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Dolby Vision HDR: everything you need to know

Dolby Vision HDR: everything you need to know

Dolby has played a key role in the development of HDR for both commercial cinema and home theatre applications. From a home entertainment perspective, the company’s most important contribution has been the advanced form of HDR (High Dynamic Range), known as Dolby Vision.

Dolby Vision has the potential to improve consumers’ viewing experience by constantly optimising the way their TVs deliver HDR pictures – just as the rival HDR10+ format does. It also gives content producers more control over how their HDR programming appears on TVs. And it's slowly coming to smartphones and tablets, too: it's supported on most iPhones now, including the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. The iPhone 12 Pro can even film footage in Dolby Vision.

It was originally widely assumed that Dolby Vision hardware (screens and Ultra HD Blu-ray players) needed to carry a dedicated chip. However, it is now possible to add Dolby Vision support via a firmware update to devices with sufficiently powerful processors.

The industry standard HDR10 format is free for manufacturers to use, but Dolby Vision requires the payment of a licence fee. So what’s so special about Dolby Vision that hardware brands and consumers would pay extra for it? Quite a bit, actually.

What is Dolby Vision?

What is Dolby Vision?

The most significant advantage of Dolby Vision HDR versus HDR10 is the addition of dynamic metadata to the core HDR image data.

This metadata carries scene-by-scene instructions that a Dolby Vision-capable display can use to make sure it portrays the content as accurately as possible. Dolby Vision-capable TVs combine the scene-by-scene information received from the source with an awareness of their own capabilities in terms of brightness, contrast and colour performance.

With HDR10 content, your HDR TV only receives static metadata; relatively basic ‘global’ information on the content being shown that applies to the entire film or TV show.

It can’t provide a display with updates on how each specific shot or scene should be shown. Nor does HDR10 carry the same facility for continually optimising the picture to the capabilities of the screen it’s showing on.

Dolby Vision is built on the same core as HDR10, which makes it relatively straightforward for content producers to create HDR10 and Dolby Vision masters together. This means that a Dolby Vision-enabled Ultra HD Blu-ray can also play back in HDR10 on TVs that only support that format.

Dolby Vision allows content producers to have either one or two ‘layers’ of data; one carrying just an HDR signal, the other carrying a standard dynamic range (SDR) signal. This single HDR/SDR workflow approach makes Dolby Vision a convenient tool for content creators and broadcasters to use.

Another advantage of Dolby Vision is that the metadata is embedded into the video signal, meaning it can run across ‘legacy’ HDR connections as far back as version 1.4b. Despite only using static metadata, HDR10 requires HDMI 2.0a compatibility.

On the content production side, Dolby Vision seems more focused on pushing HDR to its technical limits. The minimum specification for Dolby Vision mastering requires the use of reference monitors with a contrast ratio of 200,000:1, peak brightness of 1000 nits, colour range ‘approaching’ the Rec 2020 standard, and support for the SMPTE ST-2084 HDR format.

However, Dolby has also developed a reference ‘Pulsar’ monitor that provides an 800,000:1 contrast ratio, a peak brightness of 4000 nits, and the so-called P3 colour range used in digital cinema applications.

Given its greater creative palette, and the drive towards delivering consumer TVs with ever greater brightness, it’s certainly tempting to see this Dolby Pulsar monitor as a glimpse of HDR to come.

Does Dolby Vision deliver better pictures?

Does Dolby Vision deliver better pictures?

Our initial experience of Dolby Vision in the UK was originally limited to a few Netflix and Amazon streams, plus a handful of Dolby Vision film clips viewed on LG Dolby Vision TVs, and our first impressions were that Dolby Vision makes a difference for the better.

In a head-to-head comparison of Dolby Vision and HDR10 demo clips, Dolby Vision images appeared to contain more tone definition in bright areas; more balanced, nuanced and natural colours right across the spectrum; better contrast range management; and a greater sense of detail – presumably a side effect of the colour and light management improvements.

However, we've since done a head-to-head comparison using two discs: Despicable Me and Power Rangers in 4K Blu-ray, and the results were unexpected. With Despicable Me, the Dolby Vision effect came across looking rather flat and contrast was more subdued; it was surprisingly less vibrant and spectacular than the HDR10 version of the film.

The Dolby Vision version of Power Rangers, however, is even punchier and more vibrant than the HDR10 alternative, with more nuance thanks to the extra detail revealed in the brightest and darkest areas of the image. It’s not utterly transformative, but it is quite clearly better.

Since Dolby Vision is applied on a disc-by-disc and frame-by-frame basis, it could well be that Despicable Me just isn’t a particularly good example of its implementation, while Power Rangers is more typical of what you can expect from the format.

We've since watched many more Dolby Vision discs – Wonder Woman, 1917, Justice League, Joker, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Venom and Bumblebee to name a few – and what's clear is that, when implemented correctly, Dolby Vision can produce marked improvements on an already-impressive HDR10 presentation but it does vary from film to film. We can only take each disc on its own and see how well Vision performs on a case by case basis.

How can you watch Dolby Vision?

How can you watch Dolby Vision?

With more and more 4K Blu-ray discs with Dolby Vision hitting the shelves, an increasing number of 4K Blu-ray players now come with Dolby Vision support as standard, including top-end five-star players like the Cambridge CXUHD, Panasonic DP-UB9000 and Panasonic DP-UB820EB. The Sony UBP-X700 and Sony UBP-X800M2 are excellent mid-range options.

It’s a more complicated story when it comes to TVs. Not all manufacturers support Dolby Vision and those that do don't implement Dolby Vision on all their models. You'll tend to find it on all but the very budget end of their ranges. LG and Sony have Dolby Vision on the lion's share of their TVs. Philips and Panasonic are usually compatible with both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, but Samsung is HDR10+ only.

Panasonic's GZ2000 flagship 2019 OLED TV was the first Panasonic set to ever support Dolby Vision. The manufacturer previously nailed its colours to the mast of rival format HDR10+ but has since softened its stance. This goes for its 4K Blu-ray players too.

Philips also decided to offer both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision support on its 2019 OLED TV ranges, OLED 804 and OLED 854. Previously the company only offered HDR10+. The OLED805 and OLED855 TVs for 2020 support it too and there is a recently announced 2021 Philips TV line-up with Dolby Vision throughout including the Philips Mini LED TVs.

Sony continues its TV support into 2020 and 2021 with its headline premium 8K and 4K TVs, while LG also continues to be fully onboard the Dolby Vision bandwagon with its 2020 TVs and 2021 LG TV line-up too.

Dolby Vision is also available via the Apple TV 4K, Google Chromecast Ultra and Google Chromecast with Google TV. Amazon also has it on its Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Cube devices.

In the US, Vizio, Hisense, LeEco, Philips (which has a different owner to Philips in Europe) and TCL all already have Dolby Vision TVs on sale or set for launch.

And which brands don't support Dolby Vision?

Samsung is the biggest hardware brand that doesn’t yet support Dolby Vision on any of its products.

There's the issue of adding to manufacturing costs with the licence fee, and Samsung has stated that it trusts its own TV processing, and the capability of its own hardware, arguing that it optimises HDR10 images efficiently enough without Dolby Vision.

However, that doesn’t take into account Dolby Vision’s potential for content creators to have more say over how their content appears.

But the main reason Samsung isn't currently courting Dolby Vision is because it's backing a royalty-free dynamic metadata HDR system called HDR10+.

Developed by Samsung, and with 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros as partners to license HDR10+ to other manufacturers, it's a direct rival to Dolby Vision. The format has started to appear on a fairly small number of 4K Blu-ray titles, including Bohemian Rhapsody, Alien 40th Anniversary, 1917, Birds of Prey, Yesterday, Parasite and Alita: Battle Angel . Amazon Prime Video is also using this technology on a limited amount of content.

Samsung claims there are over 1000 titles available in HDR10+ on Amazon, including The Grand Tour, as well as HDR10+ content on Rakuten and Google Play Movies & TV.

While Dolby has gone out of its way to dismiss talk of any possible format war with HDR10, positioning its technology as a ‘value added’ proposition in relation to HDR10 as opposed to a direct competitor, HDR10+ is certainly a rival to Vision.

What Dolby Vision content is available?

What Dolby Vision content is available?

A number of major film studios (including Lionsgate, Sony Pictures, Universal and Warner Bros.) have all released Dolby Vision UHD Blu-rays.

Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 had the distinction of being the first 4K Blu-ray titles with Dolby Vision to hit the market. Not the most scintillating start, but it’s picked up since then. Existing titles include Solo: A Star Wars Story, Avengers Infinity War, Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom and many more.

Things are a bit more advanced on the streaming side. In the UK, Disney Plus, Netflix, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video support Dolby Vision HDR streams, while in the US they are joined by VUDU.

Netflix shows that support Dolby Vision include Marvel's Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, as well as other Netflix Originals such as Lost in Space, Altered Carbon, Santa Clarita Diet, Stranger Things series two and Dynasty.

Amazon Video is a little more sparse when it comes to Dolby Vision, with a more limited amount of content available, including Jack Ryan and a handful of Sony Pictures films such as After Earth, Fury, Elysium, Men in Black 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

More recently, Rakuten has partnered up with Dolby and LG to bring Dolby Vision (and Atmos) movies to its film rental service. Titles include modern blockbusters such as Blade Runner 2049 and Baby Driver and older films such as Bad Boys II and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Disney Plus has had a huge store of Dolby Vision content since launch, much of which is also Dolby Atmos compatible too. The bulk of the Marvel movies and Star franchise are included as are the big Disney and Pixar hits and the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The PC game Mass Effect: Andromeda was the first game to support Dolby Vision, heralding a whole new outlet for the format. The Xbox One X and S both support Dolby Vision following a software update, and the more recent generation, the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S are Dolby Vision and Atmos-enabled too, with Microsoft testing the feature in beta. The Apple TV app on Xbox was recently updated to add Dolby Vision, too.

However, it's unlikely Dolby Vision support will arrive on Sony's PlayStation 4 or PS5.

Dolby Vision can also be applied in a live broadcast environment – though we’re not aware yet of any broadcaster announcing plans to use it. Besides, another format, Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), is currently the default format used with 4K broadcasts.

What about Dolby Vision on mobile phones and tablets?

What about Dolby Vision on mobile phones and tablets?

Fancy enjoying Dolby Vision videos while on the bus or train to ease your daily commute? There is now a small selection of smartphones that let you do just that.

The LG G6 was the first smartphone to come equipped with Dolby Vision HDR, and we've seen many more since then launch of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 phone chipset, which brought support for 8K and Dolby Vision video capture to Android phones.

Apple has also shown plenty of faith in the standard and integrated the Dolby HDR
tech into the vast majority of its most recent handsets including the Apple iPhone SE (2020), iPhone 12, 12 Pro Max, 12 Mini, i11, 11 Pro, X, XS, XS Max and XR. You'll also find Dolby Vision in all of the Apple iPad Pro tablets apart from the first generation.

So what's this we're hearing about Dolby Vision IQ?

Announced at CES 2020, Dolby Vision IQ is essentially a development of Dolby Vision, designed to optimise how Vision content looks according to the brightness of the room your compatible TV is in.

This should mean that Dolby Vision content, regardless of its overall brightness, is just as intelligible when watched in a bright room as in a dark room.

To do this, Dolby Vision IQ uses the dynamic metadata from Dolby Vision, as well as light sensors inside your TV, to dynamically adjust the HDR picture based on the content and ambient light conditions in your room. 

If you switch from bright live sport to a darker TV show, the TV will adjust accordingly for the optimum picture. The promise: to deliver "a perfect picture in your room at every moment".

What's the future of Dolby Vision?

It's of course not just consumer products that support Dolby Vision. The UK's first Dolby Cinemas offering Dolby Vision and Atmos are now open, proving yet further that the company is eager to get Dolby Vision in front of more eyes. The technology is now well established and well supported in the AV industry, and, with Dolby Vision IQ now a thing too, looks to only get better and better.

There's no doubt the current HDR landscape is a little rocky, especially when you throw HLG (the broadcast HDR TV format)  and, more crucially, Vision's main rival, HDR10+, into the equation. Then there's also the IMAX Enhanced standard creeping up on the horizon too.

Unfortunately, there's a chance it could get more confusing as the new formats and standards settle. But fear not - we'll be on hand to help you cut through the jargon.

MORE:

More HDR content: Hybrid Log Gamma explained: the new HDR TV broadcast format

And even more: HDR10+ – everything you need to know

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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  • SoundOfMind
    It's unfortunate that there is usually an either / or choice between HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Seems that if Dolby Vision is implemented that HDR10+ would require nothing other than firmware code. Could be a push from Dolby to exclude HDR10+. Beta vs VHS yet again?
    Reply
  • MidwestAudioMan
    I am not a fan of Dolby Vision. A TV can produce a certain amount of color and brightness or it cannot. Dobly is not all of a sudden making a TV prodcue colors it could not do before. It is some kind of software implementation that gets between the movie studio's creative efforts and the your TV. What I've noticed is too many movies are now too dark making it hard to see what is going on. Worse, you can't turn off the feature if you don't like it. Watch a Netflix show that is listed as Dolby Vision and one that is not. Often the one without Dolby Vision looks better to me. A movie's director of photography has access to the most advanced cameras with very high dynamic range and color gaumets. The post production people have the latest and greatest software to either enhanse the color and contrast or not. If they want a black and white movie with a low contrast look, then can dilver it. If they want an overly staturated, very contrasty film, they can do that too. Today's 4k OLED TV's can reprodcue whatever is feed to them. Why do we need Dobly to get in between this and muck it all up? Don't know how others feel, but I'm mad that I've got to squint to watch dark movie scenes now. Dobly fixed something that was not broken.
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  • joe23
    If you're finding that the standard version looks better than the Vision version then you're not watching it on very good hardware. Content creators are using the tools that are available to them and pushing the boundaries beyond anything that they've been able to do before. It's noticeable how certain scenes have become quite common in movies with Dolby Vision available. For instance take the fairground scene in Rocketman, or similarly, the fairground scene in Us. Both shot at night but the depth, the sumptuousness of the lighting colour and the stark contrast of the pitch black of the background against the illuminated areas up front are used to incredible effect, and add a tangible taste of foreboding in Us as the girl ventures away from the fairground and down onto the beach with the thunderstorm brewing in the background. These scenes are utterly breathtaking when viewed on a good Dolby Vision equipped screen.
    You've also missed the point of the grading and mastering tools. Of course it's true to say you can get great results with HDR10+ but compromises have to be made in order to optimise the best scenes because you can only make one playback configuration for the whole movie. You don't have this limitation in Dolby Vision because the metadata descriptions allow you to optimise scene by scene or even frame by frame if you wish.
    Reply
  • MidwestAudioMan
    Hey Joe,

    My hardware includes the LG OLED 77" CX, the source is an Oppo UHD 205, and the cable between the two is an Audioquest Chocolate HDMI. The TV and disk player are about as good as it gets and the HDMI cable is not too shabby either. Wrong #1.

    Wrong #2 and thanks for the example is Rocketman which I happen to own the 4K disk. It sucks and is a good example of how bad Dolby Vision is. The particular scene you refereed to at the fairground is a lovely way to fast forward Elton from his boyhood gig at the bar, through the fairground scene, and ending up back at the bar but now as an adult. You are right the background is jet black, and the lights on the carnival rides are nicely bright and colorful. But did you happen to watch the actors? It is easy to miss because the are poorly lit. I was ready to scream at the director, Dexter Fletcher for not spending a few bucks on some Kleig lights so we could actually see the actor's faces clearly. But then I realize the issue is probably more to do with what happened in post production and Dolby Vision. BTW, the movie Arrival has the same issue. It is hard to see the actor's faces through most of that moive. Not all Dobly Vision is horrible. The Hobbit Trilogy is fairly good because Peter Jackson spent a lot of time sweating the details to get it right. But it is obvious from Rocketman and Arrival that not everyone working in Post has figured this new process out and the results are aweful.

    Last, I think you are the one missing the point. There are three main steps a moive goes through to get to your eyeballs. 1. There is the camera and lighting. Without these two things you see nothing. An Arri Alexa today has 15 stops of dynamic range and can capture the little details in the darkest part or the brightest part of the scene. Production sets still use a lot of lighting to give those nice hair highlights, or to make sure you can see a face in a dark room. Step 2 is the post production. Using Davinici Resolve, an Adobe suite, or Final Cut, they are all good at giving a lot of latitude to adjust color, saturation, and contrast to get the final movie to where the director wants it. Step 3 is the TV/playback device. The LG TV I own boast of over a billion rich colors and infinite contrast. That's right from the LG website. Dolby is not going to pull details out of a scene if the camera did not capture those details. How much color you see will depend on how post production modifies those settings. Deeper colors, more brightness, back and white if that is your thing. The software they have can do it all. The TV, when it is one like an OLED, can produce all the colors and contrast you need? What can Dobly do? It is not creating something out of nothing. It is just a lot of marketing nonsense.

    The point is no one needs or asked for Dobly Vision. It adds nothing that cannot be addressed anywhere along the production process from camera to my TV. That might be a partial explanation whey Samsung refused to add Dobly Vision to their TVs. In the end it appears to be a licensing scheme to make Dolby money. If you don't agree with that, then you need to answer the question why does one of the biggest TV manufacturers in the world skip Dobly Vision if it is so awesome? Much like the debate over MQA in the audio world. Some people have been convinced MQA is the greatest thing since sliced bread while others don't like what Bob Stuart of Meridian has brought with this new audio standard.

    My personal view is MQA works, but Dolby Vision does not. I've listened to MQA music and can tell it sounds better 90% of the time. But from what I've seen with Dolby Vision is you have about a 50/50 chance that the movie will be enjoyable if it has Dolby Vision attached to it. I've spent too much money on my home theater system to have it ruined, in my opinion, by Dolby's standard that does not live up to the hype.
    Reply
  • joe23
    I think we'll very much have to agree to disagree on all of your points there , especially in terms of MQA which homogenises audio recordings to the point of sterility, sucking the life and soul out of them and I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole - If anything is marketing BS, it's MQA but my approach to listening to music is very different to watching movies. I have to admit that I've only seen Rocketman at an actual Dolby Cinema and cannot say that I noticed any issues with the lighting in the aforementioned scene - to me, it felt like looking out of a window out into a fairground and was pretty breathtaking, but I'm looking at the whole picture and not each individual actors face, so maybe I missed it, or maybe it's an issue with the transfer to BluRay. I'm looking for depth, emotion, vibrance and colour and so long as the picture conveys the emotion and what the director was trying to convey then that's what involves me in the movie and to me, Dolby Vision does all of that.

    No one needs or asked for Dolby Vision you say? WRONG. Check out Joe Wright discussing creating Darkest Hour (another excellent example) in Dolby Vision here: IFE7w6OEe24View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFE7w6OEe24. That's just a single example. If no-one needs or wants Dolby Vision then why are both top movie directors and TV producers falling over themselves about it? TV manufacturers are out to do one thing - Sell their TVs. That's down to market forces, demand and costs, not passion for getting as closely to seeing what the director intended as possible (and I've worked for a number of TV manufacturers so I know what goes into speccing a new TV model). Whilst I certainly agree with you that post production still has a way to go to get the best out of the tools, that's not the format's fault and I imagine that as post houses get more used to working with Vision, we'll have some real visual feasts to look forward to.

    Congratulations on your choice of TV by the way. The last few generations of LG TVs have been exemplary, and I guess you would have done so already, but if not, then it's definitely worth getting hold of someone with a colour spectrometer to get your white point and luminance levels absolutely spot on, it really does make a huge difference.
    Reply
  • MidwestAudioMan
    We will have to disagree, but appreciate your politeness in doing so.

    I will discount the Darkest Hour video because it is obviously produced by Dolby. Dolby would not put on screen anyone who would not say how great Dolby is. However, I've not seen this movie and seeing this video made me order the 4k disk so not all is lost.

    I have also discovered that some of my assumptions may be incorrect after reading an excellent article on the subject from Tom's Guide. https://www.tomsguide.com/us/what-is-dolby-vision-hdr,review-5138.html
    It appears a new codec was needed to handle the expanded capabilities of TV like 4K OLED and that is either HDR10, HDR10+, or Dolby Vision. I did mention that when extra care is done to ensure a good result like in the Hobbit 4K, the result is good. But I stand by my statement that more often than not, the result is poor. Probably as much do to the inability of the studio to get it right. I think this is partly because the TV has gotten so good it is so much easier to see less than perfect productions. The studio has to work extra hard to be perfect otherwise we see the imperfections in a way that was hidden in the past. On this topic I am happy to meet you half way.

    But all this leads me to one last soapbox issue of mine dealing with Dolby which is Dolby Atmos. In my view it is another marketing gimmick long on hype and short on anything worthwhile. If I hear the word immersive used to explain these things anymore I will barf. Immersive experience gets my vote as the most overused nonsense phrase in the English language. When Atmos first came out I went with the kids to a brand new Atmos theater to see Brave to learn what this was all about. The result was mostly a big distraction from enjoying the movie. Atmos was disorienting which was not helped by the theater having the sound turned up to an uncomfortable level. I guess immersive means to figuratively make your ears bleed. I can't see how Atmos can be a commercial success. Theaters will not increase revenue by offering it. Yet the equipment and all the speakers costs more. And in the home, I firmly believe most people are better served by buying better speakers than more speakers. If you have a $15,000 USD budget for speakers, please get five really good ones instead of 10 or more just OK speakers. The quality of the sound matters more than the quantity. Then there is the whole object orientation issue. With 5.1, the front speakers are in front of everyone in the room and the back speakers are behind everyone in the room. It is easy to locate sound this way. With Atmos in a theater with dozens of speakers all over the place, you might be sitting behind a speaker or in front of it depending on where you are sitting. Where is the sound supposed to come from? It is different for everyone. On its face it is a really bad idea.

    To conclude, simpler is often better. Some of the best audio recordings are done with two really good microphones with a lot of care with their placement. When systems are kept simple and straight forward, everyone working on a film will have a better chance to implement them to the best effect. However this does not seem to be the Dolby way. Make it complex and expensive. Lets not forget the best movies have great acting and a great story. That is mostly what you need. The rest of it is marketing hype.

    I can't wait to see Darkest Hour. Thanks for the tip.
    Reply
  • joe23
    I absolutely agree with you on marketing, and the marketeers are either treating us like idiots, or they don't have much of an idea about what Atmos is or should be themselves.

    There were two major needs for Atmos, certainly in cinemas anyway. Dolby worked with studios and mixers to try and find a way to make every room, no matter what size, to convey an audio mix more accurately. The problem for the mixing studios was that movie mixes for 5.1/7.1 were being done in very highly specced mixing booths using top quality monitor speakers and amplification which was specced to work in that mixing room - How to translate that into a 1300 seat cinema where the surround speakers on the back walls are about 5 times the distance from the front speakers of the people sat in the front 3 rows and outputting half the volume of the fronts, and the bigger the room gets, the more disjointed a sound that has to travel from, say, front left to back right will become - Fine in a small room, but lost in a premium large screen cinema. So what you do is that you spec that you have enough speakers in the room which are angled in a way that provides no less than 30 degrees of coverage from each speaker, again no matter what size the room. Each speaker is timbre matched and level calibrated so that sound that has to travel from front left to rear right can now do so perfectly smoothly for every seat in the audience, not jut the people in the reference listening position. So now, instead of having a sound that starts in the front left speaker and ends up in the back right with a big gap in the middle, you use an object to move it smoothly from front left to back right, passing through as many overhead speakers as it needs to depending solely on the size of the room with no gaps in its travel. The system can be scaled to any size room and your audio mix will be conveying the original intentions whether there are 3 seats or 1300 seats. You really can fool the senses into thinking it's real with the right content. I've noticed a number of times that the sound of rain in a movie coming from overhead speakers actually makes the room feel like the temperature has dropped. It's spooky.

    Which brings me onto the second requirement - Headroom. Movies have been getting louder and louder for years - This is down to the studios and mixers and is a practice akin to the audio loudness wars which do now thankfully seem to have abated, but unless a cinema is diligent with checking for comfortable listening levels and doing a practice run of each movie before it is played, you can be left with ringing ears at the end of a movie. The days of everything in a cinema being played back at reference level 7.0 are long gone because it's just too loud for the majority of todays movies. But MANY cinemas amplification and speakers are just not specced well enough for the rooms they are installed in and when trying to reproduce the levels of transients and louder passages, the amplifiers are running into clipping and speaker coils are overheating and distorting which all results in harsh, uncomfortable sound. ALL Dolby Atmos cinemas are commissioned and approved for installation and every piece of equipment on the reproduction end of the audio chain MUST have enough headroom to allow for 10% over even the loudest possible reproducible sound through that system. This guarantees lower distortion and better dynamics. More speakers and amplification channels also help here because you are not stressing each individual component anywhere near as much to get to the same overall level in the auditorium as you would with a standard 5.1/7.1 system, so even more headroom available.

    Of course you still have the problem that if the movie was mixed too loud and has been compressed, squeezing all of the dynamic range out of it and your cinema has not been careful to adjust the playback level accordingly then you're still going to exit the cinema with your ears ringing, but a good cinema will ensure you're hearing that movie in the best way possible. A good Atmos mix should do exactly the opposite of the problems you have with it - For me it's not about the loud explosions and deep, floor rattling bass - It's all about the subtleties. Those tiny little sounds just audible out of the background and localised in one place, coming from a position you can pinpoint somewhere within the auditorium with extreme focus and the really creative stuff e.g going back to the fairground scene in 'Us' as the daughter is walking down the steps onto the beach and the thunderstorm is starting off in the distance - listen to the way the sound of the fairground ride is not only accurately placed as the camera pans around the girl, but how it grows into this sense of menace that she's about to get herself into trouble as she walks into the darkness, counterpointed with the clap of thunder coming in onto the shore. That scene is made by those sounds.

    But on your point about the studios playing catch up to the technology, I totally agree and the same is true with Atmos mixes. Some mixes seem to be there for no other reason than getting a badge in your credits, Disney's content generally seems to go this way and much of the time I cannot tell the difference between the 5.1 and the Atmos mix, but you get a good one that's had a mixer worth his/her salt and the results can be totally breathtaking. For me, Gravity is still the reference Atmos mix. Glenn Freemantle won an Oscar for it and it's easy to tell why. There are times you feel like you're spinning around inside a space suit in the scenes with the satellite debris flying around. That has to be the most involving cinematic experience i have ever had from an audio point of view. I thought First Man was incredible too. A dialogue heavy film in many places but a perfect mix of low impact but very clear dialogue scenes with all out, edge of the seat, intense battering scenes in the rocket which were absolutely gripping.

    The jury is still out for me on the home version of Atmos as it doesn't seem to be following the same specs that it does in the cinema and there seem to be too many compromises being made which I guess is down to the individual manufacturers' implementations but maybe that will improve over time, but even so, a domestic setup doesn't really require the levels of power to fill a huge room convincingly as cinemas do so it's never going to be such a big jump.

    I hope you enjoy Darkest Hour.
    Reply
  • MidwestAudioMan
    When a theater gets past a certain size, I don't see how you can easily fix the poor experience with more speakers. In those venues the ceilings alone can be 100 feet high. Are you going to hang speakers on long polls from the ceiling making it look like a zoo? As a paying movie goer, I'd find a smaller theater to get the best expereince and I try to sit near the middle of the theater in the sweet spot for the sound mix and for viewing. I think most people understand if they are sitting in the front or back row, their visual expeirence will be vastly different as well as the sound. The goal then is to get to the theater early enough to pick a good seat or do reserve seating when available.

    My home sound system is not super high-end, but it cost more than my first new car, and I am including the active speaker cables that cost more than any soundbar you can buy. I use a 5.2 system and the two subs in the front make a big difference. It took me a long time to dial in the setup. Subs should not stick out in the sound mix but support everything else with an extended bass; firm not boomy. As such the opening credits for the Tom Hank's film Greyhound is a good test. First comes on the Apple Logo, then the Sony Logo, then the title screen then fade to an aerial shot of the ships on a dreary day crossing the Atlantic. The bass through this sequence is very low, almost a moan. In the right size room with the right subs, the sound fills and pressurizes the room providing a visceral feel of the deep dark depth of the ocean. In a 200 seat theater you can get that quality of sound but it is not easy or cheap. In a 1,000 seat theater, you could still do it, but they'd have to charge a fortune to recoup the cost. I suppose anything is theoretically possible. Low sounds like at the begining of Greyhoud means moving a lot of air. Physics will limit what you can do in a huge room. Huge rooms are used to maximize the promoter's profit, not to provide a movie viewer with a great experience. If I were Dolby, I'm not sure I'd even want to try.

    So perhaps Dolby deserves credit for trying something. But if quality of the experience is the key, it is up to theater owners to figure that out and decide where to put their money and to right-size the room. I personally have a long list of things that would come far before adding more speakers to improve the viewing of a movie. Super bummed that Arclight is going out of business. They were one of the few that tried hard to provide an experience good enough to make it worth the trip.
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  • fort-wayne
    I have a Sony UBP-X800M2 all-region player connected to a Sony X930E TV's HDMI input (Port #2). Audio is routed via HDMI from the TV (Port #3 with Audio Return Channel) to a Sony BDV-N5200W Home Theater's primary HDMI port (5.1 surround-sound). None of this is high end, but more toward middle range in their respective manufacturing years. I couldn't see spending over twice the price for an X1100ES for near zero gain. The N5200W provides excellent audio for my hearing which has suffered some degradation from decades of military service, and I can use it for playing 2k Blu-rays or DVDs. Its 5.1 audio is noticeably better than the TV's built-in sound system (which is much better than most TVs). The viewing space isn't completely optimal ambient lighting, but it's better than many. In addition to the Sony player and Home Theater, I also have a Roku Ultra that supports HDR.

    Whether or not Dolby Vision provides all it's capabilities versus HDR or HDR10 depends on the entire video chain, starting with the transfer from film or digital. Transfers from digital now are nearly always from the 2k DI used to distribute the movie to theaters. This is not the same as 2k 1080 HD, but it's also not 4k UHD. The quality of the transfer - its color gamut and dynamic range - varies widely. HDR/10/10+ and Dolby Vision capabilities are only as good as the transfer. The next link in the chain is the 4k UHD player and its HDR and Dolby Vision implementation - or the streaming device such as a Roku or Apple TV. The next link in the chain . . . provided there is no 4k pass-through occurring in some other intermediate device . . . is the TV with its HDR and Dolby Vision implementation. The final link is the viewing space with its ambient lighting and location of viewer(s) versus the TV. I'm not considering the viewer . . . whose vision may be less than perfect and impaired. The final result is only as good as the weakest link from beginning to end.

    First observation is streaming services . . .
    This includes Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and Vudu. They may claim 4k, HDR and DV, but I'm not impressed at all with the quality of it. A well-rendered 4k disk with proper transfer from a high quality source runs circles around the same content streamed over the Internet. Even a properly made 2k Blu-ray nearly always outshines streaming content. I will not stream a movie unless there has never been a Blu-ray or 4k released globally - and the likelihood of one within the foreseeable future is near zero. The amount of compression used makes 4k laughably soft. HDR and alleged Dolby Vision is more often than not in name only. In summary, the content being delivered doesn't begin to use the capability of 4k UHD, HDR or DV.

    It's been my experience with selectively upgrading my very large library of Blu-ray movies (over 2500) with several hundred 4k now that not all 4k UHD are created equal. The quality of the 4k UHD varies widely. That's the reason I've been very selective in which 2k Blu-rays I replace with 4k UHD. With some, there's no point in doing so as the 4k UHD doesn't deliver anything more than the 2k HD SDR already contains, especially with older movies. Quality of the 4k HDR/10/10+ and DV encoding also varies, just as it does with 2k HD SDR. Some movies have better 2k HD SDR encoding on the older Blu-ray release than the newer 4k UHD.

    In summary . . .
    Dolby Vision offers rendition in gamut and dynamic range that's visibly better than HDR10 . . . on my home system . . . if the encoding on the disk was properly done. I've seen the difference with my system. I have no opine yet regarding HDR10+ as I have nothing that will render it (player or TV). Streaming services do not perform 4k UHD HDR or DV very well with their extreme bandwidth limitations. Compare the bit rate of what is streamed over the Internet with the bit rate of a high quality 4k UHD disk. Even 2k Blu-rays have an order of magnitude higher bit rate. I don't bother trying to sort out what the content encoding is with any streaming movie . . . on those rare occasion I stream one. It's not worth the effort given the quality of what's being streamed. The alleged HDR and DV streamed is lackluster and that's an understatement. I view 4k UHD DV disks with DV turned on. Having been selective about which I've bought, they're generally better gamut and dynamic range than with DV turned off. It all starts with the source material. If that or the encoding is less than high quality, the result at the viewer's eyes will be lacking in quality.
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