processor that supports Dolby Atmos decoding and

rendering. Leading AVR manufacturers are introducing products that support Dolby

Atmos playback for the home.


AVR Connection and setup


Most AVRs that support Dolby Atmos have speaker connections labeled HEIGHT, as shown below. Some AVRs do not use the HEIGHT label for all capable channels, but they instead allow you to assign specific terminals for the height speaker outputs through the graphical user interface in the setup menu. Connect overhead speakers or Dolby Atmos enabled speakers to those height-capable outputs.


Rear panel of AVR; the height speaker connections are at the right.

If you're using four overhead or Dolby Atmos enabled speakers (or think you might add these in the future), you will need an AVR capable of four height outputs.


Most AVRs will require the user to set up the AVR through the user interface, or microphone detection, in order ot inform it as to the specific type and specific speaker locations being deployed in the room playback configuration. Ensure this step is completed so that Dolby Atmos audio objects are accurately placed using the available speakers.


Bass management settings should also be set correctly to correspond to the speaker capabilities in the system.


Note: A Dolby Atmos playback may consist of dedicated overhead speakers, Dolby Atmos enabled speakers, or a hybrid of both. Be sure to keep in the low frequency extension of each speaker in the layout when calibrating and setting up bass management.


Dolby Atmos Home Theater Speaker Options


The dimension of height -- hearing sounds coming from above you -- is key to the multidimensional Dolby Atmos experience. Reproducing overhead sounds requires new thinking about home theater design.


You have several different speaker options for a Dolby Atmos home theater system, and you will not likely have to replace all of your current speakers to build otu a Dolby Atmos system.


Many installations currently have systems with a subwoofer and either five or seven

speakers positioned at about ear level. These speakers are referred to as the

“listener level” in this document. Any speaker type that is capable of accurately

representing a stereo pan is suitable to reproduce objects.


As in the past, the placement of all listener-level speakers should follow these

recommendations, which are based on ITU-R BS.775-3:


The speakers located in the front of the room shall be used as a reference point. All speakers in the listener plane should ideally be equidistant from the listener position. If this is not possible, compensating for distance may be used to time align the arrival of audio from each speaker to the listener.
All listener speakers should be at the same height, typically 3.9 feet (1.2 meters), which is ear level for the average seated listener (as defined in ITUR BS.1116-1).

If possible, the height of the rear speakers should be the same as the height of the

front speakers. If the room design makes this impractical, or impossible, the rear

speakers may be higher than the front speakers. However, it is suggested that the

height of the rear speakers should not be more than 1.25 times the height of the

front speakers.


Overhead Speakers


Overhead sound is a vital part of the Dolby Atmos experience. There are a variety of

options for adding this capability to a room.

One solution is to install speakers overhead. Most high-power, full-frequency

conventional overhead speakers with wide dispersion characteristics will work in a

Dolby Atmos home theater.


Characteristics


Dolby Atmos audio is mixed using discrete, full-range audio objects that may move

around anywhere in three-dimensional space. With this in mind, overhead speakers

should complement the frequency response, output, and power-handling capabilities

of the listener-level speakers. Choose overhead speakers that are timbre matched as

closely as possible to the primary listener-level speakers. Overhead speakers with a

wide dispersion pattern are desirable for use in a Dolby Atmos system. This will

ensure the closest replication of the cinematic environment, where overhead

speakers are placed high above the listeners.


Mounting considerations


If the chosen overhead speakers have a wide dispersion pattern (approximately 45

degrees from the acoustical reference axis over the audio band from 100 Hz to 10

kHz or wider), then speakers may be mounted facing directly downward. For

speakers with narrower dispersion patterns, those with aimable or angled elements

should be angled toward the primary listening position.


Room treatment considerations for use of overhead speakers


For optimal performance, the overhead speakers should be at least two times the

height of the listener’s ear level (this generally applies to on-ceiling speakers, which

may be installed lower than the actual ceiling height).

Sound-absorbing and sound-diffusing treatment for handling reflections from the

walls, floor, and ceiling are recommended to improve sound quality and reduce

unwanted audio reflection.


Alternatives to Overhead Speakers


Installing overhead speakers may not be possible or desirable for your client.

Installing speakers overhead and running the necessary wiring can be expensive and

time consuming. If your client rents the home, the property owner may not allow it.

And if the ceiling is made of a material such as concrete or brick, installing speakers

overhead may not be possible. Finally, your client may not like the look of overhead

speakers.


Dolby Atmos Enabled Speakers


Through our knowledge of psychoacoustics and sound physics, we’ve developed

speakers that can create overhead sound even though they’re only a few feet off the

floor. Dolby specifies filtering characteristics for these speakers that amplify the

perception of sound originating overhead. Employing a predetermined angle of

incidence in the speaker cabinet, the speakers direct sound upward, where it reflects

off the ceiling to produce an incredibly accurate and lifelike recreation of overhead

sound. The performance of Dolby Atmos enabled speakers must be experienced to

be believed.


Integrated Speakers


You will be able to select integrated Dolby Atmos enabled speakers that include both traditional forward-firing speakers and upward-firing speakers in a single speaker cabinet. (Those speakers have two sets of speaker binding posts, one for the traditional speaker and one for the upward-firing Dolby Atmos enabled speaker)



Dolby Atmos enabled integrated speakers include both traditional front-firing speakers and upward-firing speakers. Both sets of speakers have their own binding posts to connect to your AVR.

Comparison to overhead speakers


Dolby Atmos enabled speakers produce slightly more diffuse overhead audio that is

quite lifelike and, in some cases, may be preferable to the sound that originates from

overhead speakers.


If your ceiling is low or you have to mount your loudspeakers on overhead trusses or

brackets, overhead speakers may be too close to you as you listen. The audio may

be distracting because you’ll hear, directionally, what each speaker is producing

instead of feeling immersed in an atmosphere in which sounds occur naturally

overhead.


In this environment, Dolby Atmos enabled speakers may be a better solution for

reproducing the height plane of sound you would hear in a cinema, where the

overhead speakers are located high in the auditorium, and are naturally creating a

more diffuse experience. Audio mixers and experts who have auditioned Dolby

Atmos enabled speakers agree that the sound these speakers produce can be

preferable to the sound of dedicated overhead speakers.


Dolby Atmos enabled speaker positioning


Dolby recommends installation of four Dolby Atmos enabled speakers whenever

possible. Use of four speakers will make the placement of overhead sounds more

accurate, and you’ll get more precise, realistic sounds when an object, such as a

helicopter, passes overhead. Two of the speakers (whether they are integrated

speakers or add-on modules) should be in the front left and front right speaker

locations of your system. The other two should be positioned in the surround sound

speaker locations, ideally at the rear surround speakers, if you have them.


If using only two Dolby Atmos enabled speakers, place the Dolby Atmos enabled

speakers at the front left and front right speaker locations. Note: With the exception

of the center and center surround speakers, all speakers in a Dolby Atmos playback

system (listener level, overhead, Dolby Atmos enabled) must be added in pairs.

Dolby Atmos speakers should be located in the front left and right and left rear

surround and right rear surround locations in a 7.1.4 playback system.


Placement height


For optimal effect and to minimize direct radiating audio at listener level, place Dolby

Atmos enabled speakers at or slightly above the height of your ears when seated.

Avoid placing the Dolby Atmos enabled speakers higher than one-half the height of

your wall.


Placement relative to listeners


To avoid an unwanted proximity effect, make sure the speakers are at least 3 feet

(0.9 meter) away from listening positions, ideally 5 feet (1.5 meters) or more. This

distance may potentially be less if the upward-firing driver(s) of the Dolby Atmos

enabled speaker is placed well above the level of the closest listener’s head.


Positioning of add-on modules


If you’re using add-on modules, place them either on top of your front and surround

(ideally, rear surround) speakers or within 3 feet (0.9 meter) of those speakers.

Dolby Atmos enabled speakers should be mounted horizontally so that the driver is

facing toward the ceiling.


Room treatment considerations for use of Dolby Atmos enabled speakers


For optimal performance, the ceiling should be flat (not angled or vaulted), with a

height of 14 feet (4.27 meters) or less, and made of an acoustically reflective

material (drywall, plaster, hardwood, or another rigid, non–sound-absorbing

material). The ideal ceiling height is between 8 and 12 feet (2.44 and 3.66 meters).


Sound-absorbing and sound-diffusing treatment for handling unwanted reflections

from the walls and floor is recommended to improve sound quality and system

performance. When using Dolby Atmos enabled speakers, first audio reflection from

the ceiling is desired; audio reflections from elsewhere within the room should be

avoided.


Bass management with Dolby Atmos enabled speakers


Be mindful to employ proper bass management when installing Dolby Atmos enabled

speakers in the customer’s system. Typically, these speakers are not full range, and

manufacturer documentation should be consulted for specific details on each model.

Integrated speakers may direct low frequencies intended for the elevation drivers to

the primary speakers; in other instances, including when modules are employed, you

will have to perform bass management in the AVR or pre-processor.


Use of Existing Speakers


Most existing speakers within current home theaters will work for Dolby Atmos

playback. Floor-standing, stand-mounted, on-wall, and in-wall speakers that

currently produce audio at the listener level can be complemented with overhead

speakers and/or Dolby Atmos enabled speakers to generate the height plane of

overhead sounds. If the AVR or pre-processor supports them, more speakers may

also be added at listener level to add greater precision to object audio placement and

movement. With the exception of the center and center surround speakers, all

speakers must be added in pairs in a Dolby Atmos playback system.


Front height mounted speakers


Most AVRs will support the use of front height (Dolby® Pro Logic® IIz) mounted

speakers with Dolby Atmos playback; however, Dolby recommends the use of either

overhead or Dolby Atmos enabled speakers to create the most lifelike and enveloping

audio experience. Front height speakers may be used in conjunction with overhead

speakers in larger room installations that can support a greater number of

overhead/height outputs.


Combination: Overhead and Dolby Atmos Enabled Speakers


In some instances, a home theater system may already have overhead speakers that

can be used to generate overhead audio. In this case, Dolby Atmos enabled speakers

may be used to complement existing overhead speakers to create a full, fourspeaker

height experience. If existing overhead speakers are in the front of the

room, then Dolby Atmos enabled speakers may be used in the rear of the room and

vice versa.


Use of Existing Overhead Speakers


In some existing home theater systems, overhead speakers are employed to

generate audio that would otherwise be created by listener-level speakers (for

example, left/right surround speakers). When transitioning to Dolby Atmos, existing

overhead speakers should only be repurposed as overhead outputs if a

corresponding listener-level speaker can be added to assume the previous overhead

speaker feed.


For example, if two overhead speakers located toward the rear of the room are

currently used to reproduce left/right surround outputs, they should be used as

overhead speakers only if replacement left/right surrounds can be added at the

listener level. If this is not possible, the overhead speakers should continue to be

used for left/right surround outputs. In this case, overhead sound can be achieved

by installing additional overhead speakers, Dolby Atmos enabled speakers, or

modules in the front speaker locations.


Dolby Conventions for Speaker Configurations


With the debut of Dolby Atmos, there is a new method of referring to surround sound

speaker configurations. It is based on the standard nomenclature (stereo, 5.1, and 7.1) but adds a number at the end to specify the number of height speakers you employ in

the playback system (for example, 7.1.4).


While manufacturers may decide to support more than one subwoofer output, Dolby

Atmos technology generates a single low frequency effects (LFE) signal.


Learn more:


Dolby Atmos Speaker Configurations
What is Dolby Atmos?


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